06 Jan

Plans to bring team to Portland have collapsed, per report

The WNBA’s plans to bring an expansion team to Portland have collapsed, according to The Oregonian, with the league citing planned renovations to the Moda Center as a key issues. Furthermore, there was uncertainty regarding a practice facility for the team, which would have begun play in 2025.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert sent a letter to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden explaining the decision, and noting that the league still hopes to one day bring an expansion team to Portland. Engelbert’s letter, in full:

Dear Senator Wyden

I was able to experience Oregon’s passionate basketball community first-hand at that incredibly enthusiastic gathering of women’s sports advocates that you pulled together last February at The Sports Bra in Portland. It became clear that Portland is an ideal location for a WNBA franchise. Since then, the league and a prospective local ownership group have been working with city and local officials to resolve issues related to the Moda Center.

However, in light of the potential renovation of the Moda Center currently anticipated to take place during consecutive summers, consideration of a WNBA franchise for Portland will be deferred for now until the timing and scope of the arena improvements are settled.

Thanks for the work you and Oregonians have done so far. When the time is right, we look forward to pursuing prospects for bringing the WNBA to Portland.

Per The Oregonian, the Portland Trail Blazers and owner Jody Allen were caught off guard by Engelbert’s letter and had been willing to put off renovations to allow the prospective WNBA franchise to play there for multiple seasons before beginning the work. To that point, the Blazers’ general plan to renovate Moda Center have been known for some time; if it was truly a major sticking point, how did the Blazers and Portland get this far down the line in the first place?

Portland entrepreneur Kirk Brown was leading the push to bring a team to the city but did not respond to requests for comment from The Oregonian. His current and potential future involvement is not known at this time. Early in October multiple reports suggested that a new team coming to Portland was “close to a done deal.” Wyden’s office issued a statement saying that he was “confident the scoreboard will end up with Portland winning that franchise.”

Whether the two parties could eventually get negotiations back on track for the team, which will have an expansion fee of $50 million, remains to be seen. If not, the league will have to reopen their search.

On Oct. 5, the WNBA officially announced that an expansion team had been awarded to the Bay Area and will begin play in 2025. The yet-unnamed team, which will be owned by the Golden State Warriors and play in the Chase Center in San Francisco, will be the first new team to enter the league since the Atlanta Dream in 2008.

The expectation has always been that the league will add a second expansion team in the near future to give the league 14 teams starting in 2025, and Engelbert acknowledged as much before Game 1 of the 2023 WNBA Finals.

“The goal is to add a second one, or 14th team, by 2025,” Engelbert said. “Not more for before ’25 but obviously longer term. I’ve said my goal is to get this league you know additional teams and additional cities that we think would be great. We have a lot of cities interested, which is why we didn’t announce the 14th team yet.”

Later in her answer, Engelbert mentioned Denver, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Nashville and Portland. The latter appears to be out of the mix, as does Toronto, which had previously been thought to be a favorite. There figures to still be some interest from those other cities, though the league will not be thrilled about restarting the process.

06 Jan

Which team needs the No. 1 overall pick the most?

The 2024 WNBA Draft Lottery has arrived, with the big event set for Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. ET in between the Utah vs. South Carolina and North Carolina vs. UConn games at the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase. Soon, we’ll learn which lucky team will have the No. 1 overall pick in what is projected to be one of the best classes ever.

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark, the reigning Naismith Player of the Year, is expected to be the top pick, though there are a number of other talented players in the mix, including UConn guard Paige Bueckers and Stanford center Cameron Brink, just to name a few.

This year, the lottery is made up of the Indiana Fever, Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury and Seattle Storm. Due to the league’s policy of using the combined records of the past two seasons to determine lottery odds, the Fever have the best chance of winning the first pick.

As the lottery approaches, here’s a look at which team needs the top pick the most.

  1. Phoenix Mercury
    The Mercury have been through the wringer the last few years, and an array of injuries and absences finally culminated in the second-worst season in franchise history. They finished in last place at 9-31, had the worst defense in the league by far and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012, ending what was the longest active postseason streak in the league.

Skylar Diggins-Smith, who missed the entirety of the season on maternity leave, is an unrestricted free agent and appears unlikely to return.

“I’ve definitely been working towards trying to have one of my most productive years next year, because I think a lot of times — especially in sports — you’re not encouraged to have kids. And the teams that I played for in the past when I got pregnant didn’t like that,” Diggins-Smith said in an interview with Edition by Modern Luxury in September. “And so I’m looking forward to being somewhere where my family and I are supported and welcomed.”

