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WNBA expanding to 40-game regular season in 2023

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert wants to add two new teams no later than 2025.

12 July 2022 Ed Dixon

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  • WNBA teams currently play 36-game regular season
  • Engelbert looking to eventually increase to 44 games
  • Philadelphia one of the cities being considered for new franchise

Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) commissioner Cathy Engelbert has announced the league’s 2023 regular season will expand to 40 games.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of the WNBA’s All-Star game, Engelbert cited the appeal of the fixture list and the need for a longer campaign.

“We’re seeing tremendous interest in the game, evidenced by viewership, and everything from draft on to today,” Engelbert said. “Our response to that also is to continue to try to grow, and we want to grow our footprint.

“Beginning next season, we’re going to play 40 games.

“We need to have a more substantial season, so we’ll do that next year.”

Last year the WNBA confirmed plans for its 2022 regular season to feature a record 36 games per team. That came after a 2021 campaign where the league’s domestic broadcast partner Disney posted its most-viewed WNBA finals series in four years. An average 548,000 viewers tuned in across the four games on ESPN and ABC. The 2021 regular season also saw ESPN ratings climb 24 per cent against the last uninterrupted full campaign in 2019.

The WNBA’s current collective bargaining agreement allows for up to 44 games in a season.

“On the 40 games, I would love to do that consistently every year,” continued Engelbert.

“I’d like to go to 44 at some point when we have a good footprint to do that. We’d like to do it, but we’re going to have to make decisions with our owners around the Olympic break.

“Again, we have to be respectful of all the national team commitments, not just of the USA team.”

Engelbert also gave an update on expanding the number of WNBA franchises, having told The Athletic earlier this year that she wanted to add up to two more teams potentially by the 2024 campaign.

“We’re working hard on data analysis,” Engelbert said. “We have about 100 cities through a lens of psychographics, demographics, arena, NCAA fandom, current WNBA fandom, merch sales, viewership.

“I’m hoping that it’ll be a couple teams by no later than ‘25, but I’d love it in ‘24, but probably looking out to that kind of timeline, and again, lots of cities interested.

“That’s the good news, and now we have to find the right ownership groups with the right commitment and financial wherewithal to really be committed to standing up a WNBA team in their city.”

Engelbert added that Philadelphia was one of the cities being considered. There are also plans to increase this year’s postseason bonus pool “by almost 50 per cent to a half-million dollars”.

As for her other immediate concerns, Engelbert said negotiating the WNBA’s next domestic broadcast rights deal is a “top business priority”. The league currently pockets a reported US$25 million per year from ESPN until 2025.

“We need to find the right package more broadly for the WNBA,” said Engelbert. “We need to make it easier for fans to watch our games, to know where our games are.”

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