06 Jan

WNBA announces several changes to 2024 Commissioner’s Cup, including two-week qualifying format

The WNBA Commissioner’s Cup will take on a slightly different look in its fourth year. No, the league didn’t announce flashy court designs or a $18 million dollar prize pool like its younger brother, the NBA Cup. However, like the men’s tournament, the Commissioner’s Cup will condense the Cup games.

“After crowning three Commissioner’s Cup champions since 2021, we believe it is time to introduce a new, streamlined format for the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup presented by Coinbase for the 2024 season,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in the league press release.

Here’s a breakdown of the changes.

Two-week competition
In 2024, all WNBA teams will play their five qualifying games between June 1-13. As in years past, these designated games will be part of every team’s 40-game schedule and will count toward their season record. However, unlike in years’ past, all Commissioner’s Cup games will be played in a specific window of time.

“The newly designed, concentrated structure for this in-season tournament adds an increased sense of urgency and excitement as we place a particular spotlight on Eastern and Western Conference Commissioner’s Cup play in a two-week window near the tip-off of our regular season,” Engelbert said.

In the first three years, the first home game and first road game each team played against its five conference rivals were designated as Cup games. The teams with the highest winning percentage through those five games would punch their ticket to the Championship Game of the Commissioner’s Cup. Additionally, the Cup championship will be played in late June, as opposed to August.

Last year, this led to a showdown in Sin City between the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces. The Liberty took the midsummer championship with an 82-63 win over the 2022 Cup winners. The Aces went on to defeat the Liberty in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals for their second consecutive championship.

More competition, more drama
Engelbert continues to prioritize opportunities to grow WNBA rivalries. Rivalries among fans of specific WNBA players and teams are in good supply on social media. What things like the Commissioner’s Cup or tight MVP races do is turn heated debates into live entertainment.

“The focus is on making the Commissioner’s Cup presented by Coinbase even more engaging for all our stakeholders, including fans, teams, players and the community organizations that collaborate with our teams during the designated games,” Engelbert said.

This hyper-focus helps build household names, which in turn drives deeper and more significant opportunities for the league to parlay the celebrity of players like A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart and others into marketing opportunities.

“I think the more and more people know who our players are, the more they watch,” Engelbert told media ahead of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. “The more viewership you get, the more attendance you get … the more cities you are in.”

The 2023 WNBA Finals increased across five categories year-over-year. Graphic courtesy WNBA PR. WNBA
The formula seems to be working. The league announced expansion to Northern California in October and Engelbert plans to add a second expansion team by 2025. Additionally, the WNBA hit record numbers in attendance, viewership and merchandise sales. Highlights include:

Over 36 million total unique viewers across all national networks, up 27 percent from 2022 and the highest since 2008
The highest total attendance (1,587,488) in 13 years
9.5 million unique viewers throughout the postseason
Game 3 of the WNBA Finals at Barclays Center hit an all-time attendance record of 17,000 fans
Just like the NCA Cup, the Commissioner’s Cup took a while to resonate with players and fans alike. The prize money helped bring players along. The in-season tournament final yields a $500,000 prize pool split between the top teams from the Eastern and Western Conference, respectively. Each player on the Los Angeles Lakers received $500,000 for their win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Cup. No doubt players would like to see the league move toward larger payouts.

As the league prepares to renegotiate broadcast deals with media partners and likely a new CBA with the players association, it will be interesting to see if and how these growth numbers impact salary increases, compensation bumps or even roster sizes in the WNBA.

More changes on the horizon?
Overall, the Commissioner’s Cup goes hand-in-hand with Engelbert’s growth strategy. The minor schedule changes seemingly provide an opportunity for the league to go all-in with marketing ahead of the Commissioner’s Cup Final. Yet, after seeing how the NBA rolled out the red carpet — or unique court designs — for its in-season tournament, perhaps the WNBA will make additional changes to the Commissioner’s Cup.

The NBA Cup courts drew mixed reviews. “In theory, having unique courts to set the tournament apart from the rest of the games was a brilliant idea, but execution wasn’t quite there,” said CBS Sports NBA writer Jasmyn Wimbish.

Players complained about unacceptable court conditions and raising health and safety concerns. The New York Liberty has used special court designs in partnership with Xbox the past two seasons with no complaints. Whether the league opts for special court designs or not, they will need more than a minor schedule change to drive interest.


The @nyliberty have announced they will be collaborating with @Xbox for a 2nd season to bring a Starfield inspired basketball court to Barclays center.

The Liberty will play their 2 remaining home games ( 9/7 Sparks & 9/10 Mystics) on the custom court.

📸: NY Liberty pic.twitter.com/R0bBofQAZv

— The Local W (@TheLocalW) September 7, 2023
Speaking of the schedule, the league announced the full 2024 slate, which includes the final Commissioner’s Cup schedule. Given how last season played out, most people were excited to see when the Liberty and Aces square off for the first time, and that matchup is slated for June 15. However, that date will do little to drive excitement for the Commissioner’s Cup since the teams are in opposite conferences. Further, the two WNBA Finals teams dropped four Commissioner’s Cup conference games combined.

The NBA Cup played its hand well by announcing the Cup Final would be played in Las Vegas. “Sopranos” star Michael Imperioli, narrated and starred in a “Ocean’s Eleven”-esque commercial in which Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Trae Young, Julius Randle, Darius Garland, Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard plotted elaborate heist attempts to claim the NBA Cup. All attempts were futile because, “The only way to get the NBA Cup is to win it,” Imperioli says.

It would be great to see the league lean into this level or marketing, including naming the Cup Final location in advance. The WNBA currently holds the championship game at the arena of the team with the best record in Cup play. Bumping the tournament to earlier in the regular season may help boost early viewership numbers.

However, the new schedule gives fans a shorter window to plan travel, and that may impact the ability for the WNBA to get anywhere close to the record 17,000 fans in attendance for Game 3 of the 2023 Finals.

The 2024 WNBA Commissioner’s Cup will be held Tuesday, June 25 at the home arena of the higher seed. Although Prime Video has aired the Commissioner’s Cup Championship in the past, game time and broadcast details have not yet been announced.

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