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WNBA Forecast

Updated: Jul 5

The following is the conclusion from a (much) longer piece at the substack (HERE). Please check it out - it is a thorough look at the Future of WNBA fandom. audio podcast is here.



WNBA Predictions


My prediction is that we will see slightly stronger interest in the WNBA over the next few years. The league will peak in 2024 before settling to a new equilibrium that is moderately higher than the pre-COVID levels. This projection assumes that current media and marketing support will not persist.  


The WNBA has developed compelling storylines that are consistent with societal trends. The WNBA’s strength will be predominately based on national television viewership rather than attendance. The WNBA’s 2023 championship game (game 4) peaked at 1.3 million viewers and averaged almost 900,000. While this was hailed as a success, this viewership represents only about .3% of the American population. With attractive narratives, aggressive social media marketing, and a friendly media environment the WNBA should be able to approach the viewership of major leagues like the NHL and MLS (2 million to 5 million viewers). Early season WNBA matchups featuring Caitlin Clark have drawn slightly more than two million viewers.  


Viewership of 2 million is approximately .6% of the US population. It’s a small percentage of the population, but in an era of fragmenting media, it is enough to attract a meaningful media rights deal and lucrative sponsorships. These marketing and media trends are critical as they may push the WNBA into profitability. Any discussion of the WNBA is incomplete without acknowledging that the league has the support and marketing expertise of the NBA in its corner. If the WNBA becomes even marginally profitable, the league becomes a very powerful asset for the NBA as it becomes a strong foothold into the global female sports market. Despite its challenges, the WNBA is the strongest female sports league in the world.

The dangers for the WNBA include uncertainty about Caitlin’s Clark's stardom, and political risks. The WNBA and the media are heavily invested in Clark as the face of women’s basketball. Clark’s stardom has already created a backlash from established NBA players. There is also the matter of how Clark’s game translates to the professional level. Kelsey Plum averaged MORE points per game as a senior in college but only 8.5 points per game as a WNBA rookie. Clark stardom is probably more tenuous than most suspect. She is a skilled shooter and passer but not a physically dominant athlete. If Clark averages 16 points a game and her team misses the playoffs, will the excitement around her and the WNBA fade?     

The impact on other women’s sports will likely be negative. The WNBA grabs an inordinate number of headlines compared to other women’s leagues like the PVF and NWSL. Outside of the Women’s FIFA tournament, other women’s sports may struggle to gain attention, given the WNBA’s marketing advantages.     


WNBA fandom reminds me of the often-misstated quote from the film The Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come.” The quote is often misstated as “if you build it, they will come.” The WNBA has a legacy of stories, sophisticated marketing and social media, and a new star with massive celebrity. The foundation is built but will they come? And more critically, will they stay? I think they will but to a limited extent. My projection is that we will see the WNBA grow into a successful niche sport with championship TV ratings on par with the MLS and slightly below the NHL. This will likely yield a more lucrative media rights deal. Attendance growth will be more difficult as local fandom is increasingly difficult to build. Partnerships and revenues are probably in a holding pattern as the influx of sponsors waits to assess ROIs. Profitability will remain tenuous as greater visibility leads to increased player wages and operating expenses (non-commercial flights, etc.).   




2 comments

2 Comments


Attougui Essam
Attougui Essam
2 days ago

Playoff Hopefuls: Chicago Sky, Washington Mystics, and Dallas Wings have the potential to earn playoff spots, but may face more challenges compared to the top contenders. Head Soccer

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The WNBA grabs an inordinate number of headlines compared to other women’s leagues like the PVF and NWSL.

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