Transcript of ESPN’s 28th WNBA Regular Season Media Conference Call


Transcript of ESPN’s 28th WNBA Regular Season Media Conference Call

ESPN’s WNBA commentators Rebecca Lobo and LaChina Robinson answered questions on Friday via Zoom to preview the WNBA Tip-Off Presented by CarMax.  Lobo and Robinson will be part of a team covering ESPN’s WNBA regular season which begins Tuesday, May 14 with a WNBA Tip Off Presented by CarMax doubleheader on ESPN2, ESPN+, and for the first time ever on Disney+.

In addition, Sara Gaiero, ESPN Vice President, Production, discussed the production highlights for ESPN’s coverage of opening week.


SARA GAIERO: As noted, we put out the PR release this morning. We’re thrilled to launch our 28th season of covering the WNBA. Our programming department has done an absolutely outstanding job, with being in collaboration with the league, in presenting us with a really, really awesome schedule, where we’re able to feature the really top teams within the league multiple times throughout the course of the season. So, we’re thrilled with that.

It will allow us to really dive into the stories, the awesome stories that we’ll see across the year between rookies and rivalries and looking ahead to some of the retirements of some of the folks that have been around and really following the best stuff this season.

We’re thrilled with that we’ll have robust WNBA Countdown coverage. For those that have been around we fought hard to get a pregame show, and we launched it in the playoffs a season and a half ago. Last year was the first season we had the pregame show.

We have even more episodes this season which will be terrific. We’ve expanded the roster of voices on that show which we’re really excited for. And we can’t just wait to use that platform as a place to dive into some of our quality storytelling and high-level analysis that we’ll be able to do now to give more robust coverage of this league.

We’re thrilled with that. On the game side, we’ve got terrific — again, a roster full of terrific folks that are joining us back for seasons — that for many, many seasons.

And just from a coverage standpoint, we’re really honing in, we’re coming out of the gates strong this next week with really enhanced coverage of our games from a technical standpoint.

We will continue to do REMI productions as the majority of what our season will be, but we’re looking for ways to enhance some of these top-level broadcasts that we have to just do our part in documenting this terrific season and these athletes we have.

Q: Sara, it’s not like you wouldn’t have watched it, but how does being more intimately involved in that tournament this year, you feel, help prepare you combining it with your institutional knowledge with the WNBA in a season where the rookie class is going to be one of the major focal points?

SARA GAIERO: It was terrific. I don’t know that we could have asked for a better season than what we saw this year in the women’s college basketball game. What I do feel so excited about is that I anticipate next season will be even better in the college game. So, that’s exciting to look ahead to.

But being in both spaces means that we’ve tried to do is bridge the two audiences and fan bases together, bring the college folks over here into the WNBA.

I think having a lead position in both spaces has allowed me to sort of navigate how we can best do that. And we really were intentional about incorporating WNBA storylines and content and coverage into what we were doing in the college space.

So certainly, for me, I think that was a real benefit. And then even just coming into the Draft and the rookie class that we’re welcoming into the league, I feel like we’re in a really good spot across the board with how we’re going to present that in the season this year. So, it was really great.

Q: You talked about obviously the REMI productions, more attention means more expectations from an audience. You guys have been dialing up the productions of these games for quite some time. It’s not to say this is coming out of nowhere, but in what ways are you adding tools or certain things where you feel you were bringing a top-level coverage to maybe regular-season games that normally wouldn’t get those?

SARA GAIERO: We talked about this extensively as well. You’ll see as we start the season, WNBA Countdown on Tuesday night will be from site, at Mohegan Sun. We’ve generally brought our Countdown team on site for all-star and finals, but not for regular-season games in the last four years that I’ve been on the project.

So that’s an enhancement right there. We feel like it’s really important that our pregame coverage is on site so we can capture the atmosphere and everything that’s happening around us. So that was an intentional decision.

And then our production on the Connecticut game and in New York on Saturday will be full truck productions, and that was just we made some enhancements with the equipment that we added to the show, which on some levels sort of pushed us out of the REMI space.

And to be able to do these productions in somewhat of an old-school way, I think speaks to the level of enhancements we made to position us to just capture these games in a very high-profile way that I think we’ve been intentional about and had internal support behind, which is terrific.

So, we’ll think about other opportunities to enhance the broadcast as the season progresses. And our eyes are certainly on all-star and finals as really, really big events that we want to position ourselves for too.

Q: You talked about it just a second ago about those story lines that lots of fans will be coming over to see. But I wanted to get your thoughts. What’s maybe something that’s underrated and an underrated story line that you believe more fans should be leaning more into this season to learn about?

