Women’s Basketball Market: Evaluating The Growing Landscape

$100,000 salaries.

That’s what was announced by “Unrivaled” a new league for female basketball players.

This is the perfect opportunity to explore the women’s basketball landscape.

Let’s Dive In 👇

What is Unrivaled?

Unrivaled is a player-owned league, featuring 30 of the top women’s basketball players.

There will be 6 teams playing 3-on-3 full-court games.

Here is one of their statements:

unrivaled wbb press release

Learning from other emerging leagues, Unrivaled made sure to:

  • launch with the backing of athlete investors — Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Steve Nash, Michelle Wie West, Tyus Jones, & Carmelo Anthony
  • give athletes equity in the league — ownership gives them incentive to grow the league, while also not jumping ship

Unrivaled was co-founded by WNBA players Breanna Stewart and Napheesa Collier and led by former sports trainer Alex Bazzell (Napheesa’s husband).

Sports executives John Skipper & David Levy will lead media rights efforts.

unrivaled basketball founders

Co-founder Napheesa Collier said:

“It feels like everyone is benefiting from women’s sports except for the people that are in women’s sports.”

Not sure I agree with that…WNBA is flying charter, college players earning NIL money, etc — but other than that the launch for Unrivaled went well (1.2 billion media impressions).

Women’s Basketball Stats

In the United States, there are ~400,000 girls who play high school basketball.

The stats are pretty wild:

  • high school girls have a 1% chance of playing D1 in college
  • high school girls have a 0.00045% chance of playing in the WNBA
  • 1,182 college teams = 18,912 players
  • 12 WNBA teams = 144 players
chance to play women's college basketball

Adding to this…

College and pro basketball are the most popular women’s sports to watch.

Increasing demand from fans + plentiful supply of athletes + limited spots = potential opportunity for expansion.

Women’s Basketball Market

Since 2005, nineteen new pro basketball leagues have been started in the United States (ten still exist).

The national need and desire for live sports is real (and ever-increasing).

Two big areas have been:

  • women’s sports
  • entertainment sports

Here is a look at the current women’s basketball landscape:

women's basketball landscape chart

One of the benefits of college, especially now with NIL, is it is a true developmental league that sets up players for pro.

As shown above, there are few opportunities to play professionally if you don’t make it to the WNBA.

The arrival of “entertainment leagues” is a potential fix to female players having to go overseas in the offseason.

This stems from the fact there are:

  • only 12 WNBA teams
  • a short season (4 months)
wnba teams on map

Just like men’s basketball has had players who increase viewership through dominance and unique play styles (Jordan, Lebron, Curry)…

The women’s game has found its next star.

Caitlin Clark Effect

Caitlin Clark’s impact has amplified an already upward trend of fan interest in women’s basketball.

Records she helped set while at Iowa:

  • Broke the women’s basketball single-game attendance record with 55,646 for its exhibition game in Iowa’s football stadium.
  • Away from Iowa City, the Hawkeyes have helped sell out or break an attendance record in 30 of 32 regular season games.
  • The average price of tickets for the Hawkeyes since Clark joined the team in 2020 increased 224%, and the average distance traveled by a fan to watch Iowa play was up 34% from last season.
  • Iowa’s championship game against South Carolina was the most-watched women’s game ever with a peak of 24 million viewers.
caitlin clark at iowa vs indiana fever

And much of it is carrying over to the WNBA:

  • A stunning 2.45 million viewers tuned in to the draft — more than four times the previous record.
  • Her WNBA debut drew 2.1 million viewers across platforms, making it the most-watched WNBA game in 23 years.
  • The Indiana Fever had more fans in their first 5 home games than the entire season last year.

Generational talent. League-altering impact.

*side note: if more WNBA athletes embraced that Caitlin Clark is helping them, instead of talking badly and trying to hurt her, women’s basketball would grow even faster.

Looking Ahead

The WNBA is planning to add 4 more expansion teams (the timing feels right).

I’m monitoring their revenue and expenses as historically they’ve lit money on fire.

drawing of a female basketball player holding up a chart of women's sports growth

Watching how the “entertainment leagues” play out will be interesting:

  • High probability Caitlin Clark will play in the Unrivaled 3on3 league — that would be a huge win as she is carrying the sport forward at unprecedented heights.
  • Personally, I think Ice Cube missed a big opportunity to build the women’s side into his men’s 3on3 league…a merger in the future? That could make sense.

Women’s basketball is looking more appealing each year…

NIL extending down to college/high school is helping build storylines earlier and this last draft class is the perfect example of the positive ripple effect it helped create.

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