WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announces league will expand to 40 games in 2023

CHICAGO– Ahead of Sunday’s 2022 WNBA All-Star Game, league commissioner Cathy Engelbert addressed the media during her long and extensive press conference. Engelbert touched on a number of topics facing the league both now and in the future.

Here is an overview of some of the most important notes:

Season extended to 40 games in 2023

This summer, the WNBA extended the regular season to a record 36 games. This mark will only last for a year, as Engelbert has announced that in 2023 the regular season will once again expand to 40 games.

“We’re seeing tremendous interest in the game, as evidenced by viewership, and everything from the draft to today,” Engelbert said. “Our response to that is also to keep trying to grow, and we want to expand our footprint. From next season we’re going to play 40 games. … We need to have a more substantial season, so we’ll do it l ‘next year.”

The current collective agreement allows up to 44 games per season, and Engelbert would like to get there at some point. However, the number of games the league can play in a given season will depend on the Olympics and the FIBA ​​Women’s World Cup. The league is able to expand to 40 games in 2023 as no events occur; however, in years with major international tournaments this may not be possible.

“Out of the 40 games, I would love to do it consistently every year,” Engelbert said. “I would like to move up to 44 at some point when we have a good footprint to do that. We would like to do that, but we’re going to have to make decisions with our owners around the Olympic break…. Again, we We have to be respectful of all the commitments of the national team, not just the United States team.”

Expansion by at least 2025

Earlier this year, Engelbert said in an interview with The Athletic that she wanted to add up to two teams by the 2024 season. While that’s still her goal, she backtracked on those comments a bit on Sunday saying that might not happen until 2025.

“We are working hard on analyzing the data,” Engelbert said. “We have about 100 cities through a lens of psychography, demographics, arena, NCAA fandom, current WNBA fandom, merchandise sales, viewership. … Hopefully it’ll be a few teams by 25 at the latest, but I’d love it in 24, but I’m probably looking at that kind of timeline, and again, a lot of cities are interested in. That’s the good news, and now we have to find the right ones ownership groups with the right commitment and financial wherewithal to be truly committed to putting together a WNBA team in their city.”

Engelbert acknowledged that Philadelphia was one of the cities under consideration, but declined to go into more detail about the teams on the list. He was also asked if the league would consider local politics – particularly gender and reproductive rights after the recent Roe v. Wade – when deciding where to expand.

“Obviously we continue to advocate for gender equity and health, especially in communities of color and access to reproductive health care,” Engelbert said. “Really important. You’ve seen our strong statements that we’ve put out, both on the opinion leak and its eventual release, so that’s an important aspect of that.

“When we do our analysis of these hundreds of cities and we go through it through our psychographics and demographics, it comes out as a very important piece of the diversity of the city, the kind of support around the city and the ‘State. That’s why the players were so smart this year, they chose their pillar of Social Justice Council suffrage, and more importantly to me, civic engagement, because we need to be more civically engaged. , not only at the federal level but at the local and state level of who our elected leaders are in the states in which we play and certainly in every state.”

Charter flights for the finals, increased prize pool for the playoffs

Player travel has been a major talking point over the past few years. All teams are currently required to fly as a coach due to competitive balance rules; some team owners are unable to afford charter flights or are unwilling to pay the price. Before the season, the The New York Liberty received the largest fine in league history$500,000, for breaking these rules and stealing privately anyway in 2022.

Seeking to improve the player experience, Engelbert announced that the league will offer charter flights during the finals. Additionally, the playoff prize pool will see a substantial increase.

“For the WNBA Finals, we’re going to be providing charter flights for our players, so for all of the Finals games, that’s going to happen,” Engelbert said. “In the spirit of finding other ways to compensate our players, we plan to increase the post-season bonus pools by almost 50% to half a million dollars. This would almost double the bonus for each player who wins the championship, so we’re just trying to snack and find ways for the players to lift them and pay them more.”

The new television offer is a focal point

The league’s current TV deal with ESPN expires in 2025, and Engelbert said negotiating the next one is his “first business priority”. Additionally, Engelbert is working to make the league easier to watch and access.

“We need to find the right package more broadly for the WNBA,” Engelbert said. “We need to make it easier for fans to watch our matches, to know where our matches are.”

Starting this season, there are games on ESPN and ABC platforms, CBS Sports Network, NBA TV, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon Prime, and League Pass. With games spread across the digital and linear landscape, it can sometimes be confusing for fans to know where and how they can watch.

At this point, it’s worth noting that MLS recently entered into a ten-year deal with Apple TV that will pay the league $250 million per season to broadcast every game. Engelbert said the league is open to exploring a digital deal of this nature, but didn’t provide any further details.

COVID, security concerns cited for lack of fan access

All-Star Saturday was not held at Wintrust Arena as it was already booked. Instead, the league held the event at McCormick Place, a giant convention center next door. The Sky’s floor was installed and temporary bleachers were set up around the pitch, but the decor made things look amateurish.

Also, no fans were allowed; family members, media and young players from the Nike Nationals event were the only people allowed inside. There was a small outdoor area where fans could congregate and watch the big screen, but the lack of access was understandably frustrating for fans who had made the trip to Chicago.

In addition to Wintrust Arena’s lack of availability, Engelbert cited COVID and security concerns for the way things went.

“There’s also a lot going on around security, and even an outdoor festival in this very crazy time, when you see shootings and people going into restaurants with outdoor dining and things like that,” Engelbert said.

“To tinker with everything that’s going on, coming out of two difficult COVID years and not having Wintrust available yesterday, it just wasn’t possible to have a fan event. We didn’t have an arena for the have here in the city of Chicago. But understand the fans are frustrated not to attend, but again, last year we didn’t have it, the year before we didn’t even have no All-Star Game, so we’re kind of trying to build what All-Star Weekend will look like.”

Engelbert made similar remarks when asked about side events such as a Chance the Rapper concert closed to the public.

“Yeah, we would have loved to open that up to the public,” Engelbert said. “Due to security issues going back to Mandalay Bay, going back to other things that have happened here in Chicago and Uvalde and Buffalo and there is a lot of concern about outdoor events right now unfortunately in our country , so we were just trying to do our best. We’ve always wanted WNBA Live to be music and basketball and music and culture and food and art, things that bring people together. culture and pop culture. It’s been planned for a while. It was just because of all the security issues across this country that we couldn’t fully open it up to the public.”

“But again, understand the frustrations that the general public couldn’t be invited, but next year hopefully we’ll be in a different era. We have a different perspective on how to secure everything. But this year, because we wanted to do just across the street at McCormack Place, consulting with safety experts, Chicago PD, our WNBA safety experts, that’s what we decided to do this year. “

James C. Tibbs