SportsWomen's college basketball popularity soars, Mystics draw large crowds

Women’s college basketball popularity soars, Mystics draw large crowds

Following the growth in popularity of women’s college basketball, several games have been moved to NBA arenas, including a June 7 matchup between the Washington Mystics and Indiana Fever that featured a sold-out crowd and had over 1 million viewers tuning in on ESPN.

“What’s happening now in women’s basketball is confirmation of what we’ve always known: the demand is there, and women’s sports is a valuable investment,” said WNBA Chief Growth Officer Colie Edison. “We’re encouraged by growing engagement across all our verticals, especially as we welcome new and diverse audiences into our fandom. The WNBA continues to experience sustained growth as our league embraces this heightened momentum.”

The May 14 game between the Indiana Fever and the Connecticut Sun, the first-place team in the Eastern Conference, had over 2 million viewers. Many tuned in to ESPN to watch former University of Iowa star Caitlin Clark play for Indiana in her debut game. 

In the first five WNBA games that aired on ESPN, average viewership exceeded 1 million people and surpassed last year’s average by 226%, according to the Associated Press. In-person audiences are also up 14% and the league’s app downloads have grown 146%, compared to last season. 

Rookies Coming in Hot

All-time college basketball scoring champion Clark, 2023 NCAA champion and All-American power forward Angel Reese, and 2024 NCAA champion center Kamilla Cardoso are some of the most well-known rookies, and are helping to bring newfound popularity to the growing sport. 

Reese, a Chicago Sky power forward and Baltimore native who attended the University of Maryland and Louisiana State University, has put up historic stats to begin her professional career. She is fourth in the WNBA in rebounding, with over 10 rebounds per game, and is the only rookie currently averaging a double-double. 

Cameron Brink, a rookie center for the Los Angeles Sparx, is currently tied for second in the WNBA with 2.5 blocks per game. 

Clark is likely to win the Rookie of the Year award while averaging 16 points, five rebounds, and six assists.

WNBA Veterans Continue to Make Waves

Las Vegas Aces center A’ja Wilson, the #1 overall pick in 2018, is leading the league with 11.5 rebounds and 28 points per game on 54% shooting from the floor and 43% from 3-point range. It is likely that she will be the league MVP this season, which would be her third time winning the award. Connecticut forward Alyssa Thomas is currently leading the league with 8.2 assists.

The 2024 women’s national basketball team was announced on June 11 and includes Wilson, Thomas, Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner, and Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum. No rookies were selected for the team. The women’s team has brought home gold medals in every Olympics since 1996, and in all but one since 1984.

“I don’t have any words to describe it. It’s humbling. It’s an honor. I’m excited to go and get the journey started,” said guard Diana Taurasi after the roster was unveiled in mid-June. She will be the first basketball player, regardless of gender, to participate in six Olympic games.

Mystics Update

The Washington Mystics have had a rocky start to their season, and are currently 2-12, last place in the Eastern Conference. 

Guard Ariel Atkins leads the Mystics in both points and steals, and rookie forward Aaliyah Edwards leads the team with 6.4 rebounds.

As the Mystics work to find their groove, the 2019 WNBA champions, have a top-four pick in the 2025 WNBA draft. The team has struggled in rebounding, and would be well suited to acquire a center or power forward in the next draft. 

Despite struggles, the Mystics are also seeing spikes in their fanbase as the WNBA continues to grow in popularity.

“Last year, we had peaks in attendance, peaks in sales and tickets, and it just shows that people have been dedicated to this sport,” Washington Mystics center Shakira Austin, who is a DMV native, told NBC News in an interview. “I think we’re just going to continue to elevate and, you know, hopefully our league is able to, you know, back it up and be prepared for the attention we’re about to get.”

Source: Washington Informer

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