This fall, the WNBA wrapped its most-viewed season in 21 years, announced an expansion for the first time since 2008 and saw its highest attendance in 13 years. And that’s just the start.
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told Adweek she has a game plan to keep the exponential growth going, especially considering a recent Sports Innovation Lab study showing 83% of brands plan to increase their investment in women’s sports media in 2024.
“That’s a very, very compelling statistic for corporate partners to say, ‘Don’t be left out, join this rising women’s sports momentum,’” Engelbert said. “It’s just good business.”
In a year of unprecedented WNBA growth, which included 205 out of 240 games broadcast on national platforms, the league also brought its total number of corporate partners up to 42—the highest in WNBA history. That number rises to 44 at the start of the new year, following the addition of Skims and Peloton.
And it’s no secret that women’s basketball is a place where brands want to be. The NCAA tournament saw the most-watched women’s college basketball game of all time with the final between LSU and Iowa in 2023, with 9.9 million average viewers tuning in—a 103% year-over-year increase—and the numbers topping out at 12.6 million.
“We’ve worked hard on capitalizing on the momentum from the NCAA viewership in Final Four and March Madness, trying to do two things: build household names and rivalries,” said Engelbert. “Corporate partners are noticing, and [they’re] seeing the benefits of partnering with the WNBA, because our fanbase has a demographic and psychographic that they’re after for their consumer brands.”
As an example of this sports marketing strategy, the WNBA’s draft lottery—which saw the Indiana Fever draw the No. 1 pick for the second year in a row—aired Dec. 10 amid an NCAA triple header on ESPN, which Engelbert confirmed was a deliberate way to capitalize on college basketball’s popularity.
Changemakers are changing things
The WNBA’s rapid brand growth can trace its roots to the Changemakers program, a partnership and sponsorship program Engelbert launched in 2020 as a way to help the league overhaul its business.
To date, the WNBA has six partners in the Changemakers program, and it has seen an immediate impact.