The W.N.B.A. Is Putting on Some of the Best Pro Basketball in America

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As the W.N.B.A.’s ownership structure became more complicated so, too, did its narrative — especially because neither the N.B.A., nor the W.N.B.A., nor any of its teams will disclose complete financial information. The W.N.B.A.’s attendance peaked at almost 11,000 fans per game in 1998, its second season; its current average is 6,800, a drop of close to 40 percent. But all young leagues struggle to sell tickets. The N.B.A., founded in 1946, is 73 years old; when it was about the age of the W.N.B.A. now, Wilt Chamberlain played his legendary 100-point game in 1962 in front of roughly 4,000 spectators. And because the league is small, a single franchise’s decisions can make an outsize difference: Last season, the New York Liberty owner, James Dolan, moved the team from Madison Square Garden, where it averaged 9,000 fans per game, to the Westchester County Center, which holds 4,400, forcing at least a 50 percent drop in attendance. (The team has since been purchased by Joseph Tsai, a founder of Alibaba; Tsai recently took control of the Brooklyn Nets, in the N.B.A., but where the Liberty will play next season is unclear.)

Gate receipts, while critical, do not solely determine a franchise’s value. The fact that since 2009 W.N.B.A. teams have been sold but not shuttered hints that, at the very least, they aren’t incurring debt. They might well be attracting fans new to basketball who then go to N.B.A. games. They may also, through creative financial arrangements, like paying rental fees to facilities controlled by their owner (a common practice in men’s sports), claim tax-deductible losses while legally generating revenue elsewhere. In fact, in

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