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September 07, 1998
WNBA Finals Finishing up Strong
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September 07, 1998


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WNBA Finals
Finishing up Strong

Ignore for a moment the outcome of the WNBA championship series between the Phoenix Mercury and the Houston Comets, which was to be decided in Game 3 at Houston on Tuesday. Consider instead the many ways in which, in just its second season, the league has taken off. Season-ticket sales were up 72%; attendance increased by 12%, to 10,869 a game; merchandise revenue tripled; teams in Minnesota and Orlando will be added in 1999 to increase the total to 12; and a '98 expansion team, the Washington Mystics, drew a WNBA-high 15,910 per game despite their 3-27 record. Oh, and due out this month: WNBA Barbie.

So far the selling of this league has effectively outstripped the product. Though the quality of WNBA play has improved since last year thanks to an influx of foreign players (31, as opposed to 14), it still doesn't measure up to that of the ABL (which may help explain why the WNBA's TV ratings, though no worse than the NHL's, have declined since last summer).

But the WNBA's championship week was a particularly hard one for the ABL: On the day before Game 1, the ABL announced that it would fold the Long Beach StingRays, its 1998 title runner-up, after a year of operation because of poor attendance and sponsorship. In a bigger blow, on Monday, Dawn Staley, previously of the ABL's Philadelphia Rage and one of the top point guards in the world, announced that she had signed a multiyear deal with the WNBA.

Still, the WNBA isn't out of the woods financially. Players have been talking about forming a union to address matters such as health benefits and salaries (the league average is about $30,000). But Comets forward Tina Thompson, for one, recognizes the fragility of an enterprise as new as the WNBA "Certainly we want to make a [good] living, but this league is just in its second year," she says. "Right now none of our fans have business meetings while they're at the game, and we appreciate that. We don't want to push our crowd away. Women's basketball has come a long way, but we still have a long way to go."
Kelli Anderson

Sports Drug Craze
Hurricane Andro

It's often impossible to pinpoint when a product leaps from obscurity to obsession, but those who make and sell androstenedione should have no such difficulty: For them Aug. 21 will forever be a high holiday. That's when Mark McGwire admitted to popping the testosterone-boosting supplement, prompting weekend warriors to begin gobbling the pills at a Viagra-like pace. "This has gone from a $5 million-a-year industry to maybe a $100 million industry," says Len Moskovits, president of Met-Rx Nutrition, a sports-nutrition company that has seen sales of its andro products jump by 300% since McGwire's admission.

Health-food stores have been besieged by andro requests and have struggled to keep it in stock. Sports-nutrition companies hope to drive demand even higher by broadening their marketing beyond the bodybuilding crowd. "Before, we were asking if this stuff was mainstream enough to advertise in Muscle & Fitness" says Moskovits. "Now we're asking if it's mainstream enough for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED."

NFL Countdown
Red Alert

Enthusiasm is to be applauded. Then again...Red McCombs, the new owner of the Minnesota Vikings, who were 4-0 in exhibition play, recently declared that "the drama of the preseason is one of the greatest dramas in sports, not just the NFL, but in any sport." Wait till he gets a load of the Pro Bowl!

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