Despite disappointing attendance and a stagnant television viewership, the WNBA remains confident that it will make a profit by 2007, league president Val Ackerman said yesterday during a meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters.
The league has yet to make money in seven seasons, and does not expect to make a profit this year either. A quarter of the way through the 2004 season, Ackerman said WNBA games are drawing an average of 8,300, down from about 9,000 at this time last season.
The Mystics, historically the league's best-drawing team, were averaging 13,160 through five home games, about 1,000 fewer than at the same time last year.
"We're confident those numbers will bounce back up," said Ackerman. "We're very hopeful that our group attendance will go up.
"We're confident in our business model."
The WNBA had hoped to enjoy considerably higher television ratings this season, since the women's Final Four drew a record rating of 3.5 in April. Instead, the four WNBA games televised nationally have drawn a modest audience, Ackerman said.
"It's similar to what you might see for professional soccer or maybe regular season NHL," Ackerman said. "But we're starting to generate more excitement."
In line with that effort, the WNBA will pool a group of all-stars to play against the U.S. women's Olympic team on Aug. 5, less than two weeks before the U.S. team -- made up of all WNBA players -- travels to Athens. The game, which will tip off at 7 p.m. and be televised on ESPN, will be played at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
That game will serve as the WNBA's all-star game for 2004. The league will skip its normal all-star game and take all of August off to allow its player to compete in the Olympics.
"We'll have the best women's basketball players in the country playing in a pretty unique place. That's wonderful for the league," Ackerman said.
One possible downside, Ackerman noted, is that the one-month sabbatical means the league's season won't conclude until mid-October, meaning it will overlap with the NFL season, a fact that could further diminish its TV ratings.
Ackerman also said the league will move to a best-of-five format for its league finals in 2005. The league's championship series is currently best-of-three.