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The inspiration behind a marketplace for women’s sports memorabilia

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There is a mystique with sports collectibles. When a team or athlete delivers a performance that fans cherish, they can bottle up those feelings of elation and pride and relive them through visual items commemorating the moment.

Game-worn memorabilia and framed and autographed photos featuring those types of iconic performances from athletes’ careers have become commonplace in men’s sports. They haven’t been as accessible, however, for fans of women’s sports.

Brandon Steiner, founder and CEO of CollectibleXchange, has set out to shift the paradigm, launching an online platform in August that sells memorabilia and merchandise for athletes exclusively in women’s sports. With The Collective Marketplace on Athlete Direct, he aims to highlight the one-of-a-kind athletes and show that there is a market out there for women’s sports memorabilia.

“I’ve always been a fan of trying to appreciate the greatness,” Steiner tells Just Women’s Sports. “When you look at a Sue Bird, or a [Diana] Taurasi, Mia Hamm, Serena Williams, I mean, these are not athletes that will be easily duplicated, and we may never see talent like this again.

“I want people to see that and appreciate it, and that’s the purpose of putting this collection together.”

The Collective Marketplace on Athlete Direct, backed by Wasserman’s women-focused division, The Collective, is athlete-controlled. That means the athletes Steiner works with can manage the commercial value of their exclusive memorabilia.

Among those currently selling game-worn jerseys, licensed products and autographs on the platform are Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Nneka Ogwumike, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe. Currently, it’s the only online collectible marketplace dedicated solely to women’s sports.

The venture into women’s sports is new for Steiner, who founded Steiner Sports Marketing & Memorabilia in 1987 and worked primarily with men’s teams and athletes for over 32 years. (Steiner is no longer affiliated with Steiner Sports.)

When reflecting on why he made the jump, one specific moment comes to mind. Six years ago, Steiner was set to receive an award for his involvement in women’s sports. He asked his daughter if she would present him with the honor. She refused and told him he should, too.

“My daughter’s like, ‘No, I’m not giving the award. You haven’t done enough. What have you done? All I see you is making money with men and guys. Yeah, you help coach some women’s basketball and you do a couple of things, but you gotta do more,’” Steiner says.

The moment resonated with the career businessman. Realizing his daughter was right, Steiner vowed then and there to do something that would make an impact in the women’s sports space.

“It was a little bit of a wake-up call, a little bit of a push that I needed to get into this thing, and it started with her,” he says.

Steiner launched The Collective Marketplace on Athlete Direct to make women's sports memorabilia more accessible. (Courtesy of Brandon Steiner)

Fans of women’s sports have grown accustomed to a lack of merchandise for their favorite teams and players. U.S. women’s national soccer team fans have lamented the shortage of jerseys on the team store. In the WNBA, a league of 144 players, the jerseys of only a select few players were labeled as “ready to ship” this season. The league has taken steps to increase supply after agreeing to a multi-year partnership with DICK’S Sporting Goods, but the concerns persist.

Athletes share fans’ frustrations, Steiner says, and recognize that licensing in women’s sports needs to improve.

The influx of sports memorabilia into the retail space helps, with items on Steiner’s platform ranging beyond soccer and basketball. Fans of April Ross and Alix Klineman, who won beach volleyball gold at the Olympics this past summer, can purchase signed memorabilia from their run in Tokyo. WNBA stars like Bird and Stewart have also taken their collections a step further, putting sneakers up for sale.

“I love Breanna Stewart’s sneakers,” Steiner says. “She’s a sneakerhead, and I love the fact that she’s got fashion.”

Steiner sees record-breaking accomplishments in women’s sports, like Bird and Taurasi’s fifth Olympic gold medal with USA Basketball, and wants them to receive the same attention as their male counterparts.

“It’s not a sidebar thing,” Steiner says, adding that he’d like to see women support women through investment.

“Guys are just into every sport, and they think because they watched something 20 years ago that now they’re an expert on women in sports,” he says. “But women should know. We’re going through a special time now in women’s sports.”

