Storm over Seattle
By Jean Godden
Three Sundays ago, a friend and I watched from KeyArena's nose-bleed section as the Seattle Storm won a second WNBA finals victory over the Washington D.C. Mystics. It was a narrow but thrilling win, 75 to 73. Like most hometown victories, it ended in a joyous ovation, celebrated by as many children as adults.
In the aftermath, the adoring crowd watched a telling vignette. When cameramen spilled onto the court, Storm veteran Sue Byrd exited quietly, leaving her teammate Breanna Stewart to accept kudos and answer reporters' questions. Sharing the stage would have been great; ceding it was a class act.
A few nights later, the Storm went on to sweep the Mystics, winning the finals in just three games. Once again they were doing Seattle proud. Of this city's six championship titles, half belong to The Storm. The Storm collected the WNBA trophy in 2004, 2010 and now in 2018. Men's teams took titles in 1917 (Seattle Metropolitans), 1979 (Seattle Supersonics) and 2015 (Seattle Seahawks).
The city marked the Storm's national championship with a big parade on Sunday, Sept. 16. It was a festive occasion, but hardly the street-clogging celebration accorded the Seahawks title in 2013, nor the Supersonic's madcap revel in 1979. But then these are women athletes and we continue to feed the gender gap.
Women remain less equal and nowhere is it more glaring than when it comes to sports. Until the WNBA finals, Storm games were accorded almost grudging coverage by news outlets. At one point, the Seattle Times devoted more than half its sports special to a losing Seahawks game, while the Storm's win occupied a thin slice at the bottom of that same front page.
It is time that the Storm and its talented women players were given just recognition. They have been playing incredible basketball, providing terrific family entertainment and offering exceptional role models to young fans. It's no accident that many male athletes take their children to Storm games.
The Storm have earned and deserve respect and we fans should insist that they get it in ways that really matter. For example, there are bound to be questions about the Storm's priorities and scheduling when the Oak View Group opens the new arena in 2020. It will be important for Seattle officials to make sure the team is treated fairly. The Storm should be the arena's headliners, over and above any new franchise.
Beyond questions of level negotiations with a new management, there are concerns over wages. Although the Storm players have won the hearts of Seattle fans, they've scarcely been winning a drive for equal or even adequate pay. Most players moonlight, spending the off-season playing in better-paid leagues in Europe and Asia. Nearly year-round play takes a toll on their bodies. Although known as the greatest, they earn but a small fraction paid male players. The average woman star earns $71 thousand a year; the average male star takes home $5 million.
It's true there are vast economic differences. The WNBA plays fewer games (only 34) per season. TV coverage and contract provisions vary widely. Ticket prices and turnout contrast as well. Average ticket to an WNBA game is $16.88; average for an NBA ticket is $78. And yet when it comes to ownership receipts, there is an inverse relationship. NBA teams plow 50 percent of their ticket-box receipts into salaries, whereas WNBA teams devote only 25 percent to players.
There's no question over the fact that the Seattle Storm is the heart and soul of this city. These are our heros, our ideals, our models. And they should be rewarded with more than just our adulation and a stormy (lower case "s") Sunday afternoon parade.