For now at least I will leave the All-Star Marathon to my more excitable colleagues here, and turn my attention to something non-baseball for a bit. The Baltimore Sun ran a story last week about the possibility of courting a WNBA team to occupy whatever arena should replace the outdated 1st Mariner Arena that has been slated for destruction for what feels like decades. My only question is, "Why isn't anyone else so supportive?"
Am I the only Baltimorean who is excited at the thought of a WNBA team occupying whatever follows 1st Mariner Arena? No, I am not one of those homers who thinks the city can support at team in every sport (I love hockey but I’m not exactly clamoring for the Florida Panthers to move up here). Before you deride the league and its potential, bear with me a moment…
The average attendance for the WNBA this year has ranged between 9,500 and 6,500 this season- certainly nothing like the NBA or even college basketball, but respectable for a fledgling women’s professional sports league. Can you think of another women’s league that gets occasional national press like the WNBA? Opponents of a team in Baltimore (and the WNBA in general) deride the success of the league as it's popularity isn’t near the level of any major sport. However, in comparison to where it was in years past and where it is in comparison to other fledgling leagues, it is light-years ahead of the competition. With the rising popularity of college women’s basketball, and the arrival of those big-name stars in the WNBA, the future is bright for the league in general.
College basketball, moreover, is exactly what makes Baltimore the perfect location for a WNBA franchise. Most WNBA franchises are built around cities that already have an NBA team, with the rationale that the NBA fans will migrate at the end of the season to WNBA games. This logic is flawed in that fans are often burned out after an 82 game season and if their season has not ended well they are unlikely to shell out for another season with a new local team. Baltimore has no NBA franchise, but does have a strong basketball history. Baltimore is traditionally one of the top centers for young basketball talent in the country, and possesses quality college programs in the area. Moreover, these colleges draw a huge number of fans every week, even for women’s games. With the popularity of college women’s basketball in the region, Baltimore is the perfect untapped market.
The most ridiculous and uninformed (yet seemingly most popular) argument in criticism against the WNBA is the perceived “low quality” of the games themselves. It is odd that we hail the excellence of women’s college basketball, but suddenly when those women enter a professional league they are inexplicably “low quality”. The WNBA is men’s basketball with the jump shot, without knocking opponents to the ground on hard fouls and relying instead on finesse, talent and hard work. That isn’t to say that WNBA players aren’t tough or aggressive- they are. But it is not the helter-skelter wrestling match that is the modern NBA. You see athletes being athletes; taking and making the three-pointer is more than an anomaly; each player on the court is forced to be more versatile to fit the style of play. In some ways, the WNBA is how basketball was supposed to be played. I love watching the NBA, but the WNBA brings something unique to the table.
Some fans just aren’t interested in women’s sports- those fans I imagine had a girl wipe the floor with them on the court, the field, or the ice or maybe they just never took the time to see an athlete as an athlete rather than a male or female athlete. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all great sport. Goodbye 1st Mariner Arena; hello basketball.