SARA GAIERO: I think certainly Caitlin Clark is going to drive a lot of interest and conversation. I think the rest of the rookie class is just sort of equally as dynamic, and I don’t want them to get lost in all the Caitlin Clark conversation because Cameron Brink and Rickea Jackson and Nika Muhl and Angel and Kamilla, these are star power names that are in the league as well and that will draw significant interest, in my opinion around the game. So, I don’t want them to get lost in the shuffle.

We’ve spent time talking about the super teams, Vegas, and New York. We sort of know what that is. And we had the benefit of seeing them in the finals last year. That’s awesome. Seattle made some additions that make them a really interesting team.

For me, Phoenix is a team that, again, I feel like sort of is getting lost in the discussion. They made some really strong moves in the offseason. And with B.G. back and better than ever and Diana and Natasha and Carla, I think they’ll be a really fun team to watch, too. I think there’s such a deep level of stories to be interested.

I didn’t even mention Atlanta and Tina Charles and Dallas and Arike. You could go on and on. But those are certainly the things that I’m looking ahead to as the season starts.

Q: LaChina, talk about just being a part of an all-Black female staff, on-air staff that will be doing the WNBA games, especially since the league is such a majority Black league? And, Rebecca, can you talk about Minnesota and what they did in their changes in the offseason that hopefully will put them back into a contender role again?

LACHINA ROBINSON: First and foremost, we are just grateful for the WNBA Countdown platform in general. As Sara mentioned, it’s something we’ve been fighting for a long time because storytelling is very important around our game, especially with the influx of so many new fans. Education is important. Things that you can’t always do in the course of a game and really dig in. Of course, we love a good debate, too.

I’m really excited about expanding the number of WNBA games we have, adding to our Countdown crew, of course, the big three bringing so much momentum to the WNBA, in particular with the job they did in the NCAA Tournament, just easily transitioning a lot of those new college fans into the W. We’re excited about the platform in general.

But diversity is important, no matter what industry you’re talking about, what business you’re a part of. I think it’s very special with the WNBA being a predominantly Black league to have Black women using their voices in the media to speak to the league, to its excellence, to its play on the court. And I’m really just proud of ESPN for knowing that and backing that and understanding the importance of these women. Also having a vision of what their futures could look like career-wise.

So, yeah, the WNBA has been a league that fights for visibility of Black women for representation of Black women in all spaces. So, I think it’s only right that the media represent them in that way as well. So, we’re proud to lead in that.

REBECCA LOBO: I want to add to LaChina saying that we have been fighting for a Countdown show for years. No one has fought harder for that than LaChina has over the course of the last five, six, seven, probably longer than that years. It’s super gratifying seeing her hosting so much Countdowns over the course of last season and this season as well.

In terms of the Minnesota Lynx. It was earlier today I was watching one of their preseason games against Washington. They certainly have a different looking backcourt this year than they did last year, in terms of the lead guard position. Courtney Williams, who had such a great year last year in Chicago feels like it’s going to be a really great fit with Minnesota. Her two-person game with Napheesa Collier is at another level and fun to watch. And Natisha Hiedeman coming off the bench for them.

One thing that struck me in that preseason match-up was, I think first three possessions of the game three different players were bringing the ball down the floor. It was Natisha, then it was Napheesa — I’m sorry, it was Courtney, then Napheesa. And then I think Kayla McBride one time. So just how different and varied their offense is in terms of who can initiate.

But, of course, the biggest additions were in the backcourt. Alissa Pili played great as a rookie too in that preseason game. Minnesota is a team — it’s funny, a season ago you were looking, at one point in the season, they were hosting the Vegas Aces at home, and they had a gauntlet of a schedule coming up. And the thought I had at the time was, wow, this is a stretch where they could lose a number of games and put themselves into a great position to get a lottery pick.

Instead, they went and won a number of them and were in the playoffs. It feels like that’s what Cheryl Reeve does just about every year is help that team succeed. And she made some really nice moves offseason with free agency and I think Pili will be a nice addition for that as well.

Q: Sara, I know you spoke about this a little bit earlier, but can you just talk about the differences you guys are going to be doing, specifically production-wise for the Fever match-up? And if you know about a range of how many people you guys are going to have on talent as well as behind the scenes at the Connecticut Sun versus Indiana Fever game?

SARA GAIERO: Good question. For enhancements to the show, we’re going to roll out our basic complement of — we generally have four, like a seven-camera show. So, we’re going to add — that gives you basic documentation from up top and then handhelds underneath the baskets.

We’ll add above-the-rim robo cameras, below-the-rim robo cameras. We’ll add a shallow-depth-of-field RF hand-held camera that can walk with players. It gives you those cinematic looks when it follows players around.

And that will allow us to just capture — we’ll focus on Caitlin and her movements and getting onto the court and wanting to capture all those things that she’s doing pregame.

We’ll enhance with some player mics. We’ll enhance the access that we have in traditional games we’ll return with our end-of-quarter live interviews, the start-of-quarter interviews with the coaches that we rolled out last year that was fun and successful.