There’s a good chance Diana Taurasi retires after next season and Brittney Griner, now 33 years old and still recovering from her harrowing ordeal in Russia, is no longer the player she was at her peak. While there are some solid role players around, such as Brianna Turner and Sophie Cunningham, this team desperately needs a young star to carry it into the future.

  1. Seattle Storm
    Last winter, the Storm’s present and future was upended by Sue Bird’s retirement and Breanna Stewart’s departure in free agency. Everyone expected the Storm to take a step back in the aftermath, but it was far worse than that. Their .275 winning percentage was their worst since their inaugural season when they won just six games, they finished in 11th place and had the second-worst net rating at minus-7.1 points per 100 possessions.

And that was despite a heroic effort by Jewell Loyd, who won her first scoring title by putting up 24.7 points per game — the second-highest mark ever — and played 1,343 of a possible 1,600 minutes. In the rare minutes when she wasn’t on the court, the Storm had an 87.3 offensive rating — the exact same as the 2020 New York Liberty team that went 2-20.

Loyd is one of the best guards in the league and in Seattle through 2025 after inking an extension in September, plus Ezi Magbegor made a huge leap on the offensive end to complement her already elite interior defense. Beyond those two, however, the Storm are woefully thin, especially with Gabby Williams set to stay in Europe this summer.

The No. 1 overall pick would bring a much-needed talent boost.

  1. Indiana Fever
    The Fever missed out on the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, which is the longest active drought in the league, but they are no longer a laughingstock. They won more games last season (13) than they did in 2021 and 2022 combined (11) and had the fifth-best offense in the league.

That was thanks in large part to last year’s No. 1 pick, Aliyah Boston, who put together one of the best rookie campaigns we’ve ever seen. Her 14.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game led all rookies, while she shot 57.8% from the field to become the first rookie ever to lead the league in field goal percentage. Along the way, she became the sixth rookie to start the All-Star Game.

Boston gave the Fever a focal point on both ends of the floor, stabilizing a franchise that was flailing in the wind for far too long. That’s not to say they don’t need the No. 1 pick, but between Boston, NaLyssa Smith and Kelsey Mitchell, there’s a bit more talent in Indiana than there is in Seattle.

  1. Los Angeles Sparks
    The Sparks had incredibly poor luck with injuries last season, and they still nearly snuck into the playoffs before finishing one game behind the Chicago Sky for the eighth and final spot. Long-term, it’s for the best that they missed out, but the Sparks are not a typical lottery team.

Nneka Ogwumike looks rejuvenated and played some of the best basketball of her career last season en route to All-WNBA and All-Defensive Team appearances. Assuming they re-sign Ogwumike and Most Improved Player runner-up Jordin Canada, they’ll have a very solid, veteran-filled roster that also includes Dearica Hamby and Azura Stevens. Add in one of the best coaches in the league in Curt Miller, and this team should make the playoffs with even halfway decent health.

Obviously, every team in the lottery could use the No. 1 overall pick, but the Sparks aren’t crying out for help in the same way as some of the other teams in the mix.

06 Jan

How to watch, time, teams involved, odds to win No. 1 pick

The first big event of the offseason is here, with the 2024 WNBA Draft Lottery now just hours away. We’ll soon learn which lucky team gets the No. 1 overall pick in what is projected to be one of the best draft classes of all time. The event is set to take place in between the Utah vs. South Carolina and North Carolina vs. UConn games at the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Showcase.

This year, the lottery will feature the Indiana Fever, Phoenix Mercury, Los Angeles Sparks and Seattle Storm. While the Mercury finished with the worst record in the league, the WNBA uses the combined records of the previous two seasons to determine lottery odds, so the Fever have the best chance of winning the first pick.

Ahead of the big day, here’s everything you need to know:

The Fever won the No. 1 pick for the first time in franchise history last year, and they used it to select Aliyah Boston, who went on to win Rookie of the Year unanimously. Thanks in large part to Boston, they won more games in 2023 than they did in 2021 and 2022 combined, as they appear to finally have some hope for the future. Adding another lottery pick will only further solidify that fact.

This was another rough season for the Mercury, as their streak of 10 straight playoff appearances — which was the longest active streak in the league — came to an end. That was probably for the best long-term, however, as this team needs a reset and will now get to do so with a new GM, new head coach and, potentially, the No. 1 overall pick.

