Sun turn a profit, make history

It's doubtful you'll read any mea culpas from all the big guys today. (Or any day, really). They've moved on well past anything as irrelevant to them as the WNBA. Their drive-by assassinations done, their perch among the tough talkers solid, they'll dismiss the latest news quicker than Mike Francesa gets rid of a caller.

It's just that while they have, quite gleefully, preached the impending demise of the longest running women's sports league ever, the longest running women's sports league ever keeps hanging around like ornaments on the Christmas tree.

Now comes news that for the first time, a WNBA team has turned a profit.

And it's the Connecticut Sun.

"Modest," vice president and general manager Chris Sienko said earlier this week, responding to a story on bizofbasketball.com, a Web site dedicated to sports business. "But still very good news. We've been inching closer every year. Last year when Mitchell (Sun president, CEO, grand poohbah Mitchell Etess) came back from the owners' meetings, he said, 'you're going to be profitable this year.'"

Nostradamus Etess.

The significance of the Sun's foray into the black is an even more passionate one-digit salute to the people who, for whatever reasons, want the league to go away. The Sun were the league's first independently owned team, with no net from Big Brother NBA to save them. Since the Sun's emergence, more of the league has moved to independent ownership.

"I don't want all this to be about us," Sienko said. "The good news is that a lot of teams are doing better. Other teams are doing everything they can in their markets and are getting closer and closer."

Maybe that's why NBA commissioner David Stern, when pressed by TV blatherer Jim Rome last year about why the NBA keeps sinking money into the WNBA, quieted Rome with alarming efficiency when he said, "the WNBA is the least expensive of our luxuries. In fact, we make a little money on it."

It's not surprising. The uniforms of Phoenix, New York and Seattle bear the names of Lifelock, Farmers Insurance and Bing respectively, recent corporate sponsorship deals that have brought in millions of dollars. The league has imposed some cost cutting in recent years, too, such as paring rosters to 11 players and allowing only one assistant coach to travel. Maybe as more teams turn profits, rosters go back to 13.

For now, though, Connecticut, in the league's smallest market, are in the black with a player named (Tan) White. So what's black and White and turns detractors red all over? The Sun.

"We sold a lot of tickets," Sienko said. "There was anticipation last year on having the first pick in the draft (Tina Charles), our group sales are way up. A lot of credit goes to our staff. I don't see us being in the red moving forward."

The Sun averaged just under 7,500 fans per game last summer. The casino offers free parking, entertainment and dining options under one roof and competitive (albeit exasperating at times) basketball.

It should be noted that before the XL Center was sold out for the UConn/Florida State game last week for historic win No. 89, UConn's previous home game was against Marquette for No. 87 at Gampel Pavilion. Announced crowd: 6,989. That's roughly 3,000 empty seats.

There's no denying that as UConn crowds have fallen in recent years, the Sun's attendance rose last summer. Some — surely not the majority, but a growing number — of UConn fans are seeing the Sun as a cheaper alternative with stable ticket prices, no donor-based seating, free parking and the glitz of Neon Uncasville. Sienko said season tickets are already even with where the team finished a year ago. And it's still six months until the first game.

I'm not sure why news of a team's profitability isn't plastered all over the WNBA.com. This is news that should be out there. But then, I'm just a little guy trying to make his way in a little city. A guy who can't wait to see the next dope predict Armageddon for the longest running women's sports league ever.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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