We’ll enhance with player mics and coach mics. And we’ll have some super slo-mo angles that gives you really nice, again, cinematic replay looks, gives you all that emotion and all those things.

We’ve looked at this, enhancing it to a WNBA Finals-level type show because we feel it’s important to come out of the gates and just document appropriately here.

In terms of an on-site footprint, it’s large. I don’t have a specific number, but I would say generally our on-site footprint is somewhat smaller — 25, 30 people. I think we’re probably upwards around 75 folks that could be on site.

So, it’s going to be a significant increase. Some of that is due to having WNBA Countdown on site with us. Comes with a whole n‘other set of production and technical folks. But we’ve had conversations with the venue and we are understanding they are at capacity. They’re full, full, full. So, we’re certainly contributing to that.

Q: LaChina, with players like Caitlin Clark and (indiscernible) and the rest of the class of 2024 coming in, what do you think it’s going to do for the overall viewership of WNBA, especially with the new structure WNBA Countdown broadcasts?

LACHINA ROBINSON: We expect a big boost. If history tells us anything, looking at what just happened in the NCAA Tournament, there’s a lot around the rookie class. Looking at past seasons on ESPN, some of our big numbers were around the debuts of biggest names in the league.

It’s often very exciting when you have a new class coming in. I remember “three to see” with Skylar Diggins-Smith and Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne. People were excited about that.

This class is unlike anything we’ve seen before in the level of popularity. There’s a lot of different things you can point to absolutely starting with their play on the court.

I believe that the brand building through NIL has been helpful in making them household names, extending their reach. And so, it’s awesome to see what they’re bringing from the college game into the W in terms of the eyeballs, the anticipation, the excitement, the resources that are being poured to support this awesome class. And I can’t wait to see what they do in terms of boosting our ratings and our viewership.

Q: Sara, can you speak of how your whole WNBA Countdown and the game and the postgame coverage, how that is integrating with other programs like SportsCenter and how you are making it one humongous cohesive experience?

SARA GAIERO: That’s a great question. We’ve certainly seen an uptick in demand for WNBA content in some of our shoulder programming. So, we saw some of that rising last year with the story lines of New York and Vegas. But it certainly got amplified even during the college season.

So, yes, the best part is we’ve got this really deep roster of people between Countdown and the games that we can share the wealth. So we sort of look at when we’re getting [inaudible] and get up and SportsCenter and radio and some of the other external requests for GMA, we just look at the roster and sort of figure out who would fit best in each of these different slots and try to share the wealth that way because I think it’s really important that we show off the diversity of this team and all of their experiences and what they can bring to it. And it shows just the deepness that we have on the roster.

So that’s somewhat of the strategy for how we’re fulfilling the requests, but we’ve seen a wonderful increase in demand, which has been fun.

Q: LaChina and Rebecca, you both have been covering women’s sports for years. We’ve seen the growth of women’s basketball in particular over the last couple of years. Just talk about the impact of this year’s draft class, what it’s been like, and what you’re looking forward to as you covered it throughout the season?

REBECCA LOBO: The impact of this class is going to be like nothing we’ve ever seen before. We’ve never had 20 million people tune in to watch a national championship game. We’ve never had ratings like we saw throughout the course of the regular season and throughout the tournament.

There’s no reason to expect anything other than a massive boost in the TV viewership. We’ve already seen it in preseason games. We’ve seen it reflected in ticket sales.

The last time I can think of this much hype leading into a WNBA season was 1997, because it was the first one. People were eager to see, what does professional women’s basketball look like? What’s a league backed by David Stern and the league look like? There was a lot of interest going into that season.

And now we have similar interests, but for a variety of different reasons. It’s what is this rookie class going to look like playing against the best players in the world.

So, the WNBA is certainly ready for this. The players and the product on the court has been ready for it the last decade, I’d say. We’ve seen incredible basketball on the basketball court.

When you look at the finals between the Minnesota Lynx and the L.A. Sparks, and regular season games, the product is there, there just hasn’t been enough people watching it. Now we’re going to have those people watching it, a lot of them new to the WNBA.

And when they see the level at which it’s played, I expect them to not only tune in for some level of curiosity of what’s this rookie class going to look like, but, holy cow, this is a really high level of basketball, and we’re going to continue to watch.

LACHINA ROBINSON: I echo everything Rebecca said. This just feels so exciting coming into this season. And it’s been building for a long time. This will likely be the — at least I hope it is — the most-viewed WNBA season in history.

And to think that just last season we had our most-watched WNBA season since 2006. We had our most-viewed finals since 2003, most-viewed playoffs since 2007. The trajectory was going up for the WNBA. And then you add to that what we are seeing coming off the NCAA Tournament, which is just incredible.

