Basketball in Phoenix is on the rise – the Suns are making their first Western Conference Finals appearance in 11 years and the Mercury is sporting a deeply talented roster in their first 11 games of the season. According to WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, Phoenix is the prime example of how the WNBA can build household names.
“There’s no better place than here in Phoenix with Diana Taurasi, and BG, and Skylar, and now Kia Nurse becoming a household name,” said Engelbert.
The WNBA is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2021 and has earned recognition for being the longest-running women’s professional sports league. This year the league tipped off the 2021 season with its biggest ratings yet, averaging over 350,000 viewers in the first five games of the season.
Engelbert hopes to focus on “three pillars” for growing the league in 2021 after spending last season in the bubble.
Running a player-first league
In celebrating its 25th anniversary, the WNBA introduced a new logo and a marketing campaign that highlights the talented women in the league.
New WNBA logo in honor of the league's 25th anniversary 👀 @espnW #CountIt pic.twitter.com/jnRImd72P4
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 15, 2021
According to Engelbert, the logo is, “celebrating history while looking forward to the momentum of celebrating the current players and the next generation of players.”
To achieve a player-first league, Engelbert explained that the WNBA has invested in marketing strategies around players in the league.
The Phoenix Mercury has the advantage of boasting household names like Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, and Skylar Diggins-Smith. With several powerhouses on the team, they have been able to gain a loyal fan base and a consistent dialogue around many of its players.
“I think we’ve hopefully built trust with players through the collective bargaining and through the bubble last year into this year,” said Engelbert.
Part of what makes the NBA so engaging is the undeniable rivalries between teams. Whether those rivalries are driven by proximity, history, or a season record, it’s what makes fans lean in a little closer.
The WNBA lacks genuine rivalry but it will need to build somewhat organically. However, creating these rivalries can be accomplished by drawing attention to certain games through social media.
Engelbert says improving fan experience can be achieved by, “running a player-first league and building interesting rivalries that people want to watch.”
In addition to focussing on social media marketing strategies, the league is also improving its digital platforms and digital experience to give fans a wide variety of ways to consume the game.
Fans have an array of options for watching WNBA games in 2021. Fans can tune in on two different broadcast networks (ABC and CBS), four cable networks (CBS Sports Network, NBA TV, ESPN, and ESPN2), and games are also streaming on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon Prime, and ESPN3.
WNBA League Pass can also be purchased to give fans access to 110 different games. The platform offers two different packages: Team Pass and League Pass. Team pass gives the viewer the opportunity to purchase streaming capabilities all season for one team while League Pass offers access to all teams.
Engelbert emphasized the importance of stakeholder success across the board.
“That’s fans, that’s media, it’s our owners, the whole ecosystem around the WNBA,” Engelbert said.
Growing the revenue base is the primary way the WNBA can satisfy all of its stakeholders. The primary focus for bringing in more revenue is by incorporating a virtual or digital fan experience. While the pandemic caused many hurdles for different teams and leagues, Engelbert saw the advantage of incorporating fan and team apps. The more exposure each team can create for itself, the more exposure the WNBA gets as a whole.
The success of stakeholders is influenced by the overall brand and image of the WNBA. Remodeling the player experience as well as growing the fan base would result in economic success and therefore benefit the stakeholders.