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The WNBA and NWSL Have Proven That Bubbles Work

HERRIMAN, UT – JULY 01: Lynn Williams #9 of North Carolina Courage celebrates during a game between North Carolina Courage and Washington Spirit at Zions Bank Stadium on July 01, 2020 in Herriman, Utah. (Photo by Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

With a successful NWSL Challenge Cup completed and a promising start to the WNBA season, women’s professional sports are looking to make gains during these unprecedented times. Most US professional sports leagues have started play within isolated bubbles, and the WNBA and NWSL have set the standard with few to none COVID-19 cases and record-breaking viewership.

Currently, in an effort to complete their full 22-game regular season, the WNBA is isolating their 12 teams at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. All WNBA players, coaches, staff and referees are living in hotel rooms and villas within the bubble while games are played at the Feld Entertainment Center, about 20 minutes away by bus.

Since entering into the bubble, the WNBA has reported zero new positive cases of COVID-19. Players and staff arrived on July 6th — 18 days before the season tip off — in order to quarantine. Before even departing for Florida, every player was tested for COVID-19 three times and then tested once more upon arrival. Of the 137 players, 7 tested positive and were made to self-isolate and satisfy CDC guidelines before being allowed to join the other teams in Florida.

During the initial quarantine period, a few players complained about the quality of food and lodging in the bubble; however, the league quickly addressed those issues by moving players and remedying the food situation. Now that the quarantine period is over and the season has begun, players are given more freedom on the IMG campus — players can hang out in the hotel lounge and at the pool, areas which have been prepped with social distancing measures. Players are also given a range of food options on campus or can opt to have groceries delivered and cook for themselves in their villas.

“Food has been great. Service has been great. People have had issues with their housing. but there is no protocol for this, and the league took care of it,” Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury said. “This is the first time anyone has done this. The WNBA has gone far and beyond what I thought would happen.”

While inside the bubble, players are tested regularly for COVID-19 and are required to log their temperature every day using personal thermometers. Masks are required throughout the IMG bubble and social distancing measures have been put in place. No media or fans are allowed at the games.

The WNBA shares a number of COVID-19 prevention protocols with the NBA; however, there are a few stark differences in how each league is approaching bubble play. First, the WNBA cohort is much smaller in size. Each WNBA team was allowed to bring 18 people into the bubble — 12 players and 6 staff members. Each NBA team, on the other hand, was allowed to bring double the personnel, with 37 members. And, unlike the NBA bubble, there is no “hotline” to report protocol violations at the IMG Academy. However, WNBA players who are caught breaking protocol will face “serious ramifications,” according to Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

Before the WNBA even began their successful bubble play, the NWSL set the blueprint for how to run a professional sporting event during a pandemic. The women’s professional soccer league finished their month-long Challenge Cup on July 26th and became the first US professional sports league to complete an event during the COVID-19 crisis. Before the tournament, the Orlando Pride were forced to withdraw due to too many positive COVID tests (some of which were later proven to be false-positives). While isolating in Utah, however, the NWSL reported zero COVID-19 cases.

With similar protocols to other leagues — no fans, regular testing, isolating players and staff — the NWSL was the first league to prove that the bubble system can work and be successful. During the Challenge Cup, the league attracted record-breaking viewership, gained new sponsors and announced a new Los Angeles expansion team.

As North Carolina Courage’s Crystal Dunn said, “The NWSL captured the audience because we were the first league to return back to play, but also because the games were close and competitive.”

While women’s professional leagues have proven that bubble play can work and be successful, a number of men’s leagues are continuing their efforts to play games in home markets (eventually) with fans despite overwhelming evidence that it is unsafe to do so. The MLS, MLB, NFL and college football have all announced that they are scheduling games outside of a bubble system. This comes just weeks after the MLB reported outbreaks within both the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals organizations, and the MLS saw two teams pull out of their tournament due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

The NWSL and the WNBA have shown how to successfully host professional sporting events during a pandemic. It remains unclear whether other leagues will follow in their footsteps or ignore the risks and attempt to play outside a bubble.

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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