NEW YORK — The Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and the WNBA are trying to think outside of the box to help generate more interest in the sport.
Playing a regular season WNBA game in Knoxville, Tennessee, as part of Hall of Fame weekend would certainly be a win-win situation for both entities.
"It is an interesting concept and something worthy of discussion as we are continually looking for new and innovative ways to grow our fan base and build our brand," WNBA President Lisa Borders told The Associated Press. "The weekend on which the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame fetes its newest inductees is always special and the Knoxville market has, over the years, been a strong one in terms of television viewership for the WNBA."
The league is in its 22nd season, and more former players will be getting enshrined in the Hall of Fame as they retire. Adding a regular season game to the weekend would be a great way to cap off the enshrinement festivities.
"I think it's a fantastic idea," Women's Basketball Hall of Fame president Dana Hart said. "It fits our mission statement to celebrate the past with the present and exposing youngsters in our community to professional basketball that they don't get to see on a regular basis in Tennessee."
Liberty coach Katie Smith was part of this year's Hall of Fame class as well as the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. She had an incredibly busy weekend, flying to Tennessee on Friday morning and then returning to New York on an early flight Sunday to coach her team against Indiana.
She would have loved it if Sunday's game had been played in Knoxville.
"I think it would be great energy, a great crowd," Smith said after her team beat Indiana on Sunday. "To have some of the history around you is great. I'm not sure how many people have been there to see the Hall. I think it would be a great partnership, something you prepare together. Folks in Tennessee would eat it up. I do believe it would be something special."
There are some logistical hurdles. A WNBA team would have to give up a home game, and it's an open question who would run game-day operations. Tennessee said it would consider opening the Lady Vols' arena for a game either Saturday or Sunday, though, and the WNBA and Hall of Fame could split the revenue to cover travel costs, which on average for road games is $10,000.
"It would be great for the players and great for fans to have that experience at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame," Smith said.
Tennessee has had one of the strongest fan bases for women's basketball over the past 30 years. The Lady Vols were second in attendance this past year, averaging 9,184 fans at home. The Liberty game on Sunday drew only 1,537 fans.
"The (Tennessee) fans would come out and see anyone," Indiana coach Pokey Chatman said. "That's a credit to what's been built there in a power conference in the SEC."
It probably would be difficult to get a game in place for next year, but 2020 would be the perfect time to get it started. That induction class most likely will include Tamika Catchings and Lauren Jackson, two of the best to ever play in the WNBA. Catchings is one of the most beloved Lady Vols' players all-time. She also had her first job in college working at the Hall of Fame.
It would be fitting for the Seattle Storm and Indiana Fever to play in Knoxville that weekend. Chatman would be on board to playing a game in Knoxville in two years.
"When you think of what these phenomenal individuals have accomplished and you couple that with the Hall of Fame being in the great city and state that loves women's basketball. It seems like something in the near future could happen."