Saturday, May 1, 2010

Digest 03-2010

* The Democratic WNBA
* Lyttle, de Souza Earn Honors in Spain
* The Power Law of Sports Fandom
* Shawn Goff, Chandi Jones and Tatum Brown Get Training Camp Invites
* Women's Basketball Expands (Again)
* Dream Takes Practice on the Road
* The 2010 NCAA Women's Basketball Championship - How Houston Saw It
* This Week's Games

When I write "Democratic" I'm not writing that the WNBA advocates an egalitarian political system characterized by equal participation and representation. Rather, I'm writing about the political party that WNBA fans belong to.

The accompanying graph - full size at this link - should be self-explanatory. The horizontal axis represents the political spectrum - the left side votes for the Democrats, and the right votes for the Republicans. The vertical axis represents how likely the fans of a certain sport are likely to vote - the upper part indicates high voter turnout and the lower quadrant represents low turnout.

The study, which was commissioned by National Media Inc. (a Republican firm) and whose polling was conducted by Scarborough USA, has implications primarily when it comes to deciding where one wishes to spend money on political advertising. The actual proportions shouldn't be surprising - as some commenters in the link noted, sports viewership is dominated by white males, and while males strongly tends toward supporting Republicans.

What sport do you want to associate with if you're a Republican running for office? Probably college football - it's a large audience, it has decent turnout at the polls and it's predictably Republican. PGA Tour followers have a higher turnout and are more Republican, but there aren't as many of them. What if you're a Democrat? Probably the NBA, which has average voter turnout and whose fans tend to vote for Democrats. The WNBA's fans are most likely to vote for Democrats, but they aren't numerous enough to spend a lot of cash on. (Although if it's a close election, and you need to pick up a few thousand votes....)

I don't know if this study does anything than confirm our own biases, but the graph is definitely interesting to look at. If you're a WNBA fan looking for ideological fellow-travelers and are looking to change sports, call David Stern in New York - I think he has a sport to suggest.

(* * *)

In Spain, players Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza picked up some of the honorariums doled out by the Liga Feminina - the Spanish League of women's basketball.

Lyttle was named the "Player of the Year" of the Liga Femenina, the equivalent of the MVP award. Lyttle played for Perfumieras, taking them to a 23-3 regular season record, good for second place in the LFB. As of this writing, the team made it to the LFB Finals. Perfumerias also made it to the quarterfinals of Euroleague, where their march to the European Championship was stopped by Ros Casares. Lyttle averaged 17.6 points and 8.3 rebounds against the best women in Europe, and in Spain, she is averaging 15.8 points and 10.5 rebounds a game.

This isn't Lyttle's only hardware. She was named Center of the Year and made it to the LFB's First Team, along with familiar names such as Shay Murphy and DeLisha Milton-Jones. (The complete list is here.) She was also named to the LFB's All-Defensive Team.

Erika de Souza made it to the LFB second team along with Jazz Covington (out of Louisville), Crystal Langhorne and Shannon Johnson. De Souza averaged 13.3 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game in Euroleague, where her Ros Casares team made it to the finals before losing to Spartak Moscow. In the LFB regular season, Ros Casares finished the season 25-1 and is currently playing against Perfumerias in the LFB Finals. In LFB play, de Souza has averaged 14.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.

Congratulations to Lyttle and de Souza! Now finish up the season in Spain and head back to Atlanta!

(* * *)

I'm going to ask you ten trivia questions about the WNBA. The answers to these questions won't be provided - for help, see your local internet.

1. Name the first team to win four WNBA championships.

2. Name the only two players to win the Most Valuable Player award in the WNBA three times.

3. Name the only player to win the MVP award as a rookie.

4. What were the two major changes made to WNBA rules in the start of the 2006 season?

5. Which team won the first WNBA game ever played?

6. Who was the first player to ever score a basket in the WNBA?

7. What player scored the most points ever in a WNBA game? (Bonus: How many points did she score?)

8. Which WNBA player born in the United States played for the Russian Olympic team in the 2008 Olympics?

9. Who is the tallest player in WNBA history?

10. After which player is the WNBA's Sportsmanship Award named?

If you feel bad that you don't know the answers to many of these questions, well...don't. My suspicion is that a lot of the attendees at WNBA basketball games couldn't answer these questions if their lives depended on it. It's not that those season ticket holders and game followers aren't interested in women's basketball - far from it - it's just that they aren't intense fans and don't see the need to immerse themselves completely in a "culture of fandom". By an "intense" fan I mean someone who is what I call an "insider" or "ensnared".... least according to a book called "The Elusive Fan" by Irving J. Rein, Philip Kotler, and Ben Shields. The three writers argue that there is a fan involvement ladder in sports fandom. (And possibly, in any fandom.) These levels of fandom are:

1. Indifferent: In the case of the women's basketball, these people have either found the women's game unsatifying, threatening (gasp!) or for whatever reason, they really don't care enough about women's basketball (or basketball) to have an opinion.
2. Eyeballers: These are probably the largest group of women's basketball fans out there, those that make up that 2.7 rating in the Connecticut-Stanford final game. They'll watch special events - the WNBA Finals, the NCAA finals, maybe an All-Star Game - but they're not going to be involved at any level beyond the "most important" events.
3. Wallets: These are the fans that will actually attend a WNBA game, and indeed, they'll socialize around the game. They'll pull up WNBA Live Access or catch regular season games - and that's when they can't economically attend the games themselves.
4. Collectors: These are fans interested in sports memorabilia.
5. Attachers: These are fans interested in receiving communication from the team/their heroes and wanting the opportunity to exchange messages.
6. Insiders: These are fans whose goal is to enter into or participate in the inner circles of women's basketball.
7. Ensnared: These are the most involved fans, because they identify personally with a team. These are involved fans, and sometimes, too involved and a little bit creepy. (Think of the Monica Seles stabbing. Seles was the #1 women's tennis player who was stabbed by a Steffi Graf stalker.) They can either be a boon or a problem to a sport.

My theory is that if one were to draw a graph of women's basketball fandom, it would be a power law graph. It would look something like a hockey stick. It would not look like a bell curve, or what is called a "normal distribution". The normal distribution assumes that most women's basketball fans/potential fans would be somewhere in the middle - perhaps "wallets" or "collectors" and involvement would trail off on both sides. The power law distribution assumes that the overwhelming majority of women's basketball fans are in that "eyeballer stage" - they'll watch the game when there's an important women's basketball event or they might be a men's basketball fan but nothing else is on TV. There are a few wallets - the attendance figures at WNBA games bear that out - and as we go up to the collectors/attachers/insiders/ensnared, the numbers decrease even further. The "ensnared" are simply the capstone on a pyramid with the "eyeballers" at the base - and the base is always wider than the apex.

So what are the implications of the power law theory? The first is that despite the fact that the wallets spend the money on the games and despite the fact that the attachers and insiders are really, really involved - the potential cash is in getting the eyeballers to attend a game. They are the potential source of future revenue. A preacher should spent his efforts on the people who are receptive to his message, and as they saying goes, one doesn't waste time preaching to the already converted.

The second implication is that we tend to look at the world through the lenses of our own particular group.

* For the indifferent, the biggest problem with the WNBA is that it exists.
* For the eyeballers, the biggest problem with the WNBA is that if you're not careful you might forget when the WNBA Finals come on TV.
* For the wallets, the biggest problem with the WNBA is in buying concessions, tickets, and paying for parking, as well as balancing going to the games versus your job.
* For the collectors, the biggest problem with the WNBA is that it isn't confident enough to sell more jerseys, banners, and WNBA collectible cards.
* For the attachers, the biggest problem with the WNBA is that you don't get enough information from the teams.
* For the insiders, the biggest problem with the WNBA is that you don't have the ears of important people in women's basketball - or if you do, that they don't listen.
* For the ensnared, the biggest problem with the WNBA is that they won't give you Becky Hammon's phone number.

The third implication is that the segment of the fandom that writes blogs and posts on messageboards is heavy with the top three groups. Those groups begin to assume that they are WNBA fandom and that their voice is the only important one. The bulk of people going to WNBA games don't want to buy jerseys, nor do they need an hour-by-hour update on team transactions. They just want to have a good time at a sporting event. The eyeballers just want something good to watch on TV. Neither of those groups care about Carol Blazejowski and how she manages the Liberty.

The power law says "pay more attention to the casual fan, and less attention to the hardcore fan". My anecdotal argument comes from the early days of Monday Night Football. The "big three" announcers in the early history of the show were Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and Don Meredith. Gifford and Meredith's approach to football announcing was the same dog-and-pony show that we're still familiar with in 2010: breathless play-by-play and the intricacies of the dime defense.

Cosell, however, knew that most football fans were casual fans, and that was his unstated aim. He wasn't going to bore you with football esoterica. He was more interested in the stories of the players than the strategy and tactics of the sport. He figured that his viewers weren't football experts, so why turn the show into a digression on coaching strategy? The hardcore fans hated Cosell, they absolutely despised him. He didn't know the game as well as Dandy Don Meredith, who was going to give you the real football knowledge.

