With WNBA Expansion Coming, Players Want Owners Who Can Spend

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Three-year-old Entertainment and Sports Arena, home of the Washington Mystics, represents a certain level of professionalism for a WNBA franchise. The building was built to house the team, but also houses the NBA’s Washington Wizards practice facility as a one-stop shop for professional hoops in the area.

“As players, you feel it,” said Elena Delle Donne, who pointed to those pristine trappings as part of why she’s in Washington. “You feel when an organization and an ownership group want to be involved, want to make that experience as enjoyable as possible, want to treat you like a professional athlete.”

The WNBA, which celebrated its 25th season last year, is entering a transitional phase with a chance to lay the foundation for the next quarter century. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert knows this is a critical stretch and has been adamant about building the financial foundation that will allow the league to thrive.

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Expansion is one of the biggest topics in the league, and Engelbert recently told Athletic that the plan is to identify one or two cities this year. The new franchises could play by 2024, bringing the number of teams to 14.

While speculation lingers on possible locations, the ownership groups that will take care of these franchises have much more of an impact. Engelbert said the league uses 20 data points to consider potential owners, including arena, memberships and corporate sponsorship plans.

“That doesn’t mean you can get an ownership group in that particular city that might score very high on all of those data points,” Engelbert said. “So you are looking for a long-term commitment. Looking for a diverse group of owners. Looking for someone who is going to commit, again, for the long haul. They need money; we need financial means.

Engelbert is on a mission to replenish the league coffers. It secured a capital investment of $75 million and brought in business partners through the league’s Changemakers program in Nike, AT&T, Google, Deloitte and US Bank. She has been cautious about league-wide financial commitments to ensure that all franchises remain in good standing.

This has led to a dichotomy between teams that would like to spend more freely and those that can’t or won’t. Two of the league’s new owners, Mark Davis of the Las Vegas Aces and Joseph Tsai of the New York Liberty, made headlines last year about their desire to spend. The Aces are building a new training facility and made Becky Hammon the first coach with an annual salary of over $1 million. Freedom was fined by the WNBA last year for chartering flightswhich is not allowed.

This fine and the continued back and forth between players flying commercially for games became an example of this dichotomy. Should teams be allowed to spend more freely, which could lead to competitive advantage?

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“I don’t know what the balance is,” Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault said. “But I think as you grow as a league there are higher expectations of what needs to be done. You can’t go on saying all your life that you want to level the playing field towards the lower average. There must be something in the middle or up.

The split is not always financial. Billionaire James Dolan, owner of the New York Knicks, was the former owner of the Liberty, but the franchise faltered when he moved the team to the Westchester County Center in White Plains, NY, and lost a significant portion of his fans.

Tsai, who is worth $8.7 billion according to Forbes, bought the team and moved it to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Davis owns the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders and has been a proponent of spending more in the WNBA, but his net worth is less than $1 billion, according to Celebrity Net Worth. Seattle Storm owners Ginny Gilder, Dawn Trudeau and Lisa Brummel are not billionaires but are massive investors in the franchise.

Engelbert pushes back against the idea that some owners aren’t as invested in their franchises and the league, but Tsai tweeted last year“The league says you can’t charter because different owners have different financial situations.”

Liberty ownership declined an interview request for this story.

Charter flights are just one example but one that remains visible and that players care deeply about.

“There has to be a baseline standard of what this franchise looks like no matter what city it’s in,” said 19-year-old veteran Diana Taurasi. “If you don’t come in with the ability to shove, you’re going to struggle.

“So I think Mark Davis kind of set the gold standard of what we’re looking for in terms of people wanting to get into the WNBA. And to make money, you have to spend money. money. And look at Mr. Davis. He has the best team in the league for a reason.

Interest in the WNBA and women’s sports is at an all-time high, and there is an opportunity to move the league forward with a particular type of ownership group.

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Money is good, but money with a purpose is much better – and vision,” Business Insider reporter Meredith Cash said. many different women’s sports leagues, it’s like you absolutely have to demand to be taken seriously, but you also have to work and treat yourself seriously. It’s not serious to steal [Los Angeles Sparks 6-foot-8 center] Liz Cambage in a carriage.

“You have to trust your product enough to make it serious and not just meet the lowest common denominator, especially as the league grows and players rightly demand what they deserve.”

Players pay attention.

“At what point can we make this league go where it needs to go and stop living 20 years ago?” said Delle Donne. “And if those owners really want to treat their players well, it’s hard to say no to that. I don’t want that.

“[When an owner wants to invest in something] and then we shut it down because these older owners or whatever have a different mindset about it, I don’t know. You’re going to have to choose at some point what’s best for this league.


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