CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - The WNBA is aiming for an attendance record, hoping for a sellout crowd at 24,042-seat Charlotte Coliseum on Saturday when the Charlotte Sting play the Houston Comets.
Such a turnout would represent the largest crowd in the history of women's pro basketball. Sales figures indicated the game is on pace to at least break the women's pro record of 17,780, set June 29 when Phoenix played at New York in a WNBA game.
By Thursday, more than 16,000 tickets had been sold for Saturday afternoon's game. The Comets feature Sheryl Swoopes and lead the Eastern Conference with a league-best 16-7 record.
"We have a lot of pride in our community's reputation as passionate basketball fans," said George Shinn, who owns the Sting as well as the NBA's Charlotte Hornets.
The Sting (12-10) have won six of nine, moving Charlotte into the thick of the battle for the fourth and final playoff spot heading into the last week of the season. Charlotte goes into Saturday's contest with a WNBA-leading home record of 10-2.
"It's going to be an incredible feeling to be part of something like this," Charlotte center Sharon Manning said. "I mean, 24,000 people to see a women's game in America, it's going to be unreal."
Manning previously spent five seasons playing professionally in Italy, Spain and Sweden. The biggest crowd she ever encountered overseas was 2,500 people.
"In Sweden, we'd have maybe 100 people at a game - if that," she said. "I could count them while I was sitting on the bench. No problem."
That hasn't been the case in the WNBA's inaugural season. League officials originally projected an average attendance of 4,000, but heading into this weekend's games, the eight-team league is averaging 9,011. Leading the way is Phoenix, drawing an average of 13,126.
Charlotte is sixth with an average of 7,444, and the Sting, like several of the WNBA franchises, has been seating all of its patrons on the lower level of its coliseum and covering the upper level with black curtains.
The curtains will be rolled up to the rafters Saturday, when corporate promotions have helped reduce the cost of some tickets in the 14,000-seat lower level to $8. Also watching the game will be a national television audience on NBC.
"I've always wanted to play in the United States. That was my dream," Manning said. "But the bonus is we get to play in America in front of big crowds and on TV, in front of millions and millions of viewers watching us fight for a playoff spot. I try not to think about that, because if I do, I get nervous. But it's just a great feeling. This game's here to stay."
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