The WNBA’s 25th season was marked by celebrations, the launch of the Commissioner’s Cup and “The W25,” a gathering of 25 of the greatest and most influential players in league history.
The fans voted Diana Taurasi to be the GOAT, and that honor was announced prior to Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, which saw the fifth and sixth seedling play each other for the first time in this playoff format. It all culminated in Candace Parker leading the Sky to her first WNBA title five years after her first win with the Los Angeles Sparks in the league’s 20th season.
How does the WNBA not only follow, but capitalize on the attention and excitement being generated since its 25th year?
An excellent starting point would be the goods.
Three months after Sky won its title, the players’ kits are still elusive. Sky jerseys are not available at all in the official WNBA shop. At Dick’s Sporting Goods, the league’s official retail partner, the options aren’t much better.
Two jerseys – Diamond DeShields and Courtney Vandersloot – are available in youth sizes on Dick’s website. Only the DeShields jersey is available in adult sizes. When Kahleah Copper was named WNBA Finals MVP, fans rushed to buy her jersey only to find it wasn’t available.
After being named AP Player of the Year for the second time in her career, Parker took to Twitter to express her displeasure that her jersey was nowhere to be found.
“Humbled and grateful for the honor,” Parker wrote on social media. “If only my jersey could be available to people (INCLUDING ME) online, in stores, or in the Metaverse. That would be great.”
Increased visibility of jersey sales in a saturated sports market like Chicago is crucial.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert made sure the issue had her attention, saying it’s a good problem when demand outstrips supply. Engelbert said the league is working with partners to reduce lead time, particularly on kits.
One solution they think the league wants to create is a resource that could direct fans to any retail store that carries WNBA merchandise. Engelbert also suggested that fans could customize a jersey on the WNBA merch page, but the Sky jersey cannot be customized.
When Engelbert took over as commissioner in 2019, she came in with a five-year transformation plan. The pandemic has hampered the first two years, with 2020 being played in a closed setting at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. and season 25 being played primarily in front of limited-capacity spectators.
Despite pandemic challenges, viewership grew. Season 25 was the most watched since 2008, with an average viewership of 321,000 on ESPN, ABC and CBS during the regular season, a 51% increase from 2020. Games 3 and 4 of the WNBA Finals were played to a packed crowd at Wintrust Arena.
“Showcasing in 2021 helps set the stage for continued success in 2022,” said Engelbert. “It depends on the valuation of our assets. Whether it’s placement on the pitch or a patch on a uniform, attention, media rights and seat filling, Chicago’s success and the success of the entire season will help increase that value.”
The league launched the WNBA Changemaker platform in 2020 with founding partners AT&T, Nike and Deloitte. In 2021, Google became the fourth company to join this platform. Engelbert said the league hopes to add another company soon.
This week, Colie Edison joined the WNBA as the league’s first-ever chief growth officer, another move Engelbert says is critical to capitalizing on the momentum of Season 25.
The league begins its 26th season on May 7, but free agency and drafting come first.
Part of the league’s strategy after announcing the landmark eight-year contract in 2020 was to create an environment that gave way to a robust free agent market. In 2021, the attention the league envisioned from free agency materialized in the form of Parker, who left the franchise that drafted her and where she won a championship to return to her home market.
This year free agency has the potential to become even more explosive and negotiations can start on Saturday. Players can sign contracts from February 1st.