Despite hiring two-time Coach of the Year Curt Miller and adding a number of veterans to the roster, the Sparks missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season, which is the longest drought in franchise history. The good news is they actually own their lottery pick this year and will finally get a chance to add a top-tier young talent to the roster.

As expected, the Storm struggled to cope with the loss of Sue Bird (retirement) and Breanna Stewart (free agency), and, by winning percentage (0.275), had their second-worst season in franchise history. They’re back in the lottery for the first time since 2016, when they drafted Stewart, and will be hoping for similar luck this time around.

Top prospects
The 2024 draft class has a chance to be one of the best ever, though it remains to be seen which of the top prospects will enter the draft and which will use their COVID years to remain in school. For now, here’s a quick look at some of the biggest names (in alphabetical order):

Cameron Brink — C, Stanford
Paige Bueckers — G, UConn
Kamilla Cardoso — C, South Carolina
Caitlin Clark — G, Iowa
Aaliyah Edwards — F, UConn
Rickea Jackson — F, Tennessee
Elizabeth Kitley — C, Virginia Tech
Angel Reese — C, LSU

06 Jan

Fever win No. 1 overall pick for second year in a row

The Indiana Fever won the 2024 WNBA Draft Lottery on Sunday, securing the No. 1 overall pick in the highly anticipated 2024 WNBA Draft. Rounding out the lottery is the Los Angeles Sparks at No. 2, the Phoenix Mercury at No. 3 and the Seattle Storm at No. 4. This is the second year in a row in which the Fever have won the lottery.

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark, the reigning Naismith Player of the Year, is the projected first pick, and she has been for some time. After leading the Hawkeyes to their first national championship game in school history last season, Clark is leading the nation in scoring at 29.6 points per game. She’s also fourth in assists at 7.6 and hauling down 6.7 rebounds for good measure.

Here are some key takeaways from the result:

A Boston-Clark partnership?
In last season’s Final Four, Caitlin Clark led Iowa to a dramatic upset over Aliyah Boston and South Carolina, ending the Gamecocks’ 42-game winning streak. Now, the last two Naismith Player of the Year award winners are on track to become teammates at the next level.

The Fever won the No. 1 overall pick for the first time in franchise history last year, and selected Boston, who went on to win Rookie of the Year in unanimous fashion after a historic campaign. She immediately established herself as the best young center in the league and has all the makings of a franchise player. Clark, with her elite 3-pointer shooting and playmaking ability, is the most talented guard prospect in a number of years, and she would be a perfect backcourt partner for Boston.

After years of bad luck in the lottery and poor decision making by the front office, the odds have finally turned in the Fever’s favor. Thanks to Boston, Indiana won more games last season (13) than it did in 2021 and 2022 combined (11), as the team was already showing signs of being back on the right path.

Adding Clark to the mix would immediately give them the best and most exciting young duo in the league, bringing genuine excitement back to the once-proud franchise.

Lottery system punishes the Storm
The WNBA’s lottery system uses the aggregate record of the two previous seasons to determine the odds for the No. 1 overall pick. While a useful tool for combating tanking, the system punishes teams who fall off for other reasons.

That’s just what happened to the Seattle Storm. They were a legitimate title contender in 2022, but then lost Sue Bird to retirement and Breanna Stewart to free agency, and understandably fell off a cliff. Last season Seattle finished in 11th place at 11-29, and it has a long way back to the league’s upper echelon.

The No. 1 pick would have helped, but the Storm never really stood a chance. Their 33-42 record over the past two seasons was the best of the four lottery teams, which gave them the worst odds at 10.40%. To little surprise, they wound up with the No. 4 overall pick.

This is a great draft, and they’ll still wind up with a talented player, but there’s a big difference between picking first and fourth.

Does anyone go back to school?
There’s a major wrinkle with this year’s draft due to the extra year of eligibility granted to all players who were active during the COVID-19 pandemic. The so-called “COVID year” means that the majority of this season’s top prospects are eligible to return to school next year, even if they’re currently seniors.

That includes Caitlin Clark, Cameron Brink, Kamilla Cardoso, Aaliyah Edwards and Angel Reese. Paige Bueckers could also go back to school, though she’s only a junior after red-shirting in 2022 due to a torn ACL. If any number of these players decide against turning pro, it would alter not only this year’s draft, but next year’s as well.

The Fever, of course, will be crossing their fingers that Clark leaves, but they’ll at least get the first pick regardless of what happens. If a bunch of these players stay in school, it would be a disaster for the Mercury and Storm further down the lottery.

The Chicago Sky and defending champion Las Vegas Aces are the only teams without a first-round pick as things stand. The 2024 WNBA Draft is set for April 15, though further details have not yet been announced.

