With so much talk surrounding how the coronavirus pandemic could negatively impact women’s leagues more than their male counterparts, the WNBA proved last week with its virtual draft that it’s possible to maintain the momentum it had even during this unprecedented shutdown.
The 2020 WNBA draft, which aired on ESPN Friday, was the most watched WNBA draft in 16 years and the second-most watched in ESPN’s history. The event, held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, averaged 387,000 viewers, which is a 123% increase from last year’s draft. It’s also up 33% from the last time the draft aired on the network in 2011.
Content from the draft also saw unprecedented engagement numbers across WNBA and NBA social media channels. The event generated 6.5 million views — 165% increase compared to last year’s draft — and 1.3 million minutes watched. The WNBA’s Instagram also had its highest year-over-year growth with more than 3.8 million video views Friday.
Unanimous National Player of the Year and arguably the most talked about player in college basketball last year, Sabrina Ionescu of Oregon, was selected first overall by the New York Liberty. Along with being a great talent, Ionescu will be an important marketing component for the Liberty and league moving forward.
The WNBA donated $20,000 per for first-round picks for a total of $240,000 to coronavirus relief.
Another highlight of the night was the league’s moving tribute for those who died in the January helicopter crash in California that killed nine people, including Kobe Bryant. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert named the late Alyssa Altobelli, Gianna Bryant and Payton Chester as honorary draft picks. The three girls were Mamba Sports Academy teammates and were coached by Kobe Bryant.
The WNBA also announced the Kobe & Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award, an annual accolade that will honor an individual or group who has made significant contributions to the visibility, perception and advancement of women’s and girls’ basketball at all levels.