- The Washington Times - Monday, July 15, 2002

WNBA president Val Ackerman vows this All-Star Game will not end in a tie.
"No chance. That much I can absolutely assure you," Ackerman said. "There is no scenario whatsoever in which this will end in a tie."
If only the rest of the event were so easy.
The WNBA's best talent descends on Washington for tonight's All-Star Game at MCI Center with the league facing serious issues. Attendance is down 7 percent from last season and remains on track to set a record low despite enhanced TV exposure and marketing. The labor contract with the players expires in September, and the union already has made known a long list of concessions it wants and has hinted at the possibility of a strike. Hints of a profit remain years away.
The WNBA All-Star Game itself, much like other major all-star games, is not immune from troubles. The game will air on ESPN tonight, as have the three previous games. Average viewership has plummeted 31 percent since that debut game in 1999.
Last year's tilt in Orlando, Fla., fell about 4,000 people short of a sellout, even with widespread distribution of free tickets to community and youth groups. The average TV audience for the 2001 game 673,000 people according to Nielsen Media Research was about the same as a low-tier auto race or golf tournament.
And Washington Mystics hometown star Chamique Holdsclaw, the league's leading scorer and rebounder before suffering an ankle sprain, will miss tonight's game.
But Ackerman is plowing ahead and intends for this year's game, technically listed as a sellout, to be an incident-free celebration of not only the league, but women's sports in general.
"This is a big deal for us. It's a big deal for our sponsors and our fans," Ackerman said. "It's obviously a chance to showcase the best players in the league, but it goes further for us. Being here in Washington, in the 30th anniversary year of Title IX, we think that's very symbolic for us."
To that end, the league staged a number of events over the weekend celebrating the achievements of women in sports, including appearances today on Capitol Hill.
Though the host Washington Mystics, under the operation of Washington Sports & Entertainment, have long been known to inflate attendance figures, the team's base of fan support is still only remotely rivaled by the New York Liberty among the 16 WNBA clubs.
As a result, league officials wanted to bring the All-Star Game to Washington soon after beginning the event. Only the long-planned 2001 NBA All-Star Game, also held at MCI Center, prevented the women from coming here sooner.
"This is something we've wanted to do for a long time. Washington is a very important market for us," Ackerman said. "We probably would have been here last year, but [WSE chairman Abe Pollin] thought both games in the same year would be too much."
The exact ticket distribution for tonight's game is not certain, but as is customary for an all-star game, several thousand seats will be held back for the league's corporate sponsors.
"Compared to the NBA All-Star Game, there is still a lot more opportunity for average fans to get in," Ackerman said. During the 2001 NBA All-Star Game, thousands of Wizards season ticket holders lost their seats to the NBA and its sponsors.
A small secondary ticket market for prime seats to tonight's WNBA game does exist, with the face value prices of tickets ($10 to $75) being eclipsed by as much as $300.
Even with the sagging TV ratings, ESPN remains bullish on the event. Of course, it also got a rare offer in today's TV sports landscape: the broadcast rights to the league with no upfront fee and the ability to cross-promote WNBA games during NBA playoff telecasts. Instead of a rights fee, the network and WNBA split both expenses and revenues, as will the league and incoming TV partner Oxygen.
ESPN officials, however, acknowledged the absence of Holdsclaw diminishes the chances of reversing the ratings slide.
"Yes, Chamique not being there will probably hurt," said Brian Sherriffe, ESPN coordinating producer. "But we will get her into the telecast, and we do have every other star there, including Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes and Sue Bird. It should still be quite a show."
The WNBA stars will be in attendance, but the embrace of mainstream American remains largely outside the door.
"This is a game we're still working on. We've moved around the time slot a bit, and we're still working out the timing, the format, all the events around it," Ackerman said. "I would certainly think that experimentation is going to continue."

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