06 Jan

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark goes No. 1 to Fever, but how else does the lottery shake out?

The Indiana Fever were the lucky winners of the 2024 WNBA Draft Lottery on Sunday, and they now have the No. 1 overall pick for the second year in a row. With it, Indiana is expected to select Iowa star Caitlin Clark, who, along with unanimous 2023 Rookie of the Year Aliyah Boston, should end the Fever’s status as a perennial lottery team.

But what about the other teams and the other top prospects in this talented 2024 draft class? Now that the lottery is set, let’s take a look at how things might shake out with an initial lottery-only mock draft.

(Note: Clark, Bueckers and Brink are all eligible to return to school next season.)

  1. Indiana Fever: Caitlin Clark – G, Iowa
    Let’s be honest, you could have pre-written this months ago, as Clark has long been the projected first pick regardless of which team won the lottery. That it was the Fever, who have won the No. 1 pick for the second year in a row and can now pair her with unanimous Rookie of the Year Aliyah Boston in a perfect inside-outside combination, only makes it more certain.

Clark leads the nation in scoring at 29.5 points per game, is tied for fourth in assists at 7.4 and seems likely to become the first player since Breanna Stewart to win back-to-back Naismith Player of the Year awards. She is a true game-changing talent on the perimeter with elite shooting and playmaking ability. The best guard prospect to turn pro in years, Clark would immediately form the most exciting young duo in the league with Boston.

  1. Los Angeles Sparks: Paige Bueckers – G, UConn
    After the Fever, the Sparks were the day’s big winners. They only missed out on the playoffs by one game last season as the result of horrible injury luck, and are not a typical lottery team. They were the only team to move up a slot based on the projected odds, and have secured the No. 2 pick — their highest selection since 2012.

Best of all from their perspective, their biggest need is on the perimeter, and this now ensures they’ll get Bueckers, who is by far the best guard prospect after Clark. The 6-foot UConn product has some serious injury concerns — in the last two years, she’s torn her ACL and meniscus, fractured her tibial plateau and undergone ankle surgery — but her talent is undeniable. Her impressive shooting and playmaking skills are just what the Sparks need.

  1. Phoenix Mercury: Cameron Brink – C, Stanford
    No team needed the first pick as badly as the Mercury, who have had an extremely difficult couple of years and are coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history. Instead, their unlucky streak continued, as they were the only team to slide down the board based on the odds and wound up with the No. 3 pick. On the bright side, this is a deep class and in Brink they will get the best frontcourt prospect in the class.

The 6-foot-4 Brink is an interior force currently averaging 11.4 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game, numbers that are good for seventh and third in the country, respectively. She’s also improved as a scorer while upping her usage rate this season. In Brink the Mercury could find their long-term replacement for Brittney Griner.

  1. Seattle Storm: Rickea Jackson – F, Tennessee
    The Storm got punished by the league’s lottery system, which uses the aggregate record of the past two seasons to determine the odds for the top pick. That anti-tanking measure doesn’t take into account situations like Seattle’s where they were a contender one year then fell off because of player departures. As a result, the Storm were the second-worst team in the league last season, but wound up with the worst lottery odds and, in the end, the No. 4 pick in what appears to be a three-player draft.

Which direction they go in here will be interesting to see. Their biggest need is on the wing, but the best players available are centers. This is the lottery slot most subject to change, but for now we’ll lean toward Rickea Jackson. The Tennessee forward has been injured for most of the season, but she has been a 20-point-per-game scorer at multiple schools and has the size and physicality to adjust to the professional game.

06 Jan

Former UConn star Tiffany Hayes announces retirement from WNBA after 11 seasons

Connecticut Sun guard and former UConn star Tiffany Hayes is officially retiring from the WNBA, she announced on Wednesday. The 2017 WNBA All-Star shared the news on the “Count Me Out” podcast.

“This right here with the Connecticut Sun was my last season,” Hayes said.

Hayes averaged 12.1 points in 40 games for the Sun through the 2023 season. Before joining the Sun’s roster earlier this year, she spent 10 years with the Atlanta Dream. Her resume was already impressive before being selected 14th overall in the 2012 WNBA Draft, as the Florida native won two national championships with the UConn Huskies in 2009 and 2010.

“It’s a lot of things. I really feel like I’m older now. I got a lot of stuff that I really always want to get into but I’m so busy ’cause I’m playing year-round,” Hayes said. “Plus, my body, playing 11 seasons straight with no breaks, every year, two seasons in a year every time, that’s a lot.”

