It’s been almost a week since the Las Vegas Aces were crowned WNBA champions for the second consecutive year. With all their success in recent years, they have given the league an avenue to resolve many issues plaguing its public perception. The criticism about how the league operates, who they choose to promote, and a host of other things can be washed away if they dive all in with a massive PR push behind the Aces.
We know for a fact the league is not above hitching its wagon to one particular player or team. We’ve seen this play out in real-time again and again. Funny enough, it drove a lot of discussion around disparities in that regard between the team that won the Finals and the team they beat to do it. Not going to get into that here but that’s definitely a topic for another day. But what I will say is if you are going to go that route, at the very least I’d think you’d want to use that approach with the best team that also has the best player. A record company wouldn’t throw all their promoting might behind the second-highest-selling artist on their label. Or at least they shouldn’t. And aside from their on-court dominance, there is no shortage of personalities on this team. They are amongst the most active players in the league on social media, one of them has her own show, and the overall cultural appeal is evident. The entire basketball world is clamoring for the long overdue A’ja Wilson signature shoe. Jumping on that cause is an easy win for the WNBA. What better way to endear yourself with fans than, I don’t know, caring about the same things they care about? The league has had a longstanding problem with not grabbing low-hanging fruit and their reluctance to jump full force behind this team is just another example of that.
A full-scale Aces promo tour would also help with the issue of underrepresentation that the league currently faces. We’ve heard several players (including A’ja Wilson) talk about how the W is comprised of about 80% Black women but the coverage and publicity don’t reflect that. That’s not to say that white players should be completely ignored. When they excel, that should certainly be highlighted. But the problem is some deserving women of color who have achieved amazing things are being virtually ignored. That’s a problem. Luckily, the answer is right in front of us. At this point, it’s laughable that A’ja Wilson is not presented as the face of the league. Fixing that would go a long way toward turning the tide in the lopsided nature of player representation in the W. Furthermore, the Aces have a prominent white player on their team who has on several occasions plainly stated that this is an issue that needs to be addressed. Kelsey Plum has made several poignant statements about some things that need to change in how the league promotes its players. She’s used her rookie year as an example of where the league falls short in this regard. She was the #1 draft pick and held the NCAAW all-time scoring record but didn’t perform as expected. But to her surprise, she was still used as the primary promotional tool for her team and she felt it was undeserved. Plum has alluded that her being straight and white were most likely factors in the way she was endorsed in comparison to other players. In order to grow the game and the league, this can’t be the standard operating procedure. But embracing the two-time champs and pushing them to the forefront shows intentionality in rectifying this mistake. Then having an outwardly vocal ally like Plum in the fold will only help to reassure people that the league is keen on changing course and might even have a ripple effect on other mainstream media outlets.
Something else the Aces can impact is the league’s ability to convert college fans. Fan retention as players matriculate from the college ranks to the pros has been a weak spot for quite some time. If only there was a transcendent player currently in the league who played for arguably the best coach in women’s college hoops right now. Well, I’ll be damned if the Aces didn’t have that exact situation fall right into their laps. The A’ja-Dawn relationship has to be capitalized on. The fact that no one has thought to devote endless content focused on them is criminal. Those worlds need to merge as often as possible to maintain interest in the college game. It should be a seamless transition seeing as how the National championship, WNBA draft, and the start of the season all happen basically within a month. How do fans even find time to get disinterested? Tipping off your season before people can catch their breath from March Madness seems like the perfect situation to be able to keep fans engaged but somehow it’s not happening. And aside from the Gamecocks connection, they have the aforementioned NCAAW scoring queen on their roster. And with Caitlin Clark within striking distance of that record, it’s a perfect opportunity to establish that connective tissue. Whoever is in charge of WNBA social media, just create the Kelsey Plum/Caitlin Clark countdown graphic right now. Make sure Kelsey is at the game if Caitlin breaks the record. Hell man, have Kelsey interview her at some point. This shouldn’t be that difficult but again, that low-hanging fruit somehow remains elusive to the decision-makers in the W.
Another thing the league needs to do is amplify the level of investment that Mark Davis puts into his team to the highest degree. For them to have the first standalone facility solely dedicated to a WNBA team in league history is frankly embarrassing. People need to see these women being treated like pros. Candace Parker getting her first unshared locker in year 15 is foolishness. Instead of treating the Aces situation like an anomaly, even though it is at this point, it needs to be framed in a way where it’s seen as the standard and the teams that aren’t operating on that level are underserving their players. This is extremely important from an image standpoint. There are too many conversations centered around the drop-off in facilities and resources when players go from college to the league. And while there aren’t many teams that refute that at the moment, the one that does and also happens to be the back-to-back champions should absolutely be highlighted. The message to the general public needs to be that these ladies are deserving of this level of investment. Connecting that to the success of the Aces helps reshape how the league is perceived.
If anyone was on X (formerly Twitter) in the days following the Finals, you must also have noticed that the Aces are very confrontational, and that’s a great thing when you’re trying to draw people in. The league has not done a good job of showcasing the passion, grit, and downright viciousness these ladies possess. It needs to be welcomed. The fact of the matter is people are drawn to drama. The Finals, along with the interviews and tweets that followed them, gave us plenty of it. And it wasn’t in a damaging way. The two best teams in the league talking trash and developing animosity towards each other is good for business. It will help frame these women as competitors at the highest level. And while this emotional response from the Aces isn’t common for their team, spotlighting it would get more eyes on them and the league. Showcasing your flagship product is never a bad move.
This is a generational team, and not taking advantage of that would be detrimental to the league. Don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. They had a team win four consecutive championships, and instead of portraying them as basketball deities, the league has allowed them to fade into relative obscurity. How often do you have a team that can captivate fans at every level? They have that with the Aces. For the basketball purists, their mastery of the game will allure them. For the more leisurely spectator, the personalities will have them in a trance. If the W knows what’s good for them, they will hold up the Las Vegas Aces as a shining beacon of what the league should be. Push them down people’s throats almost to the point of exhaustion. This team can reverse many of the negative perceptions of the WNBA. The league just has to lean into their mass appeal. There have been countless missteps in growing the game and bringing the league to prominence. The Aces are throwing the W a lifeline. I just hope they’re smart enough to grab onto it.