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WNBA stars found new offseason league as overseas alternative

Breanna Stewart is a co-founder of the new league alongside Napheesa Collier. (Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images)

There’s a new professional women’s basketball league on the horizon founded by former UConn teammates and current WNBA stars Napheesa Collier and Breanna Stewart. Announced on Thursday, Unrivaled is an innovative 3-on-3 league that will run in the WNBA’s winter offseason and serve as the “most exclusive basketball league in the world.”

The league initially will target 30 of the top players in the WNBA, with six teams and five players per team. Unrivaled will run for 10 weeks from January to March with three games played per week, and it also will feature a single-elimination 1-on-1 tournament. The league’s official launch year has not yet been determined.

In its inaugural season, Unrivaled will be based in Miami, Fla., and competition will take place in a custom facility with a state-of-the-art LED surrounding and a shortened 65-foot basketball court, which will provide an experience the women’s game has never seen before. The facility will also include fan seating, a weight room, recovery resources and content studios.

The new league aims to host at least one event in a larger arena during its debut season and currently has several locations in consideration.

Players’ salaries for the 10-week season are expected to be competitive with top WNBA and overseas salaries, a source informed Just Women’s Sports. The maximum WNBA annual salary is currently $234,936, and the average salary is just over $100,000 a year. Each Unrivaled player will also have equity in the league. Unrivaled’s revenue streams will consist of advertisement and sponsorships, media rights, merchandising and ticket sales.

The league is currently in the midst of fundraising, and Stewart told ESPN she’s already had conversations with potential business partners.

Napheesa Collier, Unrivaled co-founder, is a three-time WNBA All-Star with Minnesota. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

The timing of the new league coincides with fan interest in women’s basketball reaching historic highs. The 2022 WNBA season on ESPN was the most-viewed since 2006, and ESPN’s 2023 season-opening broadcast peaked at 1 million viewers and was the most-watched regular season game on cable television in 24 years. At the NCAA level, the 2023 championship game between LSU and Iowa averaged 9.9 million viewers, making it the most-watched women’s college basketball game ever.

Unrivaled will provide players with an opportunity to tap into the growing market and with another means of offseason income.

For years, many WNBA players have gone overseas in the winter months to compete and supplement their WNBA incomes. That option has become even more tenuous since the WNBA’s prioritization rule went into effect this year, fining players with over two years of WNBA experience if they did not report to their teams by May 1. In 2024, the consequences are much steeper: Players will be suspended for the season if they are not present by the start of training camp, according to the clause written into the league’s CBA.

The Unrivaled season is expected to wrap up in March, leaving its players with plenty of time to prepare for WNBA training camp.

“It’s the ability for players to stay home, to be in a market like Miami where we can just be the buzz and create that with the best WNBA players,” Stewart told ESPN. “We can’t keep fighting [the WNBA’s prioritization rule]. It is a rule that takes away our choices, which should never be a thing, especially as women, but it is still a rule.”

One of the biggest benefits of players competing in the WNBA and Unrivaled is rest. For the first time, top professional players who wish to earn an income through basketball in the winter won’t be forced to balance two full-season leagues and a 12-month schedule. With the start of WNBA training camp in April and the completion of the season in September, Unrivaled and WNBA competitors will have three months from October, November and December to rest their bodies.

Unrivaled plans to invest in content creation and brand visibility, giving its players an opportunity to market themselves during the WNBA offseason and grow their individual brands year-round.

The league could also be in a unique position to lure top college players out early with substantial contracts compared to WNBA rookie salaries, which currently fall within the range of $65,000 to $74,000 annually.

Rachel Galligan is a basketball analyst at Just Women’s Sports. A former professional basketball player and collegiate coach, she also contributes to Winsidr. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachGall.