The real world of economics hit women’s basketball at the global level yesterday when I learned about the demise of one of Europe’s premier women’s basketball powerhouses – Moscow CSKA. This team was until a few days ago the undefeated (7-0) leader in the Russian A Superleague and one of the main contenters for the now 23-team Euroleague Women’s Championships. Right now the money woes have hit the women’s side of the program. Becky Hammon (Rebecca Khammon on the roster) along with Katie Douglas and Janel McCarville will be looking for new paychecks. Each team is allowed two Americans while Hammon is listed as a dual citizen (that enable her to play on the Russian Olympic team in Beijing). You knew there must be something brewing when 6-8 superstar center Maria Stepanova was recently released to rival UMMC Ekaterinburg. In January they get WNBA superstar Candace Parker. Right now the 18-player roster (sevent WNBA players) has two Americans in Cappie Pondexter and Asjha Jones along with dual citizen Deanna Nolan.
CSKA Moscow going under will have reverbations throughtout women’s basketball as it will test the financial viability of the sport on a global scale. Most people here in the US who follow women’s basketball in Russia, Korea, France and Turkey know that this is where the stars of the games, especially those in the WNBA make their big money – usualy tax free. With each Russian Superleague team allowed two Americans on their roster (not counting dual-citizen like Hammon or Nolan) these special slots are financial windfalls for those who can make the roster. What made the CSKA demise shocking was it being financial. In the past clubs like CSKA and Dynamo Moscow were funded by either the Red Army or the Police with then supporting a host of sport teams besides the men’s and women’s basketball programs. With oil prices sinking along with global economics the first cut at least for CSKA was women’s basketball. If the global downturn continues into late 2009 this could spell bad news for those high-paying, limited income-making teams, especially those in the Women’s Euroleague.
The CSKA move also shows the economic realities of women’s sports as a whole where they are viewed as a luxury by people in the men’s sporting community. Title IX and women’s rights have no platform overseas or in the corporate bottomline unless you have a vested consumer interest in a sport, team or program. Most of the overseas programs are run by communities or mult-millionaires who spend money to protect their investment or ego. As their finances go so does women’s basketball.
No one is talking but global economics have hit women’s sports her in the US as the LPGA has cut some events for 2009 while even major sponsors of men’s sports have decided to back away from prior committments and sponsorship programs. The real test for women’s basketball will come this spring when the WNBA starts up again. Right now the NBA attendance number should be watched to gague the economic impact. A majority of WNBA teams were quietly moved out of NBA hands and into WNBA investor hands over the past three years. If those investors feel the economic pinch we may have a similar CSKA effect here in the US.
On a side note a story out of Schio, Italy said that Sylvia Fowles playing for Moscow Sparta (along with teammates Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson) dunked during a 70-62 win against Beretta Famila give the 6-5 USA Olympican that first throwdown in EuroLeague Women’s history. What makes it even more spectacular is that it comes in a league noted for physical play and competitors who would take you out trying to do it.