WNBA Finals

Sep 12, 2018
Originally published on September 12, 2018 7:34 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Basketball star Natasha Cloud is in the middle of fighting for the WNBA championship title. Her team, the Washington Mystics, is down two games to none in the best-of-five tournament. But when her family and friends hit up a sports bar in Virginia to watch the game, the bartender refused to turn even one of the TVs to the WNBA Final. It was Sunday, and the NFL was on.

The sports bar has since apologized, but that incident sparked conversation on social media about something else WNBA players are trying to win, aside from championships - respect. Tamryn Spruill is the editor-in-chief of SB Nation's Swish Appeal, a women's basketball site. Welcome to the program.

TAMRYN SPRUILL: Hi. Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So this sports bar story went viral because Natasha Cloud posted it online. What did she have to say about what happened?

SPRUILL: Just basically calling it out. I think the players have done a great job this season of using social media to their advantage to kind of show the second-class treatment that they regularly receive, whether from fan bases and what they consider playing conditions as well, such as, they do commercial travel, whereas NBA players, you know, get chartered flights. And so they've really been exposing what they consider to be issues that they feel hold them back. So Natasha Cloud just spoke out and said this happened. The restaurant responded, as social media will inspire those to do. And now they're going to have a party for Game 3 to kind of amend their ways.

CORNISH: You mentioned social media, and I understand that this is a big part of where their popularity is rising. Can you talk about, like, attendance, ratings, how the league is doing?

SPRUILL: Sure. It's really been one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory. And personally, as a fan, I would love to see more people see the game. But right now, ESPN2 viewership is up 58 percent for the season. And I think viewership overall is up 31 percent, so that's across platforms. Games are on NBA TV and also streaming live on Twitter. And League Pass subscriptions are up. And clicks on social media - 119 million views, so that's up 7 percent as well. And fans really do congregate, like, on Twitter to discuss the games. And that's kind of, like, been the congregation spot, I believe.

CORNISH: So you're talking about these really great numbers. And at the same time, we're hearing about, like, near-empty arenas in some cases and players who feel frustrated - right? - about where the league's going.

SPRUILL: Yes, absolutely. I think that players are happy with the progress, but they want to see more. Elena Delle Donne, who is playing tonight for the Mystics, spoke out at the start of the season that she feels that the league is not marketing the WNBA correctly and spoke to the need for more viewership, for broader visibility. So in her view, as people see the league and see the players, then the fan bases will, you know, follow.

CORNISH: In the meantime, the Finals are still going, though the Seattle Storm are up two games to none over Washington. Here's a little clip of the end of the last game, where Washington had the ball and then basically missed the 3-pointer - right? - broke some hearts.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Washington will inbound with 1.8 to go. Atkins heaves - that's it. The Seattle Storm are a win away from a WNBA championship - a gritty Game 2 victory.

CORNISH: So a win away - are they expected to take this title?

SPRUILL: I think the Seattle Storm are expected to take the title. I think they learned their lesson from the semifinals, where they had a 2-0 lead over the Phoenix Mercury, and it ended up being a five-game series. I think they're going to look to close it out tonight.

CORNISH: That's Tamryn Spruill. She's editor-in-chief of SB Nation's Swish Appeal, a women's basketball site. She joined us via Skype. Thanks so much.

SPRUILL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.