And the other thing I would add, as we’re having this conversation about the rookie class is they have absolutely performed at a high level on the court. This is a rookie class that’s never been without the WNBA as we saw in our 28th season.

They’ve been able to chase after this goal and this dream of being a part of this league for a long time and had a vision of what they could be.

But I also love their personalities. And I love that with if investment in the WNBA and more brands getting involved, more media entities getting involved, we’re getting to know these players and understand who they are as people and what they’re passionate about and we’re seeing them on magazine covers and on billboards. Like, all of that adds to the love of the game. Not everyone is here for what they see on the basketball court.

Some people are here because they love what the WNBA stands for. They love who these women are in their day-to-day life. And I think the play on the floor gives everyone an opportunity to find their connection to the WNBA, whether that’s advocacy or women’s empowerment, all the things this league stands for.

Just really excited about everyone getting an opportunity to see what the WNBA is about and what these women, including Rebecca Lobo, have been building for the last 28 years.

Q: I want to get your reaction on the charter situation. I was able to get a couple reactions from the players, from the Dallas Wings. Want your reaction from all three of you. What are your thoughts on that? I think it could be a huge impact for the teams and players, especially for traveling to different cities. So, talk about what do you like about it and what’s your reaction to it?

REBECCA LOBO: I’m thrilled. I was excited and surprised as well because the CBA is not up for another year, and the league did this when they didn’t have to, when they could have held it as a point of negotiation in their next CBA. And instead, you know, they decided to allow charters and to fund the charters for all the teams.

It’s definitely going to have an impact on performance on the court. It is hard traveling as a 50-year-old woman, when I haven’t just played a basketball game, and having my 6’4″ legs into a seat on an airplane. And to go somewhere else and to not play a basketball game.

For these athletes, now they’ll be able to recover easier, just everything is going to be easier. When you look at the cadence of a WNBA season and the amount of games, whether it’s sometimes five in eight days or three in five days or whatever it is, and much of that includes traveling, I think we’re certainly going to see a positive impact in terms of the play on the court as a result of the charters.

But I do give the league credit. This is something that the players have been pushing for, understandably, something that the players have been pushing for. And for the league to step up and do this at a time where they weren’t forced to do it by collective bargaining, you have to give them a lot of credit for that.

LACHINA ROBINSON: I agree with everything Rebecca said. I think recovery is the most important thing. You want the best product you can have on the court, and these women having an opportunity to get home the night of a game instead of staying the night on the road. It’s huge.

They’re already in a somewhat condensed season, especially with the Olympics. So, it’s a great time for this to happen.

And also, the security aspects of it. You want to protect these players. We’ve seen some incidents happen to date where fans had way too much access to WNBA players in airport settings. That security aspect is really important.

But I also want to just re-emphasize what Rebecca said. This has been in the works and people have been fighting for this for years. So, it’s been a long time coming. It’s a perfect storm, right, with all the attention on the W. With the rookie class coming in.

And in addition to the players, I also say credit the ownership. There’s been some ownership groups that have been very vocal about how they want to have and provide charters for their players, whether that’s Joe Sye [phonetic], Marc Davis, just a couple of headliners. But it takes that mentality in the front office to change and to grow the WNBA.

Also credit those that were willing to be disrupters, even though it might be a little costly because it really put emphasis on the need for charters and also brought a lot of media attention to the movement.

SARA GAIERO: I think to follow that up, again, credit to those that were involved in getting this across the finish line, but I think it truly speaks to the investment we’re seeing in the league right now. And that is the change. That is the momentum. That is the pivot. That’s the seriousness around the success of what this league is looking at in the next 10 years with the great athletes they have.

This is now an intentional commitment to the players and improving again their lives through this path in so many ways. And that speaks to how this league is committed in investing in these athletes. I think that is terrific as well.

Q: Rebecca, curious how you think Angel Reese fits the defensive identity that T-Spoon wants to establish this year? And how is playing the 4 going to help her on the offensive end? Obviously her junior year at LSU she had bigger numbers, the best numbers of her career that year?

REBECCA LOBO: I’m super intrigued by Angel because I was curious at how her game was going to translate against bigger, longer defenders in the WNBA because so much of her productivity on the offensive end of the floor is within 5 to 7 feet of the basket.

So, I’m watching the preseason game against New York the other day. Scores over Jonquel Jones, who is an elite shot blocker, tall and long. Then she scores over Breanna Stewart, another elite shot blocker, tall and long.

And it got me shaking my head, like, wow, Angel is going to be okay offensively in the WNBA. And she has such a passion for the game and an incredible motor. That’s going to fit perfectly with Teresa Weatherspoon. Spoon was a teammate of mine for five years. And the passion and intensity you saw from her on the court in games is the exact same passion and intensity she brought every single day to practice.

You can just kind of see that those two are probably kindred spirits in that regard.

