The WNBA tipped off last week, and the early returns show the league hitting a few ratings records.
The league saw an average of 683,000 viewers for its opening night game between the Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks, which marked the return of former league MVP Brittney Griner who missed full season due to wrongful detainment in Russia.
The ESPN broadcast, which peaked at one million viewers, was the most viewed regular season game on cable television in 24 years, according to the league.
The ABC broadcast on Saturday between defending champion Las Vegas Aces and the Seattle Storm averaged 589,000 viewers, the most for a WNBA opening weekend game in the last 11 years on network television.
The league also announced that it had a 24% increase in attendance for opening weekend versus last year. It also was the most-viewed weekend on social media for the league, passing over 30 million video views.
It’s an important start for the league that has faced turmoil due to supposed low viewership and attendance. However, the WNBA, which is in its 27th season, has shown growth over the past few years as the league and its players have focused on growing the game.
However, for major change to happen, the league, including its commissioner Cathy Englebert, knows that media rights deals are going to drive dollars into the league and also make the league more accessible to viewers.
NCAA women’s basketball already showed during this year’s March Madness that the general audience has an appetite for women’s basketball, so the WNBA is banking a lot on a similar jump once it signs a new media rights deal. Its current deal with ESPN expires in 2025.