Basketball for breakfast: Why are so many WNBA games so early?

·5 min read

By 9 a.m. back home, the Las Vegas Aces had scored 71 — yes, 71 — points on the New York Liberty and it was only halftime. It was three points fewer than the Liberty's total, 108-74, a strong showing for an Aces team that has defensively dropped into an abyss the last two weeks.

The score was impressive, but the fact that local fans barely had time for breakfast before watching tipoff was what really drove the conversation on Thursday morning. The game was played at Barclays Center in Brooklyn with an 11 a.m. tip time in New York and a bonkers 8 a.m. for those on the West Coast.

So why are so many WNBA games this summer so early?

Why are WNBA games so early?

Las Vegas Aces forward A'ja Wilson shoots the ball against New York Liberty's Natasha Howard in the first half at Barclays Center on July 14, 2022. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Las Vegas Aces forward A'ja Wilson shoots the ball against New York Liberty's Natasha Howard in the first half at Barclays Center on July 14, 2022. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The noise on these games might give a clue. WNBA teams hold "Camp Day" where local summer camps are invited to attend the game. Those in attendance receive group-entry prices and the day is designed to accommodate them.

It's a benefit to both sides. For summer camp programmers, it's a fun field trip to use for both their camp goers and employees. It's a perk that can break up the week and offers campers something they may never have the chance to do, either because of finances or family preference. Parents might not have the means to take their family to an outing. Most might not think of taking them to a WNBA game.

For WNBA teams, that's exactly why they want to bring in those campers. They're at the perfect age to grow into fans and hopefully watch more games in the future. They might tell their friends and families about the day or ask for team gear as gifts, which in turn promotes the game and grows fandom. In a league still fighting for TV time and media coverage at all, it's a smart move.

But it has to fit into the day of a summer camp. There are some day camps that end as early as 3 p.m. local time. Others might go as late as 5 p.m. In terms of the game at Barclays, it ended around 1 p.m. local time. It takes time to get kids on the buses and make sure everyone is accounted for and then there's travel time to get them back to camp for pickup.

Fun for kids, not as fun for players

Obviously, it's not as fun of a time for the players since their pregame routines are screwed up by early tipoffs. It's not like junior varsity where a player rolls out of bed to throw on a jersey and hop in the Suburban.

It can also impact superstitions that might include pregame naps. Outside of camp days, most games start no earlier than 3 p.m. local time. There are some 1 p.m. ET games on ABC that mean even earlier tipoff in other time zones, much like what happened with WNBA All-Star. Some on the West Coast noted they were finished watching what should have been a prime-time event by noon.

Liberty to play stretch of morning games

The Liberty will need to adjust to games eight hours ahead of schedule since they have two more on deck. The one on Thursday was their own camp day.

New York travels to play the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. ET in a game aired on NBA TV. And two days later, on Thursday, they'll go down the coast to play the Washington Mystics with an 11:30 a.m. tip.

If fans can pull a March Madness and stream games while at work, these early tipoffs can be refreshing. But it's a condensed time frame to the season because of the FIBA World Cup in September. There's only one month left and about 10 games. With the No. 6 through No. 11 teams separated by 1.5 games, that means key matchups will be determined at a time most faithful can't watch.

And despite the excitement around these matchups, it likely means lower TV numbers. That's a problem largely because when WNBA viewership is mentioned, the context of it is never taken into account.

The Liberty (9-15, 11th) are one of those teams fighting back into a top-eight spot. The Sun (15-8, fourth) are two games out of the top spot. And the Mystics (15-10) are a game out of a top-four seeding, meaning home-court advantage to start the first-round playoff series.