Fun fact: Tiffany Hayes is one of just 10 players in WNBA history with…

4,000+ PTS
1,000+ FTM
1,000+ REB
750+ AST
350+ 3PMhttps://t.co/0LvIF4NzLh

Congrats on an incredible WNBA career! pic.twitter.com/Y1QrYFCdCz

— Across the Timeline (@WBBTimeline) December 13, 2023
The 34-year-old is not completely leaving basketball just yet. Throughout her time as a pro, Hayes has played overseas during the WNBA offseason — most recently with Çukurova Basketbol in Turkey. A lot of WNBA players play two seasons to make more money, but Hayes is now choosing to do just one so she can spend more time enjoying other areas of her life.

“You could still catch me overseas,” she said. “I just figured I’d focus on one thing and then summer time I could turn up my business. I could turn up life with my family and just live life like that.”

06 Jan

Liberty’s Breanna Stewart reveals she wants out of current WNBA CBA in forthcoming documentary

The Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) and MALKA Media Group have partnered on a new sports documentary set to hit Tubi, Fox’s free ad-supported streaming television service, on Jan. 31, 2024. The film “Shattered Glass: A WNBPA Story,” will follow three current and one former athlete as they discuss their careers, their families and what’s on the horizon for the WNBA.

The documentary is directed by rising filmmaker Andrea Buccilla and an all-women development team. Buccilla herself played golf while attending college at Ole Miss and returned to her creative endeavors after teaching in Mississippi and New York for nearly nine years.

“SHATTERED GLASS: A WNBPA Story is more than a documentary – it’s a movement,” said Terri Carmichael Jackson, WNBPA executive director and an executive producer on the film, in the media release. “We’re bringing to light the incredible stories of these athletes, who are not just sports icons but powerful advocates for change, respect, and inspiration – something that all women can relate to and feel empowered by.”

CBS Sports viewed a rough cut of the documentary before it airs on Tubi next month.

For casual sports fans, the documentary will serve as a primer to the WNBA — its history, its athletes and a debunking of the myths and stereotypes that have followed the league and its players since 1997.

For more dedicated women’s basketball fans, “Shattered Glass” is a glimpse into the daily life of Jonquel Jones, Breanna Stewart and Nneka Ogwumike during the 2023 season. The trio of current WNBA players also weigh in on whether the WNBPA should opt out of its current collective bargaining agreement.

From Good to Great
The documentary starts at an October WNBPA meeting including PA executive committee members and team representatives to discuss the CBA. The meeting served as a 12-month countdown to the opt-out deadline and served as the first of ongoing strategic meetings to determine what the union will decide.

“Yes, I want to opt out,” Stewart says is a 15-second trailer released today.

While the 2020 CBA was groundbreaking, there are still improvements WNBA players want to see. Buccilla gives viewers a glimpse into what topics the WNBPA will consider ahead of the next CBA negotiations. At the top of the list is salary increases, travel and expanded benefits for working moms.

The WNBPA is part of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), a collective of 60 labor unions including the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or SAG-AFTRA.

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A post shared by WNBPA (@thewnbpa)

“Shattered Glass” follows Jackson as she joins SAG-AFTRA on the 110th day of their most recent strike. The film suggests the WNBPA will capitalize on its AFL-CIO network while considering whether to opt out of the current league contract.

Salaries and compensation is often at the heart of contract negotiations, and things will be no different for the WNBPA. Throughout the documentary, Jones, Stewart, Ogwumike and other players also weigh in on expanded benefits for parents and a pension program to support retired players. Through the ongoing interviews in the film, Buccilla portrays why these topics are important to current players.

“SHATTERED GLASS: A WNBPA Story is a transcendent documentary that uniquely captures the power and spirit of female athletes,” Tubi CEO Anjali Sud said. “Tubi is proud to collaborate with the Women’s National Basketball Players Association as part of our commitment to uplifting bold and inspiring voices for young and diverse audiences.”

The documentary has a current run time of nearly 75 minutes and will be available to watch exclusively on Tubi beginning Jan. 31, 2024. Jones, Stewart and Ogwumike are listed as executive producers alongside Jessica McCourt (MALKA), Rebecca Otto (Wasserman), Faith Suggs (Sports International Group) and Sheryl Swoopes. Erin Gilchrist managed the production.

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.”

image001-1.png
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.

