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Why WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert won’t rush expansion

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Commissioner of the WNBA Cathy Engelbert stopped by the New York Times podcast Sway this week to talk about the growth of women’s basketball with journalist Kara Swisher.

The two started with the last year’s collective bargaining agreement. Engelbert says negotiations were about more than just better pay.

“We put together a package that was very progressive around family planning benefits, mother benefits, fertility treatments,” she said. “We also promised that they would have the ability to earn more compensation.”

Engelbert points to the addition of the Commissioner’s Cup to the 2021 season as a potential for additional player revenue.

Another avenue of growth is the league’s revenue model, which to Engelbert means, “looking for companies who want to support young, diverse women because they believe they are the next generation of leaders.”

Streaming and digital platforms have become essential partners for the WNBA, allowing the league to broadcast games through multiple channels.

“They don’t want to pay what we think is the real value is to do it because they say, ‘you don’t have enough viewers,’” said Engelbert, adding that it’s a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg question, as more viewers come from getting on larger broadcasts.

The league has seemingly skirted this circular argument by partnering with places like Facebook, Twitter and Amazon.

The WNBA’s commitment to activism is another element of the league that Engelbert sees as uniquely valuable.

“Brands are now proud to partner with the WNBA because they know what these players stand for,” Engelbert said.

League expansion will, of course, be the next big step in the WNBA’s growth, but Engelbert says she won’t rush into it.

“We have got to do a little more transformation on the economics of the league coming off this pandemic,” she said “and then we are absolutely going to be talking about expansion.”