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Breaking Down The Smallest Market Teams in the WNBA

Small-market teams typically struggle to attract a following. But when it comes to the WNBA, things are different.

The Indiana Fever and more of the smallest market teams in the WNBA.
Credit-Indiana Fever/WNBA/Joker Mag

Ok, take a couple of seconds to get the jokes out of the way, if you must. You know the ones about how nobody watches the WNBA or that nobody cares about the league.

And with that, we move on, especially since that has all started to change.

From the first jump ball in 1997, the WNBA has struggled to attract a large audience, despite having rosters filled with many of the greatest female basketball players in history.

However in 2024, thanks in large part to a star-studded rookie class, more eyes have been on the women’s game than ever before.

As there is in nearly every sport the divide between big market teams and the ones from smaller markets is easily apparent.

Professional sports teams located in places like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Dallas tend to fair better than other places as financially they can:

  • Attract bigger-name stars
  • Sell the most merchandise
  • Build a bigger fan following than other teams

Put simply, money talks. 

When it comes to the WNBA, things are a little bit different. Until 2021, the Los Angeles Sparks were a constant among the league leaders in attendance appearing in five WNBA Finals since inception.

On the other hand, smaller market teams such as the Las Vegas Aces and Minnesota Lynx have had near-equal success despite residing in a smaller market. 

Although the WNBA has national coverage on broadcasting mega powers such as ESPN and ABC, teams in the smaller markets suffer from a lack of exposure to the more popular teams in larger markets.

Based on factors such as market size, attendance numbers, payroll, and sponsorship, many of the small-market WNBA franchises are in a yearly fight for survival.

Las Vegas Aces

  • Population: 2,952,756
  • 2023 Attendance Average: 9,551 
  • Payroll: $1,374,921
  • Championships: 2
  • Playoff Appearances: 5
  • Designated Market Areas Rank: #40

Formerly known as the Utah Starzz, San Antonio Silver Stars, and the San Antonio Stars, the Las Vegas Aces are the WNBA’s newest franchise, one that has quickly become the talk of the league.

Although the Aces have to compete with the Raiders and the Golden Knights as far as professional sports teams go, winning back-to-back championships has certainly helped the team create its own community of fan support. 

Connecticut Sun

  • Population: 18,080
  • 2023 Attendance Average: 6,244
  • Payroll: $1,451,641
  • Championships: 0
  • Playoff Appearances: 9 
  • Designated Market Areas Rank: #32

Located in Montville, Connecticut, Uncasville is a small town that is home to the Mohegan Sun Arena.

With the arena situated in a state-of-the-art resort complex, the Sun still needs to work on attracting large crowds, providing a significant revenue challenge.

Despite being a small market team, the Sun has been one of the top teams in the league since relocating from Orlando in 2003.

Indiana Fever

  • Population: 6,892,124
    2023 Attendance Average: 4,066 
  • Payroll: $1,438,982
  • Championships: 1
  • Playoff Appearances: 13
  • Designated Market Areas Rank: #25

Yes, Indiana is a hotbed for basketball, but when it comes to the size of their media market, Indiana ranks #25.

The addition of Caitlin Clark has added massive exposure to both the team and the league as a whole, including adding twelve new television markets for seventeen of the Fever’s games.

Through their first five home games, the Fever welcomed between 15,000 and 17,000 fans, over a +268% increase from their 2023 season’s numbers.

Minnesota Lynx

  • Minneapolis Population: 429,954
  • 2023 Attendance Average: 7,776
  • Payroll: $1,403,402
  • Championships: 4
  • Playoff Appearances: 14
  • Designated Market Areas Rank: #15

Although considered a small market franchise, the Lynx have proven to be successful thanks to strong management, a competitive roster, and a supportive fan base.

While the Lynx have a dedicated following in the Minneapolis area and throughout Minnesota, despite being a top team in the league, their national appearances lag behind the bigger market WNBA teams.

Atlanta Dream

  • College Park, GA Population: 13,908
  • 2023 Attendance Average: 3,006 
  • Payroll: $1,446,675
  • Championships: 0
  • Playoff Appearances: 9 
  • Designated Market Areas Rank: #7

Most people will not consider Atlanta, Georgia to be a “small market” when it comes to sports. However, the Dream play their home games in College Park, a suburb that is home to approximately 13,900 people.

Battling with the Falcons, Braves, Hawks, and Atlanta FC, for headlines and corporate support, the Dream also has to contend with college sports for attendance and viewership numbers. 

Dallas Wings

  • Arlington, TX Population: 392, 304
  • Established: 2016
  • 2023 Attendance Average: 5,982 
  • Payroll: $1,474, 532
  • Championships: 0
  • Playoff Appearances: 5
  • Designated Market Areas Rank: #5

The Dallas-Fort Worth professional sports market is saturated by the Cowboys, Mavericks, Stars, FC Dallas, and the Rangers, leaving little room for the Wings.

After initially starting in Detroit in 1998, the team relocated to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2010 – a move that hurt their following in numerous ways. Since moving to Texas, the team has seen a resurgence of popularity but still lags in market presence.

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Written By

Life-long sports fan and avid basketball junkie in every sense of the word. The same passion I have for the Lakers translates to my extreme dislike for the Duke Blue Devils. As much as I cheer for the favorite and the dynasty, I appreciate and applaud the underdog and the grind whether you are a weekend warrior or a professional, both on and off the field.

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