11 Jan

WNBA announces several changes to 2024 Commissioner’s Cup, including two-week qualifying format

The WNBA Commissioner’s Cup will take on a slightly different look in its fourth year. No, the league didn’t announce flashy court designs or a $18 million dollar prize pool like its younger brother, the NBA Cup. However, like the men’s tournament, the Commissioner’s Cup will condense the Cup games.

“After crowning three Commissioner’s Cup champions since 2021, we believe it is time to introduce a new, streamlined format for the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup presented by Coinbase for the 2024 season,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in the league press release.

Here’s a breakdown of the changes.

Two-week competition
In 2024, all WNBA teams will play their five qualifying games between June 1-13. As in years past, these designated games will be part of every team’s 40-game schedule and will count toward their season record. However, unlike in years’ past, all Commissioner’s Cup games will be played in a specific window of time.

“The newly designed, concentrated structure for this in-season tournament adds an increased sense of urgency and excitement as we place a particular spotlight on Eastern and Western Conference Commissioner’s Cup play in a two-week window near the tip-off of our regular season,” Engelbert said.

In the first three years, the first home game and first road game each team played against its five conference rivals were designated as Cup games. The teams with the highest winning percentage through those five games would punch their ticket to the Championship Game of the Commissioner’s Cup. Additionally, the Cup championship will be played in late June, as opposed to August.

Last year, this led to a showdown in Sin City between the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces. The Liberty took the midsummer championship with an 82-63 win over the 2022 Cup winners. The Aces went on to defeat the Liberty in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals for their second consecutive championship.

More competition, more drama
Engelbert continues to prioritize opportunities to grow WNBA rivalries. Rivalries among fans of specific WNBA players and teams are in good supply on social media. What things like the Commissioner’s Cup or tight MVP races do is turn heated debates into live entertainment.

“The focus is on making the Commissioner’s Cup presented by Coinbase even more engaging for all our stakeholders, including fans, teams, players and the community organizations that collaborate with our teams during the designated games,” Engelbert said.

This hyper-focus helps build household names, which in turn drives deeper and more significant opportunities for the league to parlay the celebrity of players like A’ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart and others into marketing opportunities.

“I think the more and more people know who our players are, the more they watch,” Engelbert told media ahead of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. “The more viewership you get, the more attendance you get … the more cities you are in.”

The 2023 WNBA Finals increased across five categories year-over-year. Graphic courtesy WNBA PR. WNBA
The formula seems to be working. The league announced expansion to Northern California in October and Engelbert plans to add a second expansion team by 2025. Additionally, the WNBA hit record numbers in attendance, viewership and merchandise sales. Highlights include:

Over 36 million total unique viewers across all national networks, up 27 percent from 2022 and the highest since 2008
The highest total attendance (1,587,488) in 13 years
9.5 million unique viewers throughout the postseason
Game 3 of the WNBA Finals at Barclays Center hit an all-time attendance record of 17,000 fans
Just like the NCA Cup, the Commissioner’s Cup took a while to resonate with players and fans alike. The prize money helped bring players along. The in-season tournament final yields a $500,000 prize pool split between the top teams from the Eastern and Western Conference, respectively. Each player on the Los Angeles Lakers received $500,000 for their win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Cup. No doubt players would like to see the league move toward larger payouts.

As the league prepares to renegotiate broadcast deals with media partners and likely a new CBA with the players association, it will be interesting to see if and how these growth numbers impact salary increases, compensation bumps or even roster sizes in the WNBA.

More changes on the horizon?
Overall, the Commissioner’s Cup goes hand-in-hand with Engelbert’s growth strategy. The minor schedule changes seemingly provide an opportunity for the league to go all-in with marketing ahead of the Commissioner’s Cup Final. Yet, after seeing how the NBA rolled out the red carpet — or unique court designs — for its in-season tournament, perhaps the WNBA will make additional changes to the Commissioner’s Cup.

The NBA Cup courts drew mixed reviews. “In theory, having unique courts to set the tournament apart from the rest of the games was a brilliant idea, but execution wasn’t quite there,” said CBS Sports NBA writer Jasmyn Wimbish.

Players complained about unacceptable court conditions and raising health and safety concerns. The New York Liberty has used special court designs in partnership with Xbox the past two seasons with no complaints. Whether the league opts for special court designs or not, they will need more than a minor schedule change to drive interest.


The @nyliberty have announced they will be collaborating with @Xbox for a 2nd season to bring a Starfield inspired basketball court to Barclays center.

The Liberty will play their 2 remaining home games ( 9/7 Sparks & 9/10 Mystics) on the custom court.

📸: NY Liberty pic.twitter.com/R0bBofQAZv

— The Local W (@TheLocalW) September 7, 2023
Speaking of the schedule, the league announced the full 2024 slate, which includes the final Commissioner’s Cup schedule. Given how last season played out, most people were excited to see when the Liberty and Aces square off for the first time, and that matchup is slated for June 15. However, that date will do little to drive excitement for the Commissioner’s Cup since the teams are in opposite conferences. Further, the two WNBA Finals teams dropped four Commissioner’s Cup conference games combined.

The NBA Cup played its hand well by announcing the Cup Final would be played in Las Vegas. “Sopranos” star Michael Imperioli, narrated and starred in a “Ocean’s Eleven”-esque commercial in which Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Trae Young, Julius Randle, Darius Garland, Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard plotted elaborate heist attempts to claim the NBA Cup. All attempts were futile because, “The only way to get the NBA Cup is to win it,” Imperioli