The WNBA’s 25th season was marked by celebrations, the launch of the Commissioners Cup and “The W25,” a collection of 25 of the greatest and most influential players in league history.
Fans voted Diana Taurasi as the GOAT, and that honor was announced ahead of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, which featured the fifth and sixth seeds facing each other for the first time in this playoff format. . It all culminated with Candace Parker leading the Sky to their first WNBA title five years after winning their first with the Los Angeles Sparks in the league’s 20th season.
How does the WNBA not only follow through on this, but also capitalize on the attention and excitement generated from year 25?
A great place to start would be with merchandise.
Three months after Sky won their title, players’ shirts are still elusive. On the official WNBA store, Sky jerseys are not available at all. At Dick’s Sporting Goods, the league’s official retail partner, the options are no better.
On Dick’s website, there are two jerseys – Diamond DeShields and Courtney Vandersloot – available for purchase in youth sizes. In adult sizes, the DeShields jersey is the only one available. When Kahleah Copper was named WNBA Finals MVP, fans rushed to buy her jersey only to find it unavailable.
After Parker was named AP Player of the Year for the second time in her career, she took to Twitter to express her displeasure that her jersey was nowhere to be found.
“Humbled and grateful for this honor,” Parker wrote on social media. “Now if only my jersey could be available to people (INCLUDING MYSELF) online, in stores, or in the metaverse. That would be great.”
The increased visibility that jersey sales provide in a saturated sports market like Chicago is essential.
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert assured the issue got her attention and said it was a good problem to have when demand exceeds supply. Engelbert said the league is working with partners to shorten timelines, especially with jerseys.
According to her, one solution the league is looking to create is a resource that could direct fans to all outlets that carry WNBA merchandise. Engelbert also suggested that fans could customize a jersey on the WNBA merchandise page, but the Sky jersey is not available for customization.
When Engelbert took over as commissioner in 2019, she arrived with a five-year transformation plan. The pandemic hampered the first two years, with 2020 being played in a closed setting at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and the 25th season being played mostly in front of capacity-limited crowds.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, viewership grew. The 25th season was the most-watched since 2008, averaging 321,000 viewers on ESPN, ABC and CBS during the regular season, up 51% from 2020. WNBA Finals Games 3 and 4 were sold out. the crowd at the Wintrust Arena.
“Exhibition in 2021 helps set the stage for continued success in 2022,” Engelbert said. “It comes down to the valuation of our assets. Whether it’s placement on the field or a patch on a uniform, exposure, media rights and seat filling, Chicago’s success and the success of the season as a whole will help increase this value.
The league launched the WNBA Changemaker platform in 2020 with early 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 director of growth, another step that Engelbert says is key to capitalizing on the momentum of the 25th season.
The league enters its 26th season on May 7, but free agency and the draft come first.
Part of the league’s strategy following the announcement of the groundbreaking eight-year collective bargaining agreement in 2020 was to create an environment that gave way to a robust free agent market. In 2021, the exposure the league envisioned from free agency materialized in the form of Parker leaving 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 be even more explosive, and negotiations can begin on Saturday. Players can start signing contracts on February 1.