But when Cosell was in the booth, Monday Night Football was one of the highest rated programs on TV. People related to him. They might have loved him, or they might have hated him, but they were never neutral - and they tuned in, religiously. Maybe the WNBA should follow the Cosell philosophy, and not the Madden one.

(* * *)

According to the and the University of Mississippi sports website, Ole Miss graduate Shawn Goff has received an invitation to the 2010 Atlanta Dream training camp.

Goff graduated from Ole Miss in 2009, and headed overseas to play in Sweden. I am unable to find out how well she did, but I believe she played for Swedish team Margo or Kinna Mark.

From the Ole Miss website:

A four-year letterwinner at Ole Miss, Goff finished her career as one of the all-time greats to ever wear an Ole Miss uniform. The Tallahassee, Fla., native ranks 18th all-time at Ole Miss in scoring after pouring in 1,179 career points. She finished her senior season eighth in the SEC with 13.8 points per game and tallied 23 games in which she scored in double figures.

Goff also ended her career with 702 rebounds and is one of only 10 players in school history with over 1,000 points and 700 boards. She paced the Rebels and ranked ninth in the SEC with 6.6 rebounds per game as a senior.

Another player, Chandi Jones out of the University of Houston, was invited to the Dream's training camp, according to the Houston Roundball Review:

Chandi Jones, the greatest player in the history of the University of Houston's women's basketball program, has signed a training camp contract with the WNBA's Atlanta Dream.Jones, 5-10, is not yet listed on the Dream's roster but has turned in her paperwork to the Dream.

Jones finished her collegiate career as the all-time leading scorer in UH and C-USA history with 2,692 points; and her number 13 jersey was retired by UH on February 5, 2005.

Jones was drafted 8th overall in the 2004 WNBA Draft by the Phoenix Mercury.

Jones played with the Detroit Shock in 2004 and part of 2005 before she ended up with Minnesota, finishing her career there in 2006. She was a teammate of Sancho Lyttle when they both played for the University of Houston.

Tatum Brown also makes an appearance in the Dream's training camp. Brown, a 6-4, 178 pound forward, graduated from Arizona in 2000. She has never played for the WNBA, but has remained active in international basketball

Brown has played in Israel (where she was once detained by the tough Israeli airport security), the Rwandan women's national team, France and Turkey. I know that she's been at least in camp for the Cleveland Rockers in 2002 and played at one time for the Houston Stealth in the old National Women's Basketball League, as well as the traveling Houston Jaguars team.

Good luck to all of the above. With a tough Atlanta Dream team, it's going to be hard to earn a spot on the roster.

(* * *)

If you've heard of the Women's Blue Chip Basketball League (WBCBL) - a semi-pro league that plays a season concurrent with the WNBAs - they (theoretically) have some competition.

An organization called the Women's United States Basketball League (WUSBL) which will be headquartered in Atlanta, GA and which will have twelve franchises in the southeast United States, a geographical region that has historically been a poor climate for women's basketball. According to the press release, the goal is that the league would play a 28-game schedule. The teams will hopefully be placed in Atlanta, Augusta, Birmingham, Louisville, West Virginia, Chattanooga, Charleston, Charlotte, Columbia, Richmond, Savannah, and Jacksonville.

So is this league going to happen? I don't know. No one knows. According to the same press release, the initial goal was to start a men's basketball league - the USBL - but "...some American men's lower level basketball leagues have given a black eye to the sport by the failure to operate good companies, the flax we received from vendors and arenas, we wanted to rent was ridiculous." Furthermore, it doesn't cost any money to send a press release - but starting a league is another matter entirely. Supposedly, on May 8th and May 15th there will be WUSBA women's tryouts held in Louisville, KY - interested readers can chase down their own information.

I do believe that that if the WUSBL is ever realized, such a structure would be better than the one the WBCBL is currently is using - one with approximately fifty teams and seemingly little information about any of them. There are very basic things that a league has to do in order to be stable. There has to be financially secure leadership. There must be corporate support. Travel schedules have to be finalized. Players have to be paid, and they have to be able to depend that they will get paid, even if it's just $300 per week. And finally, there must be a threshhold where some teams will be accepted and others will be turned away.

