Our friends at AOL Fanhouse tipped us to an interview that they did this week with former WNBA great Lisa Leslie where she blasts ESPN's lack of coverage of the WNBA. The WNBA has been a staple on ESPN and NBC since its inception, and a recent deal with ESPN means regular season and postseason games are broadcasted across the "family of networks" until 2016. However, Leslie thinks that the network and sports media can do a lot more for the profile of the league.
"It's really more the media," Leslie told FanHouse. "It's ESPN. It's the TNTs of the world ... though, really, TNT has done a better job, I have to admit. They've covered the WNBA really well, if you have (NBA TV). But ESPN is probably the main focus that drives our sports. Ninety-five percent of sports, you know you can find it on ESPN.
"Maybe if we had a place [on ESPN] you would be more informed," Leslie pointed out.
"Just as you can follow track and field or a horse," Leslie noted, "you should be able to follow women in sports."
Now, I'm sure the WNBA market is far from the thoughts of most AA readers. In fact, maybe there are some AA readers that aren't aware of the existence of a women's professional basketball league. But, I think this is relevant because Leslie makes an excellent point about the growing monopoly that the ESPN empire has over sports. You could replace Lisa Leslie with an MLS player, jockey, poker player, NHL star, or any person from one of these so-called fringe sports that feels like they don't get enough time from ESPN and the criticism would be the same.
The World Cup is a perfect example of ESPN's control over sports media. Because ESPN saw success and profitability in the WC, they poured more resources into soccer than ever before seen in this country. Because ESPN doesn't see that same profitability in MLS, then the coverage is nowhere near as extensive or high quality. So, we're left with soccer fans wondering what happened to ESPN's soccer coverage and MLS suffers. Similarly, we're left with ex-WNBA greats wondering where the growth is for her sport. One could argue that this lack of presence on the network hurts ratings and fans of the sport... probably true because the WNBA just set a record low network rating for their Finals this season. Bristol has had rights to all of these sports over the years, but you'll never see MLS or WNBA highlights prominently on Sportscenter unless it's a championship or there's a huge fight. No, Ed Werder camped outside Vikings headquarters is where ESPN sees the most eyeballs and the most dollar signs. That's the sad reality for sports like the WNBA. Ratings will be low and presence in the greater sports world will be low until ESPN makes the investment into extensive coverage of the sport.
I wonder if she's seen ESPNW...