It’s an impossible choice, one Mark Davis is both thrilled and annoyed to make.
First the thrill: With the Las Vegas Aces reaching the WNBA Finals, a team owned by the Davis family will compete for a championship for the first time in nearly 20 years. Now the annoyance: Ninety minutes after Game 1 of the Finals between the Aces and Connecticut Sun tips off in Las Vegas on Sunday afternoon, Davis’ Raiders begin the NFL season in Los Angeles against the Chargers.
“I’m like a single parent that has two children I love very, very much and it’s deciding which child do you go to see,” Davis told USA TODAY Sports.
A longtime women’s basketball fan – another thing he inherited from his father, Al – Davis bought the Aces in early 2021 in part because he believes the players and the league deserved more visibility and the financial rewards that would follow. He’s doing his part – see Becky Hammon’s seven-figure contract – but is only one owner.
So, happy as he is that both of his teams are playing at this time of the 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 progress attracting casual fans. Both of the NFL’s afternoon windows will overlap with Game 1 of the W Finals.
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“It makes no sense. It doesn’t make any sense,” Davis said.
Especially not when the WNBA will soon try to make the case it deserves a bigger – much bigger – media rights deal.
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The excuse long given for why women’s sports don’t get the massive media contracts that men’s sports do is because they draw smaller audiences. But ratings in the last few years have shown that when women’s sports aren’t treated as an afterthought, they draw.
Putting the WNBA in direct competition with the NFL, especially on its first full day of games, runs counter to that.
“‘We don’t have the eyeballs. Well how in the hell are you going to get eyeballs when you’re going up against the opening day of the National Football League?” Davis asked. “That part is tough.”
ESPN and league executives surely won’t be happy to hear Davis’ criticism. But he hasn’t spent this much time around the NFL, or his father, to let his other team be part of a charity 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 the Aces.
In only his second season as the Aces owner, Davis is building a state-of-the-art practice facility for the team at a complex they will share with the Raiders. The building should open next spring. He lured Hammon back to the W from the NBA, and made her the league’s first coach to make over $1 million a season.
He signed off on a maximum, two-year contract for A’ja Wilson, who just won her second MVP award in three years, and extensions for Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Chelsea Gray and Dearica Hamby.
The team has responded with a season of superlatives. The Aces finished the regular season with a franchise-record 26 wins, and their victory over Seattle in the regular-season finale – a game Davis attended over the Raiders’ first preseason game – gave them the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
They set a franchise record with a 90.4 scoring average, only the third team in WNBA history to break the 90-point mark, and were second in the league with 343 3-pointers.
Individually, Hammon won Coach of the Year honors, Young was named Most Improved and Plum was third behind Wilson and Breanna Stewart in MVP voting. Wilson, Plum and Young were all All-Star starters, and Hamby was a reserve.
Gray, meanwhile, used her All-Star snub to drive one of the finest postseasons in any league. She’s averaging 24 points on 62.6% shooting in the playoffs, and her 31 points and 10 assists in Game 4 against the Storm on Tuesday was the first 30-10 game in WNBA playoff history.
The only other players to match Gray’s playoff stats? Larry Bird and Chris Paul. Not bad company.
“That’s why you do these things, to win titles. It’s just win, baby,” Davis said, borrowing his father’s trademark line.
“It’s just win – on and off the court, that’s the important thing.”
So about that decision for Sunday …
Because the Aces are hosting Game 1, Davis knows plenty of his family and friends will be at that game. But the game in Los Angeles is the Raiders’ first with new coach Josh McDaniels, as well as Davante Adams, Las Vegas’ big offseason pickup, and Davis decided he needed to be there for that.
If there’s a Game 4 in the WNBA Finals on Sept. 18, however, he’ll skip the Raiders’ home opener and go to Connecticut.
“I will most definitely be at the Aces game at that point, because it would be a deciding game,” Davis said. “If it’s a deciding game, I absolutely have to be there, whether it’s for the Aces to win it all or not. The fact (Game 1 is) at home, it made this a little easier to make this decision. But it’s not easy.
“It’s absolutely a tough decision because I want to make this clear: The Aces are not a hobby,” he said. “It’s a real deal for me.”
He just hopes it soon will be for everyone, so he’s not forced to choose between his teams again.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.