One of the biggest advocates of the WNBA is Ari Chambers of Turner Sports and Bleacher Report. She is credited with coining a five-word phrase that has become a rallying cry within WNBA circles and for women’s sports advocates at large.
“The WNBA is so important.”
Recent events both on and off the court have shown how the WNBA has become “so important” — not only for sports but for society as a whole. Here are seven ways how that has proven itself to be true with the WNBA in recent years.
After the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, many WNBA players — particularly those with the Minnesota Lynx, Indiana Fever and New York Liberty — protested their killings.
In 2020, WNBA players protested from their season bubble in Florida after now-former Atlanta Dream co-owner (and Georgia senator) Kelly Loeffler made comments that criticized Black Lives Matter movement.
WNBA players rallied and supported Loeffler’s opponent, Rev. Raphael Warnock, who eventually defeated Loeffler in a runoff election in January 2021. Loeffler and Mary Brock eventually sold the team later that year to an investment group that includes former WNBA player Renee Montgomery.
Popularity of women’s sports, in general, has been soaring. Find out why.
In recent years, several transactions also occurred involving WNBA teams that show its value among deep-pocketed investors.
In 2018, an investment group, headed by Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai and Kansas-born businesswoman Clara Wu Tsai, completed a deal to purchase the Liberty from James Dolan and Madison Square Garden. The team was under MSG’s umbrella from its founding in 1997 until that year.
NFL owners want in on the WNBA as well. Last year, Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis completed a deal to purchase the Las Vegas Aces from MGM Resorts International. The Aces were previously the Utah Starzz and the San Antonio Silver Stars.
An unsung hero in the WNBA’s growth is how recognizable so many of the marquee players are from social media.
Te’a Cooper spent all of her WNBA career in one of the most glitzy markets with the Los Angeles Sparks. Cooper currently has over 1.5 million followers on Instagram.
Another notable from social media, who has already spent time under the WNBA’s glamorous lights, is Kysre Gondrezick. She has over 475,000 Instagram followers and was drafted from West Virginia University by the Indiana Fever as the fourth pick in the 2021 WNBA draft.
New Broadcast Deal?
When one thinks WNBA broadcasters, ESPN is the one that usually comes to mind. But it appears the WNBA is poised to receive a financial windfall as a result of an upcoming broadcast deal.
According to a Howard Megdal report in Sports Illustrated, the WNBA is planning to charge $100 million per year with a new broadcast deal and is set to begin at the start of the 2024 season. Currently, per the same piece, the WNBA’s current agreement with ESPN only nets the league $25 million annually.
If it is a day ending in “Y,” one can bet on WNBA expansion to be a topic of conversation among fans — both casual and diehard.
League commissioner Cathy Engelbert is constantly asked about expansion, but it was only recently that she shared concrete plans on how that would happen.
According to the Seattle Times, Engelbert hopes to expand the WNBA to two new cities sometime in the next few years. Several cities have been talked about in recent years as possible WNBA expansion candidates, including the San Francisco Bay Area, Toronto, Charlotte and Houston — where the Comets won the first four WNBA championships before folding in 2008.
Money, Money, Money!
It is not only the WNBA that is beginning to see more corporate money flowing its way — women’s sports as a whole are finding more financial backing.
Earlier this year, the WNBA secured what was termed as “the largest-ever capital raise for a women’s sports property” with a $75 million haul.
Among the investors are the Tsais; Washington Mystics, Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis; Miami Heat owners Micky and Nick Arison; and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Detractors of the WNBA constantly lament that the sport draws “no ratings.”
If that was the case, the WNBA would not have seen a 20% increase in viewership for the 2022 draft. Held on a Monday in New York City, the draft averaged 403,000 viewers. ESPN says that last year’s Finals between the Phoenix Mercury and eventual champion Chicago Sky averaged 548,000 viewers — its largest audience since 2017, which garnered 559,000 viewers when Lynx beat the Sparks.
Sponsors also want to show the WNBA the money. One of the WNBA and NBA’s main sponsors — Carmax — recently featured commercials with WNBA great Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm and Candace Parker of the Sky. The Connecticut Sun’s Jonquel Jones, 2021 league MVP, was recently in a spot for State Farm with the Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young.
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