So, I’m eager to see angle — although I do expect she’ll have more time at the 5 until Kamilla comes back from her injury. But, again, what she was able to do in terms of her productivity offensively and defensively in the preseason game against New York really opened up my eyes because, again, it was a curiosity.

She doesn’t see that kind of talented length on a regular basis in college when she’s going up against them. And she looked really good against New York.

Q: Rebecca, I would like to ask you about Caitlin Clark, the whole expectations, the whole everything that we read and hear about so far. What are your expectations about her going into her rookie WNBA season? And how difficult is it for players to deal with all those expectations, all those high standards surrounding her so far?

REBECCA LOBO: I think Caitlin’s going to have a phenomenal rookie year, in particular on the offensive end of the floor. I think almost everything she did in college will translate. All the things she did well in college will translate to the WNBA. I think we’ve seen that throughout the course of the first two exhibition games.

Is she going to be able to hit the logo 3s on different defenders? What we saw against Dallas, Natasha Howard is an experienced, athletic, long, good defender, switches out on her, and Caitlin does a left step-back and hits a deep 3.

We saw in the game last night against Atlanta, there were many moments, whether it was an on-ball screening situation, get-ahead passes, she was able to do a lot of things we saw her do in college.

Is she going to average 30 points a game like she did in college? Since we’ve never seen a WNBA player average 30 points in a game, I think it’s fair to say the answer to that question is no. But could we see her average 18 to 22 points a game? I think it’s within the realm of possibility. Could she average up to seven assists a game? I don’t think that would be a ridiculous expectation.

And in terms of how she handles it, we just look at the past year. Nobody’s been under a stronger spotlight, a bigger microscope in the women’s game, probably in the history of the game, than Caitlin Clark was. And she continually lived up to the moment every single time.

She seems to be a player who’s a bit unfazed by what we would look at as pressure or expectation. Doesn’t mean she is but she has appeared to be.

She’s somebody who loves basketball, loves to compete, loves challenges. And it feels like she is poised and ready for this moment.

And while I understand that Indiana was not a playoff team last year or hasn’t been a playoff team for a number of years, they have talent on that roster. And as it continues to come together — we haven’t seen Kelsey Mitchell play yet because of her ankle injury, and she was their leading scorer a year ago. So, when you add her to the mix, I think Indiana is a playoff team if they stay healthy, get Mitchell healthy, I think they’re a playoff team. And they’re a talented team. And the pieces there just fit beautifully, I think, with Caitlin.

Q: LaChina, I would like to ask about the impact of the W around the world. What does it mean, the growth of the league through the year by year? And what does it mean the global impact of the WNBA and around the world, because there are so many international players in the league? How big is that about the growth overall?

LACHINA ROBINSON: That’s a great question. I think the thing I continue to come back to when it comes to the importance of the WNBA is young girls having a vision of what they can do and what they can be. And whether that’s Brazil or Australia, the WNBA has a long history of international players coming from other countries to be a part of this league.

They’ve been a very important part of the success of the WNBA. So I think as the league continues to grow, the awareness continues to grow, the stretch and reach media-wise, and we can get more games broadcasted internationally, it just continues that tradition of contribution of women internationally in the WNBA, but also hopefully gives a dream to a young girl in another country who would want to come and play in this incredible league.

I’ve had the great fortune in my time especially of covering the Atlanta Dream, we’ve had a lot of international players — Erika de Souza and Sancho Lyttle who is from the Caribbean — and I just can’t say enough about what that — we talk about diversity and representation, but what they contribute to the WNBA was very different from every other player.

And I just think that international flavor and the international play even on the court, the types of basketball that’s played in other places, just makes the WNBA that much more rich and that more special of a league.

Q: We just saw the news about Toronto getting expansion teams to join the WNBA in 2026. What is your guys’ thoughts on that?

SARA GAIERO: I think it’s terrific. I think, again, it speaks to the commitment that Cathy Engelbert made when she stepped in as the commissioner to expand this league. I think obviously because of COVID it took a little bit longer than anyone had hoped. But we are seeing it.

To globalize this game and to go to Toronto, who has very much supported this league, and, again, what we saw the last two years when we brought the preseason there, I think it’s going to be a tremendous city to galvanize around the WNBA and really just an outstanding place for us to expand this league into.

REBECCA LOBO: I echo those sentiments, Sara, you bring up the two preseason games, one in Toronto. The fan base has proven to be strong in Canada. We’ve had a lot of good Canadian players in the U.S., whether it’s through the college system or the WNBA.

So, it’s exciting to add another city, but to make this an international league which is something that it’s never been before is great.

We’ve talked a lot over the course of the last bunch of years, especially around draft time, about the 144 and how hard it is to make a roster and how many great players end up without a home, whether it’s for just one season or however long. And there are so many good players.