Is the WUSBL good news? Yes. The WUSBL is good news even if it never plays a game, because it promotes the idea that there is money to be made - at some level - in women's professional basketball. In many cases in sports history, expansion is not voluntary - it is forced. The traditional pattern goes as follows:

1. New league springs up because the old league doesn't meet the demand for the sport.

2. New league becomes popular and begins attempting to compete with the old league by offering players higher salaries.

3. Salaries go up in both leagues. Players benefit.

4. Both sides conclude they're paying too much in salaries - the owners in the leagues conclude they have more in common with each other than not.

5. The leagues merge.

Of course, WUSBL salaries would have to get a lot higher than $300 per week and a meal voucher at Golden Corral. But then again, stranger things have happened. Major leagues get started by a bunch of crazy people with money - sometimes, more money than sense - and before you know, it snowballs into something big. The goal of the WUSBL is to be the "triple-A" of the WNBA - a big ambition - but great oaks grow from small acorns.

(* * *)

According to, the Atlanta Dream is going to be hosting open practices at high schools in the Central Georgia Area. The program is called "Take the Show on the Road" and it will be presented by Nfinity, which produces basketball and cheerleading shoes.

"Take the Show on the Road is a great opportunity for our team to interact with communities up close while providing them a unique and fun platform to raise significant funds for their school programs," said Dream President and COO Toby Wyman.

Fans who attend Take the Show on the Road get an inside look at the team's practice from start to finish and enjoy interactive elements including autographs, Q&A with players, giveaways, prizes and more! Nfinity will be on site during the Take the Show on the Road events with shoes on display and a booth for sales.

For those of you who can't get to a game - but who can get to a local high school - then who knows? You might be seeing the Dream up close and personal.

(* * *)

Recently, I obtained some Nielsen data regarding the 2010 NCAA Women's Basketball Championship. I thought the championship rematch between Connecticut and Stanford was a disappointing game, and my conclusion was this would be reflected in the Nielsen ratings for the game. I knew that hour-per-hour Nielsens were available, and that those ratings or shares would reflect those of a disappointing game - high numbers at first, and then falling thereafter.

What I forgot was that I had an insider who could look up television ratings. Unfortunately, the only ratings the insider could get me were from Dallas and Houston. I received a set of Houston ratings and hopefully, I'll get the ratings from Dallas soon.

The data I have is Live+SD, Live+3 and Live+7. All of these numbers represent a time range from the original air date of the program, since Nielsen understand that many people these days will record a program on their DVR and watch it later. "Live+SD" reflects televisions where either the game was watched as it aired, or was recorded plus watched on the same day. The +3 and +7 designations extend this viewing window up to +3/+7 days after the game was recorded. Since the numbers are roughly the same, I'll be using the Live+SD (seen live or on the same day) numbers.

Here is the quarter-hour data for Houston, Texas for the Connecticut-Stanford game. The game started at 7:30 pm central time, and 7 pm begins the lead-in to the show.

Two numbers follow, separated by slashes. The first number is the rating, which is the percentage of all televisions (in use or not) tuned to the game. The second number is the share, which is the percentage of all televisions in use tuned to the game.

All times are Central Time:

7:00 pm: 0.6/1.1

7:15 pm: 0.6/1.1

7:30 pm: 1.3/2.2

7.45 pm: 1.9/3.0

8:00 pm: 2.2/3.4

8:15 pm: 2.3/3.4

8:30 pm: 3.1/4.5

8:45 pm: 4.4/6.2

9:00 pm: 3.7/5.7

9:15 pm: 4.8/7.3

I was astonished to say the least. My expectations were reversed in the results. Viewership was low during the pre-game hoopla from 7 pm to 7:30 pm, and as the game progressed, the ratings slowly increased. By the end of the game, 7 percent of all active television sets in Houston were either watching the finale or taping it.

Of course, there are a lot of explanations for the data pattern. Maybe most viewers watched "American Idol" first before joining the game in progress. Maybe the numbers reflect Houston's traditional love of women's basketball. In any case, it looks like in Houston...they liked what they were seeing.

(* * *)

Basketball is still taking place in Europe in a lot of countries, so a rundown on where some of our Atlanta Dream players are:


Some photos from the first Ekaterinburg-Spartak Moscow game - where Ekaterinburg won 70-62 - can be found here. There are at least a couple of photos of Kelly Miller here.

Ekaterinburg 87, Spartak 79. In Game Two of the best-of-five series, Ekaterinburg wins again, with accusations of dubious home-team refereeing helping out Ekaterinburg.

The game film is here. Photos of the game are here. (Kelly Miller gets about three pictures.)