Just as increasing access to women’s sports games and coverage helps draw fans and grow the industry, expanding the market for women’s sports products can strengthen the foundation.

“You have an 11-year-old daughter — man, I want to put a picture of Diana Taurasi in her room rather than a picture of Steph Curry,” Steiner says.

Building the ecosystem of women’s sports, Steiner contends, will create a cycle of investment, demand and growth. The Collective Marketplace on Athlete Direct is part of what makes that possible, all in one place.

“It just puts it in a nice bow and a package,” Steiner says. “I think that’s the stuff that we should be celebrating and enjoying. There’s a lot of greatness, a lot of winning going on.

“My goal is to bring that [greatness] out. And I think you can do that a lot with the collectibles.”

(Editor’s note: The Collective Marketplace on Athlete Direct is a sponsor of Just Women’s Sports)

Emma Hruby is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @EHruby.

Rose Lavelle hoping to return to play ‘in the next couple of weeks’

uswnt midfielder rose lavalle trains on a soccer field in florida
When healthy, Rose Lavelle is a trusted asset in the USWNT's midfield. (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Rose Lavelle is hoping to return to the field soon. 

The 28-year-old midfielder has been sidelined with a lower leg injury since the Gold Cup in early march. Since then, she has yet to play for new club Gotham FC in the NWSL. She also missed a potential USWNT appearance at the SheBelieves Cup in April, where senior team newcomer Jaedyn Shaw saw success assuming Lavelle's role in the attacking midfield. 

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media showcase on Monday, Lavelle told reporters that she’s doing well and hopes to be back soon.

"I’m doing good — I’m hoping I’ll be back in the next couple weeks," Lavelle said. "It’s frustrating to start the year off with an injury, just because I feel like you come off preseason and you’re revving to go, so it’s so annoying."

Lavelle is still looking to compete for one of just 18 Olympic roster spots. When healthy, she ranks as one of the national team’s most trusted assets, but considering this most recent injury, her health is an obvious concern. Faced with an onslaught of experienced competitors and young talent, incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes will have some big decisions to make when selecting the Paris-bound squad — a reality Lavelle seems to be taking in stride as she works to regain full fitness.

"We have so many special players, we have so much depth, and so many different weapons to utilize on and off the bench," Lavelle said. "Unfortunately that means really good players are going to get left off, too. And I think for all of us, it’s just about being ready for whatever role is given to us, embracing that, and looking to put it into a collective picture so that we can go into the Olympics ready to go."

Kate Paye tapped to take VanDerveer’s place at Stanford

new stanford head coach kate paye spins a basketball on the court
Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye has officially been promoted to head women's basketball coach. (Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)

Stanford has found its replacement for legendary head women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer in associate head coach Kate Paye.

The Cardinal confirmed the hiring on Tuesday via a press release. Paye was largely expected to replace the longtime head coach, as the college mentioned they were still negotiating Paye's contract when they announced VanDerveer's retirement.

In Tuesday's statement, Paye reported that she was "humbled" to have been tapped to lead the women’s program.

"Stanford University has been a central part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am humbled to have the opportunity to lead its women’s basketball program," Paye said. "I’d first like to thank Tara, who has played such a pivotal role in my career for her friendship and guidance. It’s not what she’s done, but how she’s done it, that has had such a profound impact upon me."

A Woodside, California native, Paye played under VanDerveer from 1992 to 1995, taking home a national title her freshman year. After graduation, Paye briefly joined San Diego State as an assistant coach before making her professional debut with the ABL's Seattle Reign in 1996. After finishing her playing career with the WNBA's Seattle Storm, she joined the team’s coaching staff in 2007 and has been with the organization ever since, picking up another national title win — this time as associate head coach — in 2021. Paye's brother John played quarterback for Stanford from 1983 to 1986, while also serving as a point guard on the basketball team.

In her own response, VanDerveer said that she was "grateful" that Stanford picked Paye to follow in her stead. Last week, the decorated coach stated that this year would be her last after 38 seasons at the helm and three national titles under her belt.