06 Jan

Everything you need to know, from start date to the Olympic break

After announcing changes to the Commissioner’s Cup format on Monday morning, the WNBA released the full 2024 regular-season schedule in the afternoon. Opening night is set for May 14 and will feature four games, including the defending champion Las Vegas Aces hosting the Phoenix Mercury.

For a second consecutive season, teams will play 40 games, which marked a record-high last season. Despite the 2024 Olympics, which will require a mid-season break, the All-Star game will take place, as will the Commissioner’s Cup, as the league looks to capitalize on a record-setting and thrilling 2023 campaign.

“We eagerly anticipate tipping off the 2024 season and building on the success of last season, our most-watched in 21 years and a record-setter for social media engagement, digital consumption, All-Star merchandise sales and sports betting,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a press release. “Free agency and the 2024 WNBA Draft are sure to create excitement, and the new format to the Commissioner’s Cup will provide fans a great opportunity to see the best players in the world compete for bragging rights and prize money early in the season.”

Ahead of all the action, here’s everything you need to know about the 2024 WNBA schedule:

When does the season begin?
Opening night is set for May 14, which is slightly earlier than last season to help accomodate the Olympic break and the extended 40-game schedule. The four games will feature last season’s finalists as well as three of the four lottery picks. Here’s a look at the full opening night slate:

New York Liberty at Washington Mystics, 7 p.m. ET
Indiana Fever at Connecticut Sun, 8 p.m. ET
Phoenix Mercury at Las Vegas Aces, 10 p.m. ET
Minnesota Lynx at Seattle Storm, 10 p.m. ET
Note: Broadcast information has not yet been released for any games.

Will there be an All-Star Game?
Yes, the 2024 All-Star Game is set for July 20 in Phoenix, with the Mercury hosting for the third time in franchise history. This is notable because for much of the league’s history, the All-Star Game has been cancelled during Olympic years. Furthermore, the event will be a chance for a new-look Mercury franchise to reintroduce itself to the basketball world.

“As I’ve said from Day 1, we are going to make Phoenix one of the leading basketball destinations in the world, and the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game is going to be an unbelievable experience,” Mat Ishbia, who bought the Mercury and Phoenix Suns earlier this year, said in July when the All-Star announcement was made.

“As the women’s game continues to grow and reach new heights, we are going to put on an All-Star weekend that will accelerate that growth and elevate the league. I want to thank the WNBA and the entire Phoenix community for coming together to help bring the WNBA All-Star Game to the Valley. I couldn’t be more excited to show the world what Phoenix basketball is all about.”

Further details regarding All-Star weekend have not yet been announced. The league has largely been using a captain’s picks format in recent years, though it’s worth noting that in 2021, the last time there was an All-Star Game during an Olympic year, the game was played between Team USA and Team WNBA.

What about the Commissioner’s Cup?
The WNBA debuted its in-season competition, the Commissioner’s Cup, back in 2021, but it has failed to capture anyone’s attention in the way the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament did. That none of the championship games have been competitive certainly hasn’t helped the WNBA’s cause, but neither has the drawn-out, byzantine format.

As a result, two big changes are coming to the cup this season:

Each team will play five Commissioner’s Cup games — down from 10 — against each of its in-conference rivals
All five games will be played in a two-week period from June 1-13. Previously, games were spread out over multiple months
“The newly designed, concentrated structure for this in-season tournament adds an increased sense of urgency and excitement,” Engelbert stated in a press release.

All Commissioner’s Cup games will still count as regular-season games, as has been the case, and qualifying for the championship remains the same: The team from each conference with the best record in cup games gets in. Furthermore, a $500,000 prize pool remains up for grabs.

The championship will be played on June 25 and hosted by the team with the best record in cup games.

What’s going to happen when the Olympics roll around?
The vast majority of basketball leagues around the world, both men and women, start in the fall and end in the spring, which is why major international tournaments are scheduled for the summer. The WNBA, of course, plays in the summer, and as such routinely has to alter its schedule to give players the opportunity to represent their countries.

That is no different this season. With the 2024 Olympics set to take place in Paris from July 26-Aug. 11, the WNBA will pause for a mid-season break from July 21-Aug. 14. Team USA will be competing for a record eighth consecutive Olympic gold medal.

Play will resume on Aug. 15 with a three-game slate.

Are there any other key dates to know?
Jan. 21: Teams can begin negotiating with free agents
Feb. 1: Teams can officially sign players to new contracts
April 15: 2024 WNBA Draft
April 28: Training camps open
May 5: Preseason games begin
Aug. 8: Trade deadline
Sept. 19: Regular season ends