It’s an impossible choice, and one Mark Davis is thrilled and upset to make.
The first thrill: With the Las Vegas Ace reaching the WNBA Finals, a team owned by the Davis family will compete for the championship for the first time in nearly 20 years. The annoyance now: Ninety minutes into the first game of the Finals between aces and the Connecticut Sun in Las Vegas on Sunday afternoon, the Davis Raiders begin the NFL season in Los Angeles against the Charger.
“I’m like a single parent with two kids that I love very much, and he’s the one who gets to decide which kid you’re going to see,” Davis told USA TODAY Sports.
A longtime women’s basketball fan — and something else he inherited from his father, Al-Davis bought the Aces in early 2021 in part because he believes the players and the league deserve more exposure and the financial rewards that will follow. He does his part – see Becky Hammon’s seven-figure contract – but he’s only one owner.
So, happy that both teams are playing this time of year, he doesn’t understand the wisdom of pitting the WNBA against the behemoth that is the NFL just as the league is finally making headway in attracting regular fans. Both NFL afternoon windows will overlap with the first game of the WW Finals.
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It doesn’t make sense. Davis said.
Especially when the WNBA soon tries to make the case that it deserves a much bigger – much bigger – deal for media rights.
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The excuse that has long been given for why women’s sports don’t get the massive media contracts that men’s sports do is that they attract a smaller audience. But evaluations in the past few years have shown that when women’s sports aren’t treated as an afterthought, they paint.
Putting the WNBA in direct competition with the NFL, especially on the first full day of games, goes against that.
“We don’t have eyeballs. Well, the hell are you going to catch eyeballs when you face the opening day of the NFL? “This part is hard,” Davis asked.
The managers of ESPN and the league will surely not be happy to hear Davis’ criticism. But he didn’t spend much time around the NFL, or his father, to allow his other team to get involved in a charitable project.
“We have the greatest athletes in the world at what they do,” Davis said. “We need people to invest in the game. … If we invest in the product, it will come back to us in multiples.”
Look no further than aces.
In his only second season as an Aces owner, Davis is building a state-of-the-art training facility for the team in a compound they will share with the Raiders. The building should open next spring. He lured Hamon back to the W of the NBA, and It made her the first coach in the league to make over $1 million a season.
He signed a two-year maximum contract with A’ja Wilson, who had just won her second MVP award in three years, and extensions to Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Chelsea Gray and Dearica Hamby.
The team responded with a season of excellence. The Aces finished the regular season with 26 victories, and their victory over Seattle in the regular season finale — a game Davis attended during the Raiders’ first preseason game — gave them the top seed in the playoffs.
They set a franchise record with an average score of 90.4, only the third team in WNBA history to break the 90-point mark, and were second in the league with 343 three-pointers.
On an individual level, Hammon won Coach of the Year, Young was named Coach of the Year, and Plame came third after Wilson and Brenna Stewart in the Player of the Year vote. Wilson, Bloom, and Young were all rookies, and Hamby was a backup.
Meanwhile, Gray used her star power to lead one of the best seasons in any league. She averaged 24 points on 62.6% shooting in the playoffs, and her 31 points and 10 assists in Game 4 against Storm on Tuesday was her first 30-10 game in WNBA playoff history.
The only other players that match Gray’s playoff stats? Larry Bird and Chris Paul. Not a bad company.
“That’s why you do these things to win titles,” said Davis, borrowing his father’s trademark line.
“It’s just winning – on and off the field, that’s the important thing.”
So about that decision for Sunday…
Since Aces is hosting Game 1, Davis knows that a lot of his family and friends will be in that game. But the game in Los Angeles is a first with new coach Josh McDaniels, as well as Davante Adams, the big pickup in Las Vegas, and Davis decided he needed to be there for it.
If there’s a Game 4 in the WNBA Finals on September 18, he’ll skip the Raiders’ main opener and go to Connecticut.
“I’m definitely going to be in an aces game at that point, because it’s going to be a playoff,” Davis said. “If it’s a decisive match, I have to be there, whether it’s for the Aces to win everything or not. The fact (Game 1) is at home, made it a little easier to make that decision. But it’s not easy.
“It’s a very difficult decision because I want to make it clear: Aces are not a hobby,” he said. “It’s a real deal for me.”
He just hopes it’s close to everyone, so he’s not forced to choose between his two teams again.
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