Los Angeles (USA) (EFE).- More games than ever. A rising television audience. Stars forming “super teams”. Investors like Tom Brady and new infrastructure. This is the WNBA of 2023, where the Las Vegas Aces and the New York Liberty are paving the way for the women’s basketball business in the US.
With Brittney Griner back in the US and back with the Phoenix Mercury, the WNBA kicks off its 27th season this Friday after the Las Vegas Aces were proclaimed champions in 2022.
The new course comes with interesting news starting from the calendar, since each team will play 40 games (record in a season).
The WNBA’s growth ambition does not start from nowhere since, as it shows, the television audience in 2022 grew by 16% compared to that of 2021 and that season was the most watched in 14 years.
The matches broadcast nationally had an average of 379,000 viewers.
Not counting local television, the WNBA has broadcast agreements with networks such as ABC, ESPN or CBS; it has just signed an agreement with Ion Television to reinforce its national presence; and also broadcasts matches in “streaming” with Prime Video, Meta and Twitter.
In total, in 2023 a record of 205 games will be seen, beyond local markets.
The league also reaches its premiere with some previous milestones such as its first friendly in Canada, which was played last week in Toronto between the Chicago Sky and the Minnesota Lynx before almost 20,000 spectators.
But while an expansion to Canadian soil sounds like an attractive option, right now the WNBA business has Las Vegas and New York as key focuses.
Las Vegas on the throne…
Reigning champions, with Becky Hammon at the helm from the bench and an all-star roster, the Aces are a mainstay of the WNBA and one of the bulwarks of a bustling Las Vegas sports market.
There are the recent landings of the Las Vegas Raiders of the NFL and the Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL, the imminent move of the Oakland Athletics of the MLB or the plans -still unspecified- of new MLS and NBA teams (this last with LeBron James as driver).
In the case of women’s basketball, the Aces are trying to take this league to the next level, opening the first-ever WNBA team-only training facility in its history in April.
With almost 6,000 square meters, this luxurious and pioneering Aces campus has two basketball courts, various gyms and other spaces to make life much more comfortable for its players.
Mark Davis, owner of the Raiders, is also the owner of the Aces, which since March have had a very famous name among their minority shareholders: NFL legend Tom Brady.
“I have always been a huge fan of women’s sports and I admire the work that the WNBA and Aces players and staff continue to do to grow this game and empower future generations,” said the former quarterback.
Another example of the importance of Las Vegas in the WNBA is that the 2023 All-Star will be held at the Michelob Ultra Arena in the city of the game.
But above all, the Aces have earned respect with their first title last year, with Hammon as a star on the bench and with a splendid squad (A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Chelsea Gray…) that has just been join another figure in capital letters like Candace Parker.
In any case, not everything is rosy in Las Vegas and this week the WNBA suspended Hammon two games for derogatory comments to his former player Dearica Hamby for her pregnancy (the team also lost a 2025 draft pick over this investigation).
…New York as an aspirant
On the east coast stands the great rival of the Aces, the New York Liberty of Joe Tsai, executive vice president of the Chinese commerce giant Alibaba and who – along with his wife Clara Wu Tsai – is also the owner of the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA .
The Tsai have tried to keep the WNBA growing, for example through the controversial issue of private flights (charter).
Unlike the NBA, where charters are a commandment, the WNBA continues to use commercial flights, an aspect highly criticized by the players and that the Tsai tried to correct in their franchise.
“Taking your team to an away game and bringing it back comfortably, safely and on time is a basic business need. It’s the right thing to do and what every owner should do,” Joe Tsai said in 2021.
The result was a half-million-dollar fine in 2022 for the Liberty on the grounds that it gave them a competitive advantage, though the WNBA has begun to relent and this year will allow charter flights in the playoffs and some regular-season games.
The flights aren’t the only painful comparison between the WNBA and the NBA.
As for salaries, the maximum according to the WNBA agreement for 2022 was $228,094 while Stephen Curry, the highest paid in the NBA, received $48 million this year.
Returning to the Liberty, the Tsai are building a WNBA titan and have devised a “superteam” to challenge the Aces that includes Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones, Sabrina Ionescu and Courtney Vandersloot.
Despite everything, neither Las Vegas nor New York can rest on their laurels: the Seattle Storm, after the entry of new investors in February, reached a valuation of 151 million dollars, which, according to The Wall Street Journal, is the highest amount for a WNBA team in its entire history.