Over the past few years, the WNBA and its players have been on the front lines of social justice, women’s rights, and improving resources in the league from travel operations to facility upgrades. The ladies have also made pushing the game of basketball forward for women a priority as they try to grow the game and show fans that they are worth watching and investing in.
The WNBA started in 1998 with eight original teams. Of the original eight, only three teams remain as the Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, and New York Liberty are still standing strong. With the women’s basketball game evolving, there is a need for the league to make room for the incoming talent.
A recent and alarming trend has been that there have been multiple former first and second-round picks who are unable to make their teams due to simply not having enough roster spots. In the WNBA Draft, there are three rounds of 12 picks in each round. A simple formula of too many players coming in, while not many players depart or leave the league is creating a backup of talent to where deserving younger players are often left out.
From the 2023 Draft, six of the top 24 players drafted have been released by their teams. If you are drafted outside of the top 10, there is no guarantee of a roster spot, and for a league that is trying to grow its brand and participation in youth, this can be a problem.
Last weekend, the WNBA All-Star weekend took place in Las Vegas, home of the reigning champions, the Las Vegas Aces. In All-Star weekend, we saw a sensational performance from 2020 #1 overall pick Sabrina Ionescu of the Liberty, as she made 25 out of 27 three-pointers in the Starry 3-point contest in the final round to claim the contest win.
In the all-star game itself, 2015 #1 overall pick Jewell Loyd set the scoring record with 31 points on 10 triples from deep. However, we heard some interesting comments after the all-star game from the 2017 #1 overall pick and the WNBPA Vice President Kelsey Plum.
When asked about the future of the WNBA and possible expansion, Plum says that while expansion is essential, improving travel, pay, benefits, and resources for players is of higher priority. You could take what Plum said in multiple ways, as she is a former #1 pick, a perennial all-star and 2022 WNBA All-Star game MVP, and a 2022 champion with the Aces.
She does not have to worry about her roster spot currently, so it makes sense for her to look forward to the next step of improvement for the league, aside from creating more jobs and roster spots in the league. However, if your goal is to grow the game and get the most out of the WNBA product, expansion should be the #1 goal for the league.
With the WNBA having no developmental league like the NBA, and only keeping 12 roster spots unlike the NBA’s 15 roster spots and three two-way players, the league can be excluding some legit talent with no connection for the entire season sometimes.
Expansion could potentially enhance the league's product, generate more revenue and as a result, create more opportunities for advancement off of the floor. The private travel, benefits for players, and facilities are important, but growing the league should be on the main front of the WNBA agenda.
The leagues marketing of players and teams has never been better, and the future of the game is in solid hands as we saw the NCAA Final Four draw record viewership ratings as Angel Reese and LSU took down Caitlin Clark and Iowa in a game that peaked at 12.6 million viewers. Clark and Reese are a few of the headliners of the 2024 WNBA Draft.
The league has the media’s attention as they will have 24 games broadcasted on ESPN networks and has expanded to a record-high 40-game schedule. The WNBA has also included charter flights for back-to-back games and playoff competitions. This means that everything is coming along as new resources are implemented each year as the league grows. You could think that this evolution of resources for the league will be accelerated with league expansion.
Yes, there may be more expenses, but with the rising notoriety of the league and the growing interest of star athletes getting involved like Tom Brady with the Aces, Magic Johnson with the Sparks, Alex Rodriguez with the Minnesota Lynx, and recently Dwyane Wade with the Chicago Sky, there is no reason to doubt that there will be revenue increases as well.
The league has been at 12 teams since 2010, and an expansion starting with two more teams to 14 teams could go a long way towards reaching their goals off of the floor. Orlando, Miami, Utah, Houston, Cleveland, Charlotte, and Sacramento have previously had WNBA franchises and could be potential options to get another shot at having a team. The WNBA is growing, and expansion is necessary to keep up with the growth and maximize the talent pool of amazing players that love the game of basketball. As expansion comes, private travel, increased pay, and benefits will come as well.