And for people to understand, too, everybody’s contracts for the most part are designed to be up after the ’25 season or after this season.

So, for Golden State to come in when they are going to and have so many opportunities to sign high-level free agents and perhaps it will be the similar case the following year for Toronto also helps an expansion team be good earlier than they may have been in previous years.

LACHINA ROBINSON: Just everything that Sara and Rebecca said, I echo all that. The preseason games in Canada told us everything we needed to know in terms of the support there, especially with the media rights deal coming up. It gives us another market to expand to that can now participate in this WNBA movement.

But I also think it encourages the people that are excited about growth. We’ve been talking about expansion for a long time. There have been some cities that have had teams that have been moved or that are no longer there. And we’ve definitely felt for those cities that we know are without teams.

But now we see that what Cathy Engelbert is talking about, I think she had she wants to get it to 16 teams over the next few years; we’re now at 14. That’s coming to fruition.

Even though we lost some teams over time, the WNBA is still growing. I think this is an important step for us to actually see Canada happening, see Golden State happening to see the vision of this league moving forward.

Q: Rebecca and LaChina, as the W announced, I want to say earlier this offseason I think the announcement came earlier last year that they were adding Second Spectrum access and being able to disburse that data to the teams. Is that coming to the broadcast as well? And, if so, have you been able to experiment what some of that data is and how you’re planning to implement that into your analysis and your different roles?

LACHINA ROBINSON: I’ll let Sara answer this because we’ve been verbally introduced to Second Spectrum, but we haven’t had an opportunity to do a deep dive into it. I know she’s versed on it. So, I’ll let her at least start us off. Rebecca may be able to kick in.

SARA GAIERO: It’s a great question. When we received news of this, on the production side we were really excited because the ability to capture this player data and really dig into it will elevate our analysis to different levels.

And I’ve also said we have to caution with how we use the data. We don’t want to over-data our fans. At some point it becomes sort of noise where, I don’t know what you’re talking about with all that next-level stuff, QBR rating and all that stuff.

But I think it is just another tool that we can use to inform the talent of these athletes in what we’re seeing. So, from a production standpoint, yes, we’re going to dig in. It’s being provided to us. We’ll dig into that.

It will most likely find its way into our shows in the form of analysis provided by these guys. We’ll find ways to break down tape and reference some of the key stats and information that we’ve been able to dig out from the Second Spectrum data that is been provided.

And we’ll find ways to do it that is consumable for casual fans, for in-depth fans. But just adds that next level. If we could find out how many miles Caitlin Clark runs in a game because of how she’s being moved around and this and that, that just becomes something really interesting.

How does she get moved off the left side and can she hit the 3 there? How are they defending her? I think that’s where our high-level analysts can dig into that content and bring it to life for fans. And it helps to speak to how great the game is right now.

REBECCA LOBO: I’ll add, quickly, with any kind of analytics, how I go about things is if I’m watching a game and something strikes me about something that’s happening on the floor, or if there are numbers here that will back it up in a digestible way that we can put it in a graphic that I can mention in the game, we’re not going to have to spend too much time explaining it.

But, boom, we show a replay of something, look at this, this is something that caught my eye when I was watching film preparing for a game now what are the analytics that might support? Or maybe I saw something, is there analytics to support this in a different way? Actually, there’s not, okay. What else am I seeing?

That’s how I kind of go about the use of analytics in that way is more what do I see than the reverse way.

LACHINA ROBINSON: I would just wrap it up by saying the same thing. I love analytics. I was just actually thinking about A’Ja’s 50-point game in Atlanta and how many mid-range jumpers she took in that. I was, like, I wonder if you look back at the history of 50-point games, what was the mid-range versus 3-point, versus layups? Those kinds of things are so intriguing to me.

Again, I’m still learning about Second Spectrum, but as Rebecca mentioned, anything that helps us break down the game even further — I know you’re a big one when it comes to that — that’s important to me and I know important to us.

Q: Rebecca mentioned that there’s a lot of hype coming into this class, into this league. We’ve been watching it grow over the last couple of years. What do you think it’s going to take to maintain this momentum here and then even moving forward as we go into the next direction of women’s sports, and particularly for women in basketball?

LACHINA ROBINSON: Can you repeat your question one more time? My Internet went out.

Q: Rebecca mentioned this is a lot of hype. Some of the most hype she’s seen since 1997. We know the league has been seeing a lot of growth over the last couple of years, and so with this new class, what’s it going to take to maintain the momentum for women in basketball, in particular, as we move into this new direction?

LACHINA ROBINSON: I could start us off. I would say the continued investment in so many areas. I think that’s what we’re seeing right now is whether it’s the media or it’s the WNBA providing charters, like we’re seeing just an increased investment in the game, which then bleeds into the product.

