The Washington Mystics are currently in their 2020-21 offseason. While next season is still months away, we wonder what the game experience will be like. Since the 2020 season didn’t have fans, will they be back next summer? Here are three predictions on how things could look for the 2019 WNBA Champions.
The 2021 WNBA season will have fans in the stands, depending on the state of coronavirus management nationwide of course.
I have said that next NBA season will have to be in a bubble because the Northern Hemisphere is entering the first winter of the coronavirus pandemic. If the NBA starts in late December, that’s one month after Thanksgiving and cases could REALLY be on the rise after some people travel to and from airports. I just don’t see a pretty scenario this December.
For the WNBA, I’m more optimistic. That’s because the league has always been in the summertime. The world would have already went through one entire calendar year of the coronavirus and future waves shouldn’t be as bad.
And though I don’t want to inject more politics into this, this has to be said. If the United States has a new presidential administration led by Joe Biden next year, there will likely be more national coordination of resources and procedures. So case counts and any hospital capacity complications should decrease significantly in the later winter because of those efforts, as well as the seasonality of the virus.
Finally, if vaccine trials are as promising as initially indicated, then some people could be getting it as we head toward the summer.
I still think that teams will have capacity limits for games, but it will likely be more than the 10 percent currently allowed in Maryland for Washington Football Team and Baltimore Ravens contests.
As for the Mystics, the Entertainment and Sports Arena is the smallest home venue in the WNBA. While it provides a raucous atmosphere at full capacity, that also means the Mystics will be at a disadvantage selling tickets compared to other teams. So perhaps there will be more games at Capital One Arena to make up for it.
Some games could be outdoors
On July 19, 2008, the New York Liberty played the Indiana Fever at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, New York in an outdoor regular season game, the first in professional basketball history. The NBA has also held four preseason games outdoors, all featuring the Phoenix Suns. Some college basketball games have also been held outdoors, including the Carrier Classic which was held on an aircraft carrier at a navy base.
Since the weather will be warm enough for WNBA teams to play outdoors, it could be an interesting and a safer opportunity for fans to congregate than a traditional indoor contest. They could also have bigger crowds than indoor venues may allow.
There will definitely be logistics issues for teams to hold such contests. After all, it could rain or be very windy. And there really aren’t any outdoor stadiums built for basketball. Ashe Stadium is a tennis venue and the Carrier Classic was a novel opportunity for sailors to watch games.
The Mystics won’t be able to play many games at a baseball stadium since the Nationals would be playing. But the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center is in Rock Creek Park and could theoretically have an outdoor game on any dates outside of the annual Citi Open tennis tournament.
You can expect Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles back, partly because the WNBA probably won’t be as flexible on health concerns. But things will also get better by next summer.
Like the NBA, the WNBA allowed players to skip last season’s bubble without too many penalties. The WNBA specifically allowed players to get health exemptions from playing. While 2019 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne was denied an exemption (she skipped the season anyway to rehab her back injury), Tina Charles was granted hers. Their collective absences were a major reason why the 2019 champions had a down season last summer.
But next season, it’s hard to see the league giving these exemptions for a second year. It sounds harsh, but consider these points. First, the world would have been through an entire calendar year of the coronavirus pandemic. Second, medical personnel are better able to treat the virus than last spring. And third, if there are vaccines, perhaps some of these immunocompromised or higher-risk players, like Delle Donne and Charles, will receive the immunization before much of the general population.
So I’m confident that we’ll see Delle Donne return on the court next season as well as Charles, who pledged to return despite being a free agent. It just remains to be seen how the rest of the roster and free agents shape out given the Mystics’ longer term priorities and cap issues.