The WNBA has borrowed a corner of the NBA playoffs stage in a bid to win new fans -- men, to be exact.
In a TV marketing campaign launched during Thursday's NBA telecasts, the WNBA shows three of its top players acting the role of what might be called a typical male sports fan.
"Sorry, you couldn't pay me to watch women's basketball," Sparks rookie Candace Parker says into the camera in one commercial. "Nothing exciting ever happens. Look at the WNBA. The league has stayed the same for 10 years. . . ."
A voice-over asks, "She wouldn't say that. Would you?" The commercial ends with game film of Parker.
The WNBA acknowledges that most male viewers probably didn't give the commercials much attention -- if they watched. Yet, as the league prepares to begin its 12th season in one week, it has reason to think it can change that attitude.
"Men really control sports consumption and conversations," said Hilary Shaev, the WNBA vice president of marketing. "Some men have misperceptions about the level of play in the league."
So they tested that theory.
"We took a controlled group of men and women and showed them game footage and, with the men," she said, "the positive perception of the game increased by 25%."
The three new commercials, one by Parker and the others by veterans Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever and Cheryl Ford of the Detroit Shock, target the usual comments the league hears from men -- no defense in the women's game and wide-open jump shots -- and debunks them.
Think the comments aren't usual? Two Lakers fans at the National Sports Grill in Anaheim might be proof enough.
"I don't think it's that physical," said David Moser of Corona. "I don't think it's competitive as much. Not to be a male chauvinist too, but it's women playing ball. . . . We're ready for the Lakers game, that's a real man's sport."
Mario Pineda, the other jersey-wearing fan, has never been to a WNBA game, but said, "It's a little slow-paced . . . and what makes the game is the fans, the atmosphere. You go to those games and you barely get, what, 5,000 people?"
Parker, who has dunked, said winning male fans is tough, but "once they see it, I feel like they'll come back."
She also said men should expect a "fundamentally sound" game rather than high-flying dunks or powerful inside moves. Men may "jump higher and are stronger and faster," she said, but "from a skill perspective, John Wooden has said it best, that women played the purest form of the game."
David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute, said that fundamentals are pleasing, but "nobody pays $3,000 for a courtside seat to see Kobe make a perfectly placed bounce pass."
Carter cautioned the WNBA about two things: Don't guarantee a quality of play that would compare to the NBA, and balance "the athlete with the sex appeal that's an undercurrent throughout sports."
Added Parker: "Just getting people to open their eyes to understand that our game is completely different than the men's, and different isn't bad."