Commissioner Cathy Engelbert reflects on unprecedented 2020 WNBA season
A season that persevered despite a deadly, global pandemic and persistent racial injustice in the U.S.
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A close-up view of the official WNBA game ball. (Photo by David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images)
The 2020 WNBA Finals tip-off Friday night at 7 pm ET on ESPN2 when the Seattle Storm and Las Vegas Aces will see each other in a highly-anticipated Western showdown. Ahead of the series, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert held a press conference reflecting on the season as a whole — a season that persevered despite a global pandemic and persistent racial injustice in the U.S.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the state of the game in the face of enormous challenges this year,” Engelbert said on Thursday’s conference call.
Engelbert made sure to thank everyone involved in making the season possible, including medical staff whose work behind the scenes was especially crucial this year.
“They’ve put in so many hours, and their work is not done until the day we leave here,” Engelbert said.
The 2020 WNBA season by the numbers
By the end of this year’s WNBA Finals, the remaining players and league staff will have been at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida for a total of around 97 days.
Since the start of the regular season, the league reported that there were zero positive COVID-19 cases for players and team staff. Earlier in the postseason, the league endured a scare when three Seattle players received inconclusive tests, but soon after received confirmed negative tests and were able to resume their semifinal series against the Minnesota Lynx.
This year’s regular season in Florida was an abbreviated one, with each team playing 22 games. Of the 132 total regular-season games, 87 were nationally televised.
The quality of play on the court was exceptional as well, with a record average of 83.1 points scored per game, Engelbert reported. The lack of usual travel for players and teams due to this year’s single-site environment has been cited by some as a potential reason for the higher level of play.
Engelbert also highlighted an increase in fan engagement, despite fans not being allowed to physically attend games this year. There was a 30% increase in cross-platform average action on social media and an 85% increase year-over-year in average weekly WNBA mobile app downloads.
Additionally, average viewership during the regular season skyrocketed 68% from 2019’s numbers, thanks to an increase in the number of games on national television After Opening Day saw a 20% increase in viewership compared to last year, ESPN and NBATV increased the number of televised games on their networks.
The season of social justice
Before a single game was even played in 2020, the players and league began working to make social justice and racial inequality paramount issues in people’s minds. Several high-profile stars like Maya Moore and Renee Montgomery opted to sit out the season to continue their advocacy work and those who chose to play made sure the conversation didn’t end once the games began.
The WNBA dedicated its 24th season to furthering the Black Lives Matter movement and the #SayHerName campaign with a series of collaborative efforts, including painting “Black Lives Matter” on the sides of the basketball courts, having the names of Black victims of police violence emblazoned on players’ jerseys and establishing a Social Justice Council, made up of players and outside advisors.
And in August, the players collectively decided to sit out games following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. In its end of the season awards, the league recognized all of its players with the 2020 Community Assist Award “for their continued commitment, leadership and collaborative efforts to promote racial equality and systemic change.”
On Thursday, Engelbert once again emphasized how inspired she has personally been by the players’ efforts to consistently use their voices to push for social change and advocate for important causes.
“Now, you might say they continue to have these strong voices, and maybe it’s less courageous to do so because everybody’s doing that, but they had courage well before everybody else,” Engelbert said.