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July 23, 2013

WNBA rookies already making big impact

NEW YORK — Midway through their first WNBA season, Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins are already leaving their mark.

And not only on the court. They are helping the league boost viewership, attendance and merchandise sales.

“I think we’ve seen that they’ve had an impact on the game and the league,” WNBA President Laurel Richie said.

Television household ratings have doubled on ESPN2 as compared with last season. The three rookies were all featured in a Memorial Day doubleheader to start the season, and the game pitting Griner against Delle Donne drew the league’s highest regular-season ratings in nine years.

“A lot of people are tuning in and watching our games and coming to our games,” Griner said. “When I go into a sports bar some of the people I wouldn’t think would watch women’s basketball are there watching. ... There’s definitely more awareness.”

That awareness is carrying over to stores. There’s been a huge upswing in sales of merchandise this season, with Chicago, Phoenix and Tulsa leading the way. The Shock are No. 1 in the league in sales at the WNBA online store in no small part due to Diggins despite not being able to buy her signature headbands there.

To no surprise, the three rookies are the league’s top selling jerseys, with Griner No. 1. The 6-foot-8 Phoenix Mercury star was used to seeing fans wear her No. 42 — in honor of Jackie Robinson — in college at Baylor. But, in keeping with NCAA rules, her name wasn’t on them. Now that she’s a pro, she looks in the stands and sees young girls wearing jerseys with her name on the back.

“That’s humbling,” Griner said. “Just to know I have so many fans out there buying my jersey means a lot. It means I’m doing something right.”

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