How NBA All-Star Weekend got a boost from Sabrina Ionescu

In terms of viewership, some of the biggest moments from NBA All-Star came when the WNBA's Sabrina Ionescu was on the court.

2024 State Farm All-Star Saturday Night
2024 State Farm All-Star Saturday Night / Kevin Mazur/GettyImages

When the NBA announced a 3-point contest between Sabrina Ionescu and Stephen Curry for the 73rd NBA All-Star weekend, it immediately seemed like an event that would benefit women’s sports and the WNBA — giving a boost to the latter’s viewership and providing a growth in interest in women’s basketball. 

The result was quite the opposite, something female sports’ fans had already predicted.

Viewership peaked during the matchup between Curry and Ionescu, with a significant increase of 31% compared to the previous year, averaging 4.6 million views for the night.

Within a mere three weeks following Curry's challenge, Ionescu saw her Instagram following skyrocket, gaining a staggering 60,000 new followers. Notably, 20,000 of these followers joined her account on the day following the official announcement of the event.

Curry's endorsement of the challenge further solidified its impact, with his Instagram post regarding the competition ranking as his second most-liked post for the month. This attests to the resonance and enthusiasm generated by the cross-league interaction between the NBA and the WNBA.

The digital marketing landscape also witnessed significant activity surrounding the event. Nike Basketball, in support of Ionescu, garnered a substantial 1.3 million views on its post leading up to the competition. Concurrently, UnderArmour, Curry's footwear sponsor, engaged in organic promotion by responding to Nike's post.

Beyond individual challenges, broader trends in sports advertising have emerged. Recent data indicates a notable shift in ad effectiveness during WNBA finals. In the 2023 WNBA Finals, advertisements experienced a remarkable 30% increase in effectiveness year over year . This stands in contrast to the NBA Finals, where ad effectiveness declined by 29% year over year in the same period.

Moreover, the WNBA's strategic initiatives seem to have influenced broader viewership trends. Following a successful YoY viewership boost during the WNBA All-Star Game last summer, the 2024 NBA All-Star festivities witnessed amplified viewership, suggesting a potential spillover effect from loyal WNBA viewers.

While statistics definitely show the impact Ionescu and Curry’s match-up had on both leagues, discourse about how the event would “save women’s sports” was a tad bit outdated. Sports broadcaster Kenny Smith’s comments during the event were a clear indication about the perception the general public holds about women’s sports.

As the competition was concluded, Smith said that Ionescu “should have shot from the three-point line that the women shoot from” for advantage over Curry. Smith was accompanied by former NBA star Reggie Miller on the broadcast who firmly advocated for Ionescu and questioned Smith as to why he was placing “boundaries” on the WNBA star.

This is the exact kind of mindset Ionescu wanted to debunk. She did not want to get an advantage over Curry. She wanted a fair competition. And while the NY Liberty player lost 29-26 to the world’s greatest shooter, she did prove her point. 

“I think a night like tonight shows a lot of young girls and young boys that, if you can shoot, you can shoot,” Ionescu said after the competition. “It doesn't matter if you're a girl or boy, I think it just matters the heart that you have and wanting to be the best you can be.”