July 21, 2020
Exclusive: How the 2020 WNBA schedule got made
The Next talks to the two people in charge of putting together the 132-games-in-50-days WNBA season
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Countless moving pieces had to come together in time for the beginning of the WNBA season this weekend.
One of the final components was the schedule, which was released on July 13. That was just 12 days before the first of the 132 games in the 2020 season (Seattle vs. New York, tipping off at 12 p.m. ET Saturday), which will take place entirely at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
The two people who made this year’s unique schedule were Todd DeMoss, Associate Vice President of WNBA Basketball Operations, and Gene Li, the NBA’s Senior Manager for Global Media Distribution. In an email response to questions from The Next, they said this year’s scheduling process was “certainly different from any prior season.”
“For a traditional season, we receive information in advance from teams regarding dates on which their home arenas are available to host games or are otherwise committed to other events,” DeMoss and Li said. “So, in that respect, we were working from a clean slate when it came to generating a schedule for all 12 teams to play at one neutral site.”
The 12 teams in the WNBA had previously played 34 games per team in a season, though the pre-coronavirus plan for 2020 was going to expand the schedule to 36 games per team. Once it became apparent that the pandemic was going to force the WNBA to do something different than that plan, DeMoss and Li said the league considered many scenarios, including season lengths that would have seen only 16 or 11 games per team. But once the league secured IMG as its leaguewide location, they “locked-in” on 22-game season.
That single location with two broadcast-capable courts will allow to league to operate at a pace we’ve never seen before, as the entire regular season will take place in just 50 days. But no team has a back-to-back at all during the season, something that DeMoss and Li said was part of making player health and wellness “absolutely a primary consideration.”
“We approached it from a player-first perspective – that’s where we made it a priority to schedule no back-to-backs,” DeMoss and Li said. “Then, when you add in our teams are all in one location, they are playing in the same conditions and there is no between-game travel, it enabled us to create what is primarily an every-other-day cadence. The lack of travel provides for a reduction in stress on the body and facilitates recovery. We were able to discuss this rhythm with the Players Association and the feedback was such that this cadence was suitable.”
The WNBA will have six league-wide off days in its 50-day regular season, with those occurring on every Monday except Aug. 10 between July 25-Sept. 11. DeMoss and Li said that, should circumstances force an issue, the league does have contingency plans in place to use those off days for games.
With the amount of games set and with a rule of “no back-to-backs” in place, the league then turned to working with its television partners — both nationally (ESPN, CBS Sports and NBA TV) and with each team’s regional sports network — to “meet their needs,” as well as helping the league keep growing.
“Our focus [was on] slotting marquee matchups in the national TV windows to draw in our existing and new fans, drive viewership, give our fans the stars and the games they want to see, and provide players with the exposure they deserve and have, frankly, earned,” DeMoss and Li said. “We also looked at storylines, rivalries, matchups and star players to deliver the most compelling matchups to our television viewers.
“We know that everything will look different this year without being in our team’s arenas, so we are looking for other ways to drive fan engagement.”
Additionally, the WNBA recognizes just how much the national TV games can be used as a platform by both the players and the league itself, and DeMoss and Li feel like the schedule is set up to capitalize on that.
“Our players’ focus on dedicating the season to the important social justice platform was also key, as our opening weekend of two days of triple headers will be devoted to the Black Lives Matter movement and highlight the newly launched WNBA Justice Movement,” DeMoss and Li said. “In 2020, the national TV games provide a significant platform for the players and the WNBA, as together we highlight our social justice efforts. That is something that will be prominent not only during the season tip off weekend but throughout the season and we are excited that ESPN has stepped up with almost doubling the amount of regular season games on their networks versus previous years coverage.”
The league will have “at least” 64 games carried nationally, including its first ever game on CBS’ main network channel, 12 doubleheaders and a tripleheader on CBS Sports Network, and 12 doubleheaders on the ESPN’s trio of stations (ABC, ESPN, ESPN2). DeMoss and Li also added that the NBA TV slate of games, as well as potential additional games on ESPN’s networks, will be announced in the coming weeks.
While it doesn’t seem like it would be too important to factor which team is home and which team is away when every game is at a neutral location, DeMoss and Li said it was important for the WNBA to consider the time slots of games carefully, especially for the four West Coast teams of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Seattle.
“We needed to be mindful of the fact that three teams whose home market is in the Pacific time zone are playing all their games on the East Coast,” DeMoss and Li said. “With that, and with there being three games on each day that we play, we looked to when possible include on each game-day teams whose home market is in the Eastern time zone, Central time zone, and Pacific time zone.”
Look at any weeknight that the WNBA is playing on this season, and one of those four West Coast teams are playing as the proverbial home team at either 9 or 10 p.m. ET. While this does create games with East Coast teams on at a very late time of night locally, it does reinforce that the home and away designations do mean something for the 2020 schedule, even if it will all be on the same court.
Finding TV slots that work, making sure there’s no back-to-backs, keeping the players and staff safe and healthy. It was a lot to handle in short order. But not only did it get done, DeMoss and Li feel like the league is set to do well, even in competing during a very crowded sports schedule.
“In all these areas, our TV partners were extremely cooperative in terms of providing the best available windows even though multiple pro sports are coming back on line at the same time,” DeMoss and Li said.