Fantasy women's basketball has the potential to draw in new fans to the WNBA, players and experts say

sabrina ionescu
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  • ESPN launched its first-ever fantasy women's basketball game ahead of the 2022 WNBA season.

  • Fantasy has the potential to help new fans "really dig in and start loving the WNBA," an expert said.

  • Insider spoke to ESPN fantasy guru André Snellings and three players about fantasy's role in the league.

Women's sports are on the rise around the globe.

In the United States, the WNBA is embarking on a 2022 season that could potentially be the league's biggest season yet for a number of reasons. Fantasy women's basketball isn't the least of them, players and experts told Insider.

"I think it's huge," New York Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu told Insider. "It's an opportunity for us to continue to grow our fan base."

Powers motions to the crowd.

For the first time ever, ESPN launched a season-long fantasy WNBA game on its platform. Now, WNBA enthusiasts can round up some friends, draft their favorite players, and act as general managers of their very own fantasy teams comprised of the top women's basketball players on the planet.

And for those who have never followed the league or only watched WNBA games on occasion, fantasy could serve as an ideal entry point into full-fledged fandom.

"One thing we know about fans across sports is that people who play fantasy sports are more likely to watch games," Dr. André Snellings, an ESPN senior writer and authority on all things fantasy basketball, told Insider. "They're going to watch more games, and not just their home teams, they're gonna watch all the games because every game has an impact on their fantasy teams. Even if the game's a blowout, somebody is gonna be putting up numbers that are gonna affect fantasy rosters."

Minnesota Lynx superstar Sylvia Fowles.
Minnesota Lynx superstar Sylvia Fowles.AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn

"I'm hoping that people who were already into the WNBA will enjoy it in a different way and the people that may not pay as much attention to WNBA but like fantasy sports use this as a vehicle to really dig in and start loving and enjoying all the stories," he added. "I guess time will tell how it works out, but I feel like it can't be anything but a positive."

Some WNBA players told Insider they're already receiving some outsized attention from fantasy women's basketball. Even though she admitted to not knowing "too much about" how the game works, sixth-year Atlanta Dream forward Monique Billings told Insider she's hearing from people who draft her in their leagues "all the time."

"And people will tell my mom," she added with a laugh. "I'm like, 'Oh my gosh.' It's so random."

Monique Billings.
Atlanta Dream forward Monique Billings.AP Photo/Danny Karnik

Regardless, Billings thinks "it's super cool" of ESPN to "get [the WNBA] involved" in the fantasy space because "any type of exposure for the W is good exposure."

WNBA All-Star Courtney Williams, who rejoined the Connecticut Sun this season after two years with the Dream, seems to agree with her former teammate. When Insider first asked for her thoughts on the addition of fantasy women's basketball during Connecticut media day, Williams dismissed the question because she didn't "know about nothing fantasy at all."

But once she confirmed that fantasy managers "pick you on a team and it's how you perform or something," Williams was quick to jump on the fantasy bandwagon.

Courtney Williams.
Connecticut Sun star Courtney Williams.AP Photo/Jessica Hill

"Well, they need to always choose me," she said confidently. "Because I'm gonna go crazy."

With more games on broadcast television, more promotional spots, and more avenues like fantasy through which viewers can engage with the league than in years past, the WNBA may just be on the precipice of a breakthrough. Players recognize as much, as well as the important role that breakthrough could play in shaping the next generation.

"All these little things really add up to little girls or whoever it is being able to look up to us and want to be where we're at one day," Ionescu said. "That's really what's important and how we're able to inspire and tell stories while we're playing. So it's really exciting the moves the W's making to try and get us on those platforms and continue to watch it grow."

Read the original article on Insider