WNBA

WNBA’s Ionescu Issue Defines WNBA Marketing

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Since drafting Sabrina Ionescu with the first overall draft pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, the New York Liberty, and the league at large, have pushed her as one of the league’s most preeminent faces. Early this season, she hit a game-winner and posted a rare triple-double, leading to League Pass featuring an ad during games that continued to point these statistical markers for months. However, making Ionescu the league’s poster child is questionable because while she is talented for a second-year player, she is not even the best player on her team.

Liberty have Depth

Betnijah Laney was the Most Improved Player in the league a season ago and joined the Liberty prepared to take the next step. This season, she improved further, making her first All-Star appearance. She averages career highs in points (18.6) and assists (5) while adding 4 rebounds per game. Laney is efficient as ever, shooting a career-high 48.1 percent from the field. Natasha Howard missed most of the season but is one of the W’s most dominant defensive forces. She has also displayed an improved offensive game upon return. Sami Whitcomb is another new member of the team having a career year, hitting a scorching 43.3 percent of her 3-point shots. Also, Michaela Onyenwere is the current favorite for Rookie of the Year.

This season, the Liberty has been one of the WNBA’s best stories, but controversy still surrounds them. In a heated Twitter exchange between Phoenix Mercury star Skylar Diggins-Smith and Liberty guard Jazmine Jones, the association’s marketing issues emerged strongly.

It is the league’s responsibility to market all its players to the best of its abilities. For whatever reason, the hype around Ionescu has, to date, outshined her on-court production. This attention puts her, her teammates, and the league as a whole in a strange position. Ionescu deserves a chance to grow into what her fans perceive as destined stardom. However, the other 11 teams deserve fans to celebrate their on-court production beyond whatever narrative a media company is pushing.

The League at Large

For 25 years, the WNBA has been a symbol of progression and equality. They have been at the forefront of social justice initiatives. However, that does not mean that they have been immune to missteps of their own. The way the league has prioritized marketing Ionescu above many other players is an example of that concern. To this point, she is not even the best player to come off her college team, yet. That distinction belongs to Satou Sabally, another first-time All-Star this season.

To clarify, this is not a criticism of Ionescu. On the contrary, she seems to care about winning and her team above all else. However, the issue is that the pressure that comes with the over-abundance of attention causes frustration and growing pains that Ionescu should not have to manage. She did not ask to become the focal point beyond what she has earned.

Granting this issue, it has not hurt her financially. She is one of the few WNBA athletes with a national commercial campaign. This spotlight further proves that the WNBA is marketable. The growth that the league demonstrates is something that big sponsors can get behind. It is time for the New York Liberty, the WNBA, and the partners to step up.

About Corey Rausch

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