I think if you were to ask most people what bothers them most about me, they would likely answer my need to step out as the lone voice when everyone is in agreement, especially when the agreement is on a feel-good issue; the perception that I play devil’s advocate just to argue with you; and the pride I sometimes take in being a “minoritarian”. For the most part, I cannot argue that I do slip into this mode, but I my defense would be that it is always genuine.
I lead with that preface and say that I tried really hard to get on board and not write this article. However, just like I don’t want to lie to my kids about Santa, coax them about the bully at school, or pretend that a co-worker isn’t an incompetent blockhead; I calls ’em, likes I sees them. Someone needs to sees them.
So, apparently, as everyone else in my home state celebrates a perceived “major professional” sports championship with the Lynx, I didn’t realize that the WNBA and its 4-figure attendance numbers were actually the most popular sport in Minnesota. I have the wrong season ticket package. Now, a 27-7 record is impressive in any sport, regardless of the competition, and in one of the worst 18-month periods in Minnesota sports history (with no end in sight), we will desperately take what we can get. But, if you think this is anyone other than a delusion, then I don’t know what to tell you.
And it doesn’t make a WNBA championship comparable…
…to the NFL, MLB: This should be obvious. But it should be noted that 8 straight Lynx championship does not equal one Super Bowl appearance, or even a division title; in terms of economic impact, community spirit, or athletic prestige. On Monday at work, there will be more talk about a regular-season game played by an 0-4 team, than a WNBA championship. ‘Nuff said.
…or to the NBA, NHL: These are regional sports with a relatively niche fan base — but in term of overall objective numbers, it is not even close. And since one of these leagues entirely subsidizes the WNBA, and the other has rabid fan bases unrivaled in any of these leagues, this category rounds out the “Major 4”.
…what about the MLS? That is where the discussion gets interesting. Both sports lack a level of quality sport and athletic competition. They are unbearable to watch (which is why ESPN SportsCenter grazes the highlights), and have no real star power. In terms of economic muscle, MLS wins out considerably, but it still doesn’t matter. I don’t think you can define MLS as a major professional sport in the US with half as many clubs as the Major 4.
…what about the NCAA? Surely, you are not going to define collegiate amateurs as a major professional sport? No, by definition they are not. They, unfairly, make no money off of their performance. But, their campus does, and they make Scrooge McDuck type money. Let’s take a look at some numbers:
Revenues & Attendance
NFL: $9,000,000,000 (2010) — 67,000/game (2010) — 17,200,000/year (2010)
MLB: $7,000,000,000 (2010) — 30,400/game (2011) — 73,500,000/year (2011)
NBA: $3,800,000,000 (2010) — 17,300/game (2011) — 21,300,000/year (2011)
NHL: $2,900,000,000 (2011) — 17,500/game (2009) — 21,500,000/year (2009)
MLS: $280,000,000 (2011) — 16,700/game (2010) — 4,000,000/year (2010)
WNBA: $85,000,000 (2009) — 8,000/game (2011) — 1,600,000/year (2011)
The NCAA brings in over $750M in annual revenue and every MiLB league draws a higher attendance (both in average and total). While even the Canadian Football League is simlar to the MLS, the National Lacrosse League and the Arena Football League provide the closest example in revenue and attendance numbers. I am not sure an argument can be any more clear.
None of these financials include debts, which are not reported like revenues are, and as fans see the league tries to grossly make it seem like they make no profit due to player salaries. The NBA has been doing this for years. At one point, David Stern was quoted as stating that while the WNBA was still not profitable (due to each NBA affiliate subsidizing their WNBA team to the tune of $12M a year), he then mentioned that, apparently, the NBA was bleeding money like Enron. Probably no coincidence to the labor dispute right now.
And that brings us to the final argument: While every business model includes loans and debts, it is difficult to truly take the WNBA seriously because its ability to stay around is entirely dependent on the NBA. The league cannot survive on its own — so there is no real comparison to any of the leagues mentioned above. The players may get paid, but it becomes an amateur league, almost like an internship.
In the end, it’s a great accomplishment. But most of our prep championships draw more fans, so let’s not say this is the “first championship for Minnesota since 1991” or “the first basketball championship in Minnesota since 1956.” You sound ridiculous.