And one thing that really, I think, stands out for me, when you think about the growth of women’s sports, is taking fans from casual to committed.

People may know the WNBA exists or they may watch the WNBA game if it’s on ABC every once in a while, but can we translate that to, I’m committed to watching every WNBA game for my team in my market and I’m committed to buying season tickets.

I think the more exposure we have in media, the more resources poured into the leagues and the teams in individual markets, we will get there.

We’re seeing an uptick on WNBA is on the rise, whether it’s social metrics or we’re talking about apparel and every sense of the word, but still have a long ways to go in terms of the commitment of the fan, tuning in, watching, going to games.

So, the casual to committed fan is something that I think in women’s basketball we could definitely use. And we see it on the college level because colleges and universities have a built-in fan structure.

They have alumni and they have people that are invested in these colleges and universities before their college women’s basketball team became a thing. How can we create that awareness around the WNBA? It’s only 28 years old. So, we’re getting there. But I think the casual to committed fan is something that’s huge for this league.

REBECCA LOBO: I also think if a fan wants to tune in and watch a game, they have to be able to tune in and watch the game. And we have come leaps and bounds from the early days of the league where once a week maybe there was a game on NBC, once a week on Oxygen, once a week on ESPN and that was it.

You couldn’t really watch games in your local market. There wasn’t a local package. Now you can watch every single game if you have ESPN or your streaming service or Ion or whatever it is.

I think that’s hugely important. We saw the frustration level of people this year for the first time when they couldn’t access a preseason game. People didn’t care in previous years whether or not they could access a preseason game at least to this level.

So our first two games being on Disney+ as well, that’s huge, because that gives another platform where people who want to watch Caitlin Clark, want to watch Connecticut, want to watch, they can watch.

And this is, I think, the best time in the history of the league in terms of access to watching these games. And to LaChina’s point, instead of a frustrated fan, make them a committed fan, because, hey, I want to watch the game, what channel is it on? I know it’s on something, it’s either on streaming or on my TV. I think that’s hugely important in an area where the WNBA has grown so, so much.

SARA GAIERO: I think to round that out, we can’t let our foot off the gas now with the exposure of this sport; exposure is huge. Being able to access it is huge.

Now that we’ve got the platforms to do so, we increase our storytelling around it. We deepen our analysis around it and that can help again turn these fans from casual to committed, and then you just see the growth from there, the stars. These players are stars in their own spaces.

We’re able to capitalize on that in positive ways so that again Angel Reese has made a name for herself beyond the basketball spaces. That helps bring attention to the league that we can use.

And I think that’s the momentum we have to keep pushing and pushing and pushing for to let the stories not disappear now that we’re at this point.

Q: There was a conversation a couple of weeks ago in regards to the lack of signature shoes that we’ve seen with the WNBA players. What is your messages to a lot of these brands who we have not seen a signature shoe for a lot of particular Black players and even as the game grows, for players in general?

LACHINA ROBINSON: Invest in women, period. Like, women are marketable. There’s a market out here for A’Ja Wilson. I’ve seen some of those narratives out here on the “Internets,” as my mother would say. It’s the same thing that we face as women in so many different spaces. That’s what the WNBA is subjected to; people who just refuse to invest in women.

A’Ja’s one of the best players in the world. Why doesn’t she have a signature shoe? I’m not saying that I’m an expert on sneakers or apparel, but I do know that the conversation around whether W players are marketable or if fans will buy shoes or buy apparel, put it out there. Let’s try it, right?

We don’t know until we try. And I just think investing in women is an overarching thing that when it comes to women’s sports, we just need to start really living it. Like not just talking it, but putting the dollars, putting the investment behind it, in the signature shoe.

I wore Lisa Leslies when I was in college. The posts wore Lisa Leslies and the guards wore the Sheryl Swoopes. And I remember that to this day. It was important to us. I have my Lisa Leslies. I love Lisa Leslie. It was huge. At that time, they were providing sneakers — Nike had a deal with the colleges where we had to wear those shoes.

I don’t know what all the deals look like now, but it was great because it was an education for on who Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes were, because that’s who our sneakers were about. So, invest in women, that’s all I’ve got to say about it.

Q: Rebecca, you talked about the excitement around the WNBA when it first launched in ’97, and sort of a two-part question, curious, first, how does sort of the excitement and initiatives back then compare to the excitement and the growth of the WNBA now? And the second part of the question is sort of we talked about TV viewership but looking at attendance, the average game attendance is still actually lower than it was in the first couple of seasons. How does the league try to take this momentum and turn fans into attending games?

REBECCA LOBO: There was a lot of interest going into that first season. There was a ton of marketing behind it. You would turn on an NBA game, a playoff game, at any point in 1997 and there was a commercial “We got next.” “We got next.” “The launch of the WNBA is coming June 21st when the New York Liberty play at the L.A. Sparks. Huge, huge promotion behind that WNBA season. Huge curiosity, as I mentioned earlier, and as a result 5 million people tuned in and watched the highest-rated WNBA game ever that New York Liberty at L.A. Sparks game.

