The WNBA's national schedule on ESPN2 drew an average of 231,000 viewers this year, an increase of 28% from the 2012 season. It should be noted though, that 2012 saw the WNBA average just 180,000 viewers per game – its worst mark ever on ESPN2. Minnesota's three game sweep over Atlanta in the WNBA Finals last month averaged 344,000 viewers on ESPN2.
Sports Business Journal put those numbers in perspective and they're good news for the league. The NCAA Frozen Four on ESPN and ESPN2 averaged 301,000 viewers. NCAA Women's Basketball (including the NCAA Tournament) averaged 289,000 viewers on ESPN2. The IndyCar season on NBCSN averaged 282,000 viewers.The MLS regular season averaged 220,000 viewers on ESPN and ESPN2, and a pathetic 112,000 viewers on NBCSN.
If the WNBA didn't see a substantial increase in their viewership this season after star rookies Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, and Skylar Diggins entered the league, there would be a real problem going forward. The most-viewed WNBA game of the year was a matchup of Griner's Phoenix Mercury and Delle Donne's Chicago Sky on Memorial Day, which drew 455,000 viewers – 45% higher than the second most-viewed game, a matchup between the Washington Mystics and Diggins' Tulsa Shock, which was that game's lead-in on Memorial Day.
The WNBA is a niche sport – but that's not necessarily a bad thing. And with many sports that aren't named football, ratings are largely dependent on big markets and starpower. With the likes of Griner, Diggins, and Delle Donne, the WNBA is in great shape. It'll be interesting to see if the rise in viewership from 2012 to 2013 leads to another jump for the 2014 season. So much for all of sports being set to men.