ESPN Hopes Strong Regular Season Gives WNBA Playoffs a Ratings Bounce

Breanna Stewart #30 of the New York Liberty plays against the Washington Mystics during Game Two of Round One of the 2023 Playoffs at the Barclays Center on September 19, 2023
New York Liberty star Breanna Stewart leads her team into semifinal action against the Connecticut Sun. (Image credit: Getty Images)

With ESPN tipping off coverage of the WNBA playoff semifinals on Sunday (September 24), the programmer is optimistic about continuing its solid regular-season ratings run into the final rounds of the postseason. 

The league’s top two teams, the defending champion Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty, are on a collision course to meet in the finals if they can get through tough matchups with the Dallas Wings and Connecticut Sun, respectively. The first round of the WNBA playoffs averaged 379,000 viewers during the playoffs’ nine-game quarterfinal round. That’s down 3% from to last season, when those games aired in August without competition from NFL regular-season and college football games. 

ESPN VP of production Sara Gaiero said the semifinal matchups offer similar compelling storylines to those that drove an 18% year-to-year increase in regular-season WNBA ratings for ESPN, ABC and ESPN2.

Aided by an increase in 2023 regular season games to 40 from 36, WNBA teams and players set several league records during the campaign, including the most wins by a team (the Aces won a record 34 games) and the most points in a season by an individual player, broken by the Seattle Storm’s Jewell Loyd, the New York Liberty’s Breanna Stewart and the Aces’ A’Ja Wilson.

“We had the most-viewed season in years, and I think that speaks to the momentum behind women’s sports in general and the WNBA in particular,” Gaiero said. “What we’ve seen is the desire for the consumption of the sport continue to elevate, and we’ve ridden that all the way into the playoffs. As the playoffs continue, we will lean into the storylines presented to us.” 

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.