There were two things I feared about the Liberty Outdoor Classic: a sloppy turnover fest or a blow-out. Neither would do anything to attract casual fans.
Tonight we got both – the Liberty committed 21 turnovers (only one more than the Fever's 20) and got blown out “at home”.
Nevertheless, kudos to the WNBA on the Liberty Outdoor Classic – it was a great event for the league and for basketball. Wish I could have been there. It was an historic event and it seemed like an amazing setting.
But what about the fact that it wasn’t on broadcast television?
Two days ago, the Women’s Sports Blog had a post that said the following:
There's going to be an outdoor game between the Libs and the Fever at the National Tennis Center and it's not going to be on television? Fabulous planning, W. 'Cause that wouldn't have been interesting to the casual fan, or anything.I understand that sentiment because it would have been great to watch the game on TV. And I’m not sure if there was a conscious choice not to televise it or if it was just a function of the terms of the broadcast contract.
But as the fourth quarter began and it just felt like the Liberty wouldn’t be able to muster up the momentum to get control of the game, it was evident that not televising the game was the right thing to do.
I think Mary Murphy’s words near the end of the game summarized my feelings perfectly:
“The question that you hear from people – is it worth it? Is it worth it taking your team away from an arena where you’ve won five in a row and you really have it going? And I think the anwer is yes. When you’re trying to capture attention, when you’re trying to get the eye of the casual sports fan on you, you need to step outside of the box and do some different things. And the New York Liberty have done that in the past and they continue with this kind of game. The performance didn’t match the setting, but that doesn’t mean that this young team won’t go on to great success the rest of this year.”The fact that the game occurred will generate some buzz and I imagine that could “catch the eye” of some casual fans. However, what the WNBA game didn’t need was one more reason for the casual fan to dismiss and demean the game because of one bad showing in such a special setting. And you don’t want to give off the impression that your sport is dependent on a gimmick because it lacks substance, especially in an otherwise great season.
And that’s exactly why the WNBA made the right decision in not putting the game on national television. With the buzz from this game and the Olympic buzz, it’s possible that a few casual fans could feel the impulse to watch a few WNBA games after hearing about the women’s national team….especially if they win gold.
But the game played tonight -- independent of the atmosphere -– was not a performance representative of the quality of play that would attract casual fans to the game. And that doesn't mean they should never do it again -- I hope they do...and I hope it's a better game.