You don’t have to love the Aces. But the back-to-back champs are giving the league exactly what it needs — both a villain and an example to follow.
When Courtney Vandersloot’s jumper sailed long on Wednesday night, it didn’t matter that Jonquel Jones was right there to get the rebound. Almost as soon as the ball touched Jones’ hands, the red light lit up the backboard, setting off a celebration for the ages in Brooklyn.
For the second straight year, the Las Vegas Aces are your WNBA champions.
The Aces fan contingent in Brooklyn — bigger than you might have expected — roared and the players (even the injured ones) jumped on top of each other at center court. About half an hour later, the team disrupted its own postgame press conference, blaring music and piling into the interview room in the bowels of Barclays Center to, pardon my language, talk their shit.
Their talk started a little before 11 p.m. on Wednesday night, and it hasn’t stopped. The Aces know exactly what they’re doing, too — they’re becoming the villains of the WNBA. And love them or hate them, they’ve set an example for the rest of the league and are lifting everyone up along with them.
Coming off of their 2022 WNBA championship, it should be no surprise that the Las Vegas Aces led the league in attendance, averaging 9,551 fans per game. While that number can and should certainly climb higher in the future, this was the first season since 2017 in which half the league drew more than 7,000 fans per game. It was also the highest total league attendance in 13 years. 11 out of the 12 teams drew more fans in 2023 than they did in 2022.
It’s only natural that the 2022 champs had the highest increase in average attendance from last year, putting 66% more butts in seats per game.
It carried over into TV viewership, where numbers were up across the board. With an average of 627,000 viewers, this was the most-watched WNBA on ABC season in over a decade. The 36 million total unique viewers this season was an 11% increase over last year and made it the most-watched since 2008.
It all culminated in arguably the most successful WNBA Finals ever.
Is all of this attributable to the Aces? Of course not. But no team gets more attention or more time on sports talk shows. That’s by design. The Las Vegas Aces are living proof that you can reap the rewards of investing in women’s sports.
I’m not breaking any news when I say that investing in a team means that team can win a lot of games. The Aces (and Liberty, for that matter) built superteams this year. As a result, they had the top two year-over-year in-arena attendance increases from 2022. They also both reached the Finals, with Game 3 drawing the largest crowd in WNBA history.
Neither team appears to be slowing down. Tom Brady bought into the Aces earlier this year, saying he admired the work the players and staff have put in to make the franchise the most successful in the sport in 2022. As for New York, the Tsai family rescued the franchise from Westchester purgatory and gave the Liberty facilities on par with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, which the Tsais also own. Aces coach Becky Hammon even shouted them out for their investment during the on-court celebration on Wednesday.
And yes, the financial benefits follow. Earlier this year, the Seattle Storm sold a 14% stake in the team at a $151 million valuation — 10 times the previous WNBA record. That comes after a string of seven straight playoff appearances for Seattle, which included two championships. Maybe people didn’t throw around “superteam” to describe Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, and co., but they might as well have been. The Aces are on a similar trajectory.
Mark Davis and his team’s investment in the Aces is enough to set a positive example for the rest of the league. What’s more, however, is the interest that Vegas has drawn from outside Nevada. The franchise’s fanbase is massive because the team is good. But like the Yankees in baseball or the Patriots in football, success begets hate, and the Aces not only embrace it, they fan the flames.
Kelsey Plum leads the way here. Asked about the Liberty, she told Yahoo! they’re “not a team, if that makes sense. They’re really good individual players, but they don’t care about each other. And you can tell in those moments. They revert back to individual basketball.”
In their exit interviews on Friday, Liberty players responded to it. Sabrina Ionescu said, “that couldn’t be further from the truth,” and Jones said, “she’s not in our locker room. She doesn’t know what goes on in our locker room.”
Before eventually apologizing for her comments, Plum took to Twitter to say the media were taking her comments out of context, however that’s possible.
Whether what she said is true or not, we are now two days removed from the WNBA season and the league now has a major storyline to fuel a budding rivalry.
Don’t expect the A’ja Wilson MVP controversy to go away anytime soon, either. Even after Game 4, Aces players were loudly calling for whoever voted Wilson fourth on their ballot to come forward. In doing so, they know they’d be subjecting that voter to endless harassment and threats online from a women’s basketball fanbase that isn’t exactly known for hearing out opposing viewpoints. So no, the voter should not come forward. While the players’ calls persist, fans of other teams can roll their eyes at the two-time champs manufacturing controversy. And we’ll keep talking about it.
Just like we’ll keep talking about the WNBA well into the offseason. That’s the Las Vegas Aces’ greatest return on investment.
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