"She has long been ready for this opportunity and is the perfect leader for Stanford at this time of immense change in college athletics," VanDerveer noted. "Kate was the choice for this job and I am confident she will achieve great success as head coach."

After a record-breaking Draft Night, WNBA roster cuts loom

2023 WNBA no. 1 draft pick Aliyah Boston playing for the indiana fever
Despite going No. 1 overall in the 2023 WNBA Draft, Aliyah Boston had to fight hard to make it onto Indiana's roster. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 2024 WNBA Draft has officially concluded, leaving the newly minted rookie class facing a tough road ahead.

Only 144 roster slots are available throughout the league’s 12 teams, the reason why the players are sometimes referred to as the “144.” And Monday’s draft picks are set to join a large group of established players competing for those same roster spots, from seasoned veterans to young athletes determined to prove their value on the court.

Last year, just 15 of the league’s 36 draftees made it onto their drafting team's opening-day squad.

In reality, there are oftentimes fewer than 144 spots available, as not every team maxes out their roster. Per the league's CBA, each team roster must maintain a minimum standard of 11 players, but those lists can include players out with injuries or on other forms of leave. Players can also be assigned to short-term hardship contracts, something waived players must be prepared for at any point during the season.

Earlier this week, Laeticia Amihere — a 2022 national champion with South Carolina who currently plays for the Atlanta Dream — took to TikTok to provide some insight into the WNBA training camp process. 

"You can either get drafted on Draft Night, or you can get signed by a team," she said. "Once that happens, you go to training camp literally like two weeks later... Basically everybody's got to try out. There's 12 roster spots, and there's like 18 people at the at the trial."

@laeticiaamihere Replying to @dantavius.washington #wnba #draft ♬ original sound - Laeticia Amihere

Amihere also had an important point to make: Getting cut does not signify a player’s abilities. 

"If you get cut after training camp, that does not mean you're not good," she said. "That does not mean that player sucks, don't stop supporting that player. Literally, there's so many reasons somebody can get cut."

"If you guys look at the best players in the league, most of them have bounced around teams," she added. "And I promise you it is not a bad thing, it's just how the league is."

Things, however gradually, are changing. With Golden State's WNBA team scheduled to launch in time for the 2025 season, league expansion is just around the corner. On Monday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league is aiming to grow to 16 teams by 2028. But by then, it might be too little too late for the generation of talent emerging from an increasingly competitive NCAA system.

WNBA draft shatters records with 2.45 million viewers

wide shot of BAM during the 2024 WNBA Draft
It wasn't just attendees that were glued to the on-stage action at the 2024 WNBA Draft. (Photo by Melanie Fidler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday night’s WNBA draft added to the nationwide uptick in record-breaking women's sports viewership, pulling in 2.45 million viewers throughout the nearly two-hour broadcast and peaking at 3.09 million, according to an ESPN release. 

That number shatters the previous draft viewership record — 601,000 in 2004 — which was fueled primarily by then-No. 1 pick Diana Taurasi entering the league after UConn's historic three-peat March Madness performance.  

The 2023 WNBA draft drew 572,000 viewers, the most for any televised WNBA event since 2.74 million tuned in to NBC for a Memorial Day matchup between the New York Liberty and Houston Comets back in 2000.

While many came to watch Caitlin Clark get drafted No. 1 overall, it’s important to note that viewership didn’t take a massive dip after the superstar shooter left the stage. The numbers show that a bulk of the audience stuck around to watch the remainder of the show, making 2024's event not just the most-viewed WNBA draft in history, but also the most-viewed WNBA program to ever air on ESPN platforms.

Draft Day's popularity is yet another sign indicating an expected rise in WNBA regular season viewership. Clark and Iowa's NCAA tournament showdown with the Chicago Sky-bound Kamilla Cardoso's South Carolina side drew a record 18.7 million to ABC's Sunday afternoon broadcast. Banking on this trend, 36 of Indiana's upcoming 40 games are set to be shown on national television. In-person ticket sales are also soaring, leading the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces to re-home their matchup with the Fever to a venue that can accommodate some 6,000 more fans.

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