(Bloomberg) -- The Women’s National Basketball Association said regular-season games this year drew their largest TV audience in 14 years, a reflection of the growing support for the league and the rising profile of women’s professional sports overall.
An average of 379,000 viewers watched WNBA games on ABC, ESPN and CBS, the league said Wednesday, a 16% increase from 2021. July’s All-Star Game averaged 734,000 viewers, a 53% increase. Social-media engagement and website traffic were also up year over year, and the league saw a 10% growth in subscriptions to its out-of-market viewership package.
The uptick comes after the league raised $75 million in capital from investors like Nike Inc., as well as owners and investors involved in the men’s league. The fundraising, announced in February, was the largest-ever for a women’s sports league, and put a $1 billion value on the organization and its teams, a person with knowledge of the matter said at the time.
One of the league’s stars, Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury, has been held in Russia since February after authorities said they found cartridges containing hash oil in her bag. She was convicted of drug charges and has since appealed her 9 1/2- year sentence. Teammates and peers have used games and other press opportunities to express their support. Players at the WNBA’s All-Star game wore Griner’s name and jersey number during the halftime show.
With WNBA salaries subject to a collective salary cap, players often join teams in other leagues during the offseason, as Griner was doing in Russia. As a result, advocates including Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, have joined calls for changes in the WNBA’s salary practices. The United States Soccer Federation in May announced that players in both the men’s and women’s leagues would receive equal pay after years of lobbying by female players.
The WNBA playoffs kick off Wednesday. Viewership for last year’s finals grew 40% from 2019.
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