EKA: Parker 43, Abrosimova 13, Stepanova 10, Pondexter 10, Gruda 4, Nolan 2
SPA: Bird 20, Taurasi 14, Jekabsone 12, Fowles 4, McCarville 2
Kelly Miler: 5 points, 2-for-4 shooting, 3 assists, 22 minutes played

Ekaterinburg 73, Spartak Moscow 67. In front of a home crowd of 6000 fans, Ekaterinburg completes the amazing sweep of Spartak Moscow and wins the Russia Superleague A Championship.

Photos of the game are here.

EKA: Parker 25, Pondexter 12, Gruda 11, Nolan 11, Abrosimova 2
SPA: Taurasi 17, Fowles 15, Bird 12, McCarville 10, Jekabsone 0
Kelly Miller: 3 points, 1-for-3 shooting, 1 assist, 3 rebounds, 16 minutes played


Ros Casares 78, Perfumerias 69. In the sixth match between these two teams this year (regular season, Euroleague, Copa de la Reina), a good second quarter gives Ros Casares the first game in the best-of-three LFB Finals series.

ROS: Snell 24, Milton-Jones 23, Palau Altes 12
PER: De Mondt 13, Domingues Fernandez 11, Torrens 11
Erika de Souza: 13 points for Ros Casares, 10 rebounds, 6-for-11 shooting, 29 minutes played
Sancho Lyttle: 19 points for Perfumerias, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 35 minutes played

Ros Casares 82, Perfumerias 78 (OT). Ros Casares gets the Game Two win in overtime and the Spanish League season comes to an end as the best-of-three finals season is swept by El Ros. Amaya Valdemoro of Ros Casares put it away with a 3-pointer with 16 seconds remaining in the overtime as Perfumerias simply ran out of oomph.

PER: Sánchez 15, Torrens 14 (Willingham 2)
ROS: Snell 21, Milton-Jones 17 (Valdemoro 6, Aguilar 3, Montañana 2)
Sancho Lyttle: 29 points, 10-for-17 shooting, 14 rebounds, 5 offensive rebounds, 39 minutes played
Erika de Souza: 16 points, 8-for-15 shooting, 13 rebounds, 6 offensive rebounds, 43 minutes played, fouled out

LFB2: Encino 68, Burgos 54. Top team Burgos has been struggling with its second straight loss and falls into a tie with 23-5 Extrugasa at the end of the regular season. Burgos moves into the second of two four-player groups that will play a round-robin to determine which teams get promoted to the LFB.

ENC: Gomez Iglesias 18, Herrera Arevalo 17, Roddy 14 (Pollini 0)
BUG: Lozana Adan 16, Cabrera Arguello 9, Jorge Portela 8
Demetress Adams: 4 points, 2-for-4 shooting, 8 rebounds, 3 turnovers, 25 minutes played


Galatasaray 73, Tarsus 64. Galatasaray wins their quarterfinals series with Tarsus 3-0 (one win automatically assigned to the higher seed). Tarsus had the lead at halftime, but the second half was all Galatasaray. Galataasaray advances to play Mersin and Ivory Latta in the semifinals.

TAR: Black 14, Erdogan 14, January 11 (Lennox 9)
GAL: Catchings 27, Douglas 11, Young 11
Yelena Leuchanka: 9 points, 3-for-5 shooting, 7 rebounds, 24 minutes played

Galatasaray 74, Mersin 63. Sophia Young scored 25 points to give Galatasaray Game One of the best-of-five semifinals series.

MER: Turner 15, Larkins 14, Ivegin 9, Latta 9 (Scott 3)
GAL: Young 25, Catchings 13 (Douglas 4)
Yelena Leuchanka: 11 points, 5-for-6 shooting, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, 22 minutes played


Unknown said...

I got all 10 right. Is that weird?

Rebecca said...

All 10, no hesitation, but... well, I sort of live on levels 2-6.

The thing is that the league's outreach pretty much IS to the eyeballers, and trying to drag the indifferent into it. And they're doing a piss-poor job of it. That, and it's possible to do more than one thing at a time- provide an entertaining product to bring in the ore casual fans, and actually provide information to the more involved fans.

pt said...

Interesting, as the book mentioned in the article was an argument that those wishing to market to fans should plan ways to market to each of the segments. One even has opportunities to market to the indifferent - for example, a person might hate women's basketball but love his/her alma mater, so if the indifferent person's school is doing well in the NCAA Tournament, that's an opportunity. For the eyeballer, commercials are the opportunity. For the wallet, point-of-entry is the opportunity. (I don't know what the opportunity would be for the ensnared, except for HammonCam.)