The WNBA has been making major moves to improve the quality of their league after they recently created a new and groundbreaking collective bargaining agreement in January and hired their first ever commissioner last year.
The Sparks recently hosted a conversation Sparks center and ESPN Analyst Chiney Ogwumike and WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert; they spoke on a myriad of topics, from developing the CBA to their personal career paths.
Soon after becoming commissioner, Engelbert noticed that the technically sound competition and athleticism of the WNBA was matched with marketing, sponsorship, media coverage that needed exponential improvement.
Engelbert came into her position with a mindset of meeting the players’ needs; her allowing teams access to charter flights during the playoffs last season was evidence of that. While they created the new CBA, Engelbert continued to work on the side of the players.
WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike, vice presidents Layshia Clarendon, Chiney, Sue Bird, and Elena Delle Donne, secretary Elizabeth Williams, and treasurer Carolyn Swords worked diligently to create the new CBA. Chiney reminisced on Bird’s bold ideas and noted how creating the CBA brought the group of players closer.
“Pretty much any situation you see in the CBA when it comes to family planning, there’s a player that inspired it,” she said. “When it comes to travel accommodations, it’s Brittney Griner having to travel economy class.”
Growing the viewership of the league was also touched upon. Chiney discussed the impact of the late Kobe Bryant’s advocacy for women’s basketball.
“Kobe was one person doing it for everyone,” she said. “Now, I think we have the message out there and it’s just holding people accountable.”
Engelbert has plans to create initiatives that encourages the retention of young girls in sports. She noted there should be more female representation in the media, team personnel and franchise front offices.
“We need to make sure we have a healthy pipeline of girls in sports staying in sports,” Engelbert said. “I do think it builds confidence and leadership skills that are unparalleled.”
The league is looking to create programming that enhances fan engagement and create initiatives that brings exposure to their players all year long. A new initiative this year is the Commissioner’s Cup.
“At the opening of the season, we will designate 60 games as Commissioner’s Cup games and the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference will play each other in Division,” Engelbert said. “Those two teams that have the most points in the Eastern and Western Conference will play coming off of our Olympic break.”
The CBA is not the only top news story in the WNBA as free agency included many major trades, including former Dallas Wings guard Skylar Diggins-Smith signing with the Phoenix Mercury and former Connecticut Sun guard Courtney Williams heading to the Atlanta Dream.
“There’s buzz, there’s excitement, there’s player determination, there’s super teams,” Chiney said. “If you look at every transaction, you can see why it’s happening from a player’s perspective.”