WNBA launches streaming iPad app to recruit new fans

For many of the major sports leagues in the U.S., online viewing is big business: Millions of subscribers pay yearly to stream baseball or basketball games to their web browser or mobile devices. Other leagues — like the WNBA — are getting into the streaming game as well, but instead of using those services to increase revenue, they’re using them to increase awareness and fan loyalty.

Led by the innovation of MLB.tv, which gave fans of out-of-market teams access to all their games for the first time ever, leagues like the NBA and NHL have launched their own streaming websites and applications. For the big sports leagues, those apps drive incremental subscription revenues to go along with their usual ticket sales and TV rights.

But for a league like the WNBA, which doesn’t have the same type of exposure, making its games available for free is one way to reach existing fans who might not be able to watch their favorite teams and players on TV. It’s also a great promotional tool for potentially reaching new fans. The latest effort on this front is the WNBA Center Court app for Apple’s iPad(s aapl). The app, which was released last month, provides news, statistics, game highlights, photos — and, most importantly, streaming video from the league’s games.

The app was enabled through NeuLion, which handles streaming services for the WNBA, NBA D-League (development league), NBA International and the NHL. Marc Sokol, EVP of NeuLion, told us in a phone interview that the WNBA was looking at things like the iPad app and social media accounts as easy ways to promote the brand and get people excited about the sport. According to Sokol, the WNBA will stream more than 200 regular season games and 23 playoff games through the app.

While the WNBA’s iPad app has the full backing and support of the NBA, it could still be an example for other smaller sports leagues. Building live streaming sites and applications could be one way for lower-profile sports to reach huge audiences, even without major TV contracts.