We got the news yesterday: the Monarchs were done in Sacramento and the WNBA hopes to move them to the Bay area. I’d had a pretty good idea the week before that some other “bad” shoe was likely to drop before long in the WNBA, based on a conversation with a source who knows the inner workings of the league.
So I was disappointed to hear the news, but not shocked. I talked to WNBA president Donna Orender on Friday night; I would say she sounded understandably weary but still ready to tackle the next challenge and cautiously optimistic about her chances in the Bay area.
I also wrote about the Monarchs for ESPN.com . I certainly empathize with the Monarchs fans who have lost their team and didn’t see it coming. The players, from all accounts, didn’t anticipate it, either. Is there a better way for these things to be handled? Of course, but it rarely – if ever – happens like that in any business.
The Maloof family got panicky about their empire and started looking for stuff to throw overboard. The Monarchs, coming off the rarity of a terrible season, were jettisoned.
Orender wanted a little more time to work with for moving the franchise elsewhere. But we are living in an era of financial challenges that are scaring even those who are used to never worrying about much of anything.
And what you see in the Maloof family’s willingness to let go of the Monarchs – whose entire operating expenses wouldn’t even begin to cover the salaries of a couple of low-end NBA players _ is just an example of how when times get tough, people’s true priorities come into focus.
The Maloof family liked having the Monarchs, but it wasn’t a necessity among their possessions. Having been through this in the newspaper industry, I guess you could say it just doesn’t surprise me anymore. Newspapers have made decisions about what’s bedrock valuable to them and what isn’t. Most have gotten rid of or are still in the proccess of discarding everything they feel isn’t an utter necessity.
I’ve seen and heard of situations where reporters were in a press box or in a media room working and got the call that their position had been eliminated. I knew of one colleague who was told just before driving three hours to a conference tournament. She went ahead and did her job.
However, it seems that there are some WNBA followers still thinking that the problems with the league are unique to the WNBA. They’re not.
Right now, there are all kinds of people in a multitude of professions who never imagined they’d be even short-term unemployed, let alone long-term. Does that mean what they do isn’t valuable? No, it means our economy is, as they euphemistically say, “correcting” itself. Many people are getting hurt in the process. Some things will fall apart. Some will hang on.
The WNBA’s goal – like that of many businesses – is to hang on through the hard times and realize that if something’s valuable to enough people, they find a way to make it work. More teams may fold or relocate. More fans will be hurt and disillusioned. The people in the women’s basketball world who pretty much live to tell everyone how the sky is falling just like they’ve always said it would, will tell us …. that the sky is falling. Just like they’ve always said it would.
If WNBA followers want to bail out emotionally and give up hope because the setbacks are painful, that’s certainly their choice. Or they can absorb the blows, feel down a little while … and then focus on what’s still going for the league and how they can support it.
That said, I empathize with the WNBA fans of Houston, Detroit and Sacramento. I don’t expect fans in those places to have a lot of energy or willpower to want to support the WNBA after they’ve lost their teams and don’t feel the league communicated well with them about how or why it happened. But some of them may, in spite of their own disappointment, remain WNBA fans.
Because the hard truth is that the league can’t force owners who want out to stick around or even to give much notice of their plans. The Maloofs decided they were done with the WNBA, and that was that. Hey, it’s their money.
You can focus on everything that’s gone badly – and, sure, there’s plenty – or you can say, “There are still 12 teams, and that’s what the league is working with now. If there were 10, that’s what the league would deal with. If there were eight, that’s what it started with. If there were six, that’s how many the NHL used to have.”
By the way, the NHL had 10 teams through the 1920s, but the Great Depression and then the advent of World War II reduced that figure to six by 1942. And that’s the way it stayed in the NHL for the next 25 years.
That’s right. For a quarter-century _ about twice as long as the WNBA has currently existed _ the NHL competed with just six teams. And despite its various ups and downs, it is still surviving.
The WNBA’s movement toward independent owners is the right business model. There are still five teams with NBA owners, and all of them may opt to keep things the way they are for the foreseeable future. But the independent owners have the WNBA as their primary product. As such, they may have less capital but they most likely are more “invested.”
And that’s what it all comes down to: Having enough people who are truly invested no matter how tough and disappointing the setbacks are. Fans most certainly included.