The other night, I think it was last night, there was a Celtics game and the signage on the scorer’s table was an ESPN ad, WNBA season, tune in to watch, Indiana Fever, at the Connecticut Sun this coming Tuesday.

I feel like there’s just as much if not more kind of hype leading into this season that we saw the last time to this degree in 1997.

I think there’s curiosity, too, from a lot of fans who have been watching college and haven’t necessarily in the WNBA.

Your ticket sales question, I think a similar thing. In those early days, people were buying tickets, what does women’s professional basketball, will be shocked if this season’s ticket sales don’t come close to those numbers that we saw in the early days of the league.

The hard thing, and LaChina can speak to this covering so many Atlanta games, but Atlanta plays in a small arena. The Washington Mystics play in a smaller arena even than they did when they first joined the league years ago. We have to take those things into consideration as well. Maybe we look at what’s the capacity or the percentage of capacity of ticket sales in certain arenas when you’re playing in ones that are a little bit smaller.

But one of the things that I asked our guys to give us leading into the WNBA draft, the highest rated game we ever had on ESPN2 was back in 2003. It was a playoff Game, 186,000 viewers. Regular season game, highest rated on ESPN was back in 2004, 487,000.

I’ll be shocked if we don’t have more than 487,000 people watching the game on ESPN2, that season opening game. So I think we’re going to see numbers that we haven’t seen since the very early years of the WNBA even though I understand it’s a completely different TV and media climate than it was in those days, much easier to draw those kind of ratings especially on network television back when the league started back then.

But I can’t wait. I do feel we’re at a place now where the promotion is equal to what it was in those early days where ticket sales and TV viewership, we’ll see a kick up in terms of — part of it is curiosity driven — but I believe we’ll be able to sustain the viewer because the product they’ll see on the floor is at such an elite level.

LACHINA ROBINSON: As far as Atlanta, we sold out several games last year. I think season tickets are already gone in Atlanta. But it’s a small venue. You’re limited ticket revenue. I know the ownership group has talked about wanting to build a bigger venue, be in a bigger space. That limits the numbers. There’s a line outside of people that want and there’s a demand but they’re not able to get in.

But I think the summertime is sometimes challenging, right, because families have vacations and there’s lots of things going on, but I think the bottom line, there’s just not enough awareness about the existence of the WNBA and your access to it.

That goes back to Sara and Rebecca and what they talked about, is, we’ve got to continue to create the awareness and push the WNBA from a ticket sales standpoint, ratings, all those things, because I still find people that say, when does the WNBA play again? I think that impacts the fans in terms of attendance.

Just the awareness when the games are, when they are playing, how you can get there, who the stars are and whose jersey you should be buying. All those conversations need to be continued at a high level.

Q: LaChina and Rebecca, how have defensive coverages evolved since you guys played?

REBECCA LOBO: Everything has evolved. I was talking about this with someone the other day, like, my first couple of years in the WNBA, there wasn’t a whole lot of on-ball screening action other than Houston running C, running the pick-and-roll for Cynthia Cooper and Tina Thompson.

Basketball has evolved in a huge way. I can remember when Richie Adubato in 1999 came to the New York Liberty. He was one of the first guys to come over who had an NBA background to the WNBA.

Teaching the bigs how to hedge out on screens and how to trap and the different coverages versus just kind of drop stuff that you did in college. So, as we’ve watched the evolution, starting in the NBA now through the WNBA over the course of the history of the league, it has certainly changed.

Nobody was icing anything other than cupcakes back when I was playing in the league. So, coverages have changed. Schemes on the offensive end and therefore schemes on the defensive end have continued to evolve in a huge way just like they have on the NBA side.

LACHINA ROBINSON: Yeah, I would just say that the defense has had to evolve with the offense. Look at the amazing offensive display we’re seeing in our game right now.

Back when I was playing, a long time ago, there were a couple of power forwards you may have to get out guard on the 3-point line. Now every power guard can shoot the 3.

There were some bigs who could handle the transition and now, because of the point forward movement, your bigs are going to have to get up and guard in full court. You have to accommodate it in backcourt.

I think about three-player switching, something I wasn’t talking about even a decade ago, a defensive scheme we’re seeing used more often now in the women’s game. So I think it’s a credit to the incredible offensive players that we have now, the athleticism, the speed, how dynamic they are that you have to do a lot more at, I know, my position now than you did back then to accommodate for the amazing play that we see on the offensive end.

REBECCA LOBO: I don’t remember what year the rule was changed, but in the very early years of the W, you could play zone. There wasn’t the defensive three seconds. That’s just an evolution as well.


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