Brittney Griner’s return to the court was the most-watched WNBA game on cable in 24 YEARS… as ESPN announces Mercury’s loss to Sparks peaked at 1 million viewers
- Brittney Griner played her first WNBA game in nearly two years on Friday night
- And fans were eager to watch her turn out for the Mercury against the Sparks
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Brittney Griner’s return to WNBA action was the most-watched WNBA game on cable TV in a staggering 24 years, as her Phoenix Mercury were comfortably beat by the LA Sparks in a game where the score was largely secondary to her presence.
Griner hadn’t played a WNBA game since October 2021, as she was detained in Russia on February 17 of last year on drug charges before spending nearly ten months imprisoned in the country.
And fans were evidently excited to watch her play stateside once again, as ESPN (which aired the game) announced a peak of 1million viewers tuned into the Friday night contest.
Furthermore, an average of 683,000 viewers watched the 94-71 Sparks win – an increase of 103 percent over last year’s WNBA opener on ESPN.
The return of the seven-time All-Star Griner looks likely to provide a ratings boost to the league, though interest in the WNBA had seemingly spiked even before the former Baylor star stepped back on the court.
Brittney Griner looked relaxed as she returned to the WNBA court for the first time in two years
The 31-year-old, who was released from a Russian prison in December, had 18 points in the loss
The league’s draft in April on ESPN drew 520,000 viewers, making it the most-watched WNBA Draft since 2004. That was also an increase of 42 percent from the year before.
Still, while the league is continuing to set high marks on TV, there is less optimism in some corners about in-person attendance at games.
Griner’s return was taken in by the likes of Magic Johnson, South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley and Lakers coach Darvin Ham, but only 10,396 people – a bit more than half capacity – attended the game at Crypto.com Arena.
‘I mean, it was great, Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said after the game.
‘But like honestly, c’mon LA. We didn’t sell out the arena for BG? Like, I expected more, you know, to be honest. Right, it was great, it was loud. But how was it not a sellout? How was it not a sellout?’
Griner was released from a Russian penal colony on December 8 after President Biden sanctioned an exchange, giving convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout back to Russia.
Griner and the Mercury played in front of their home fans for the first time this season on Sunday, falling 75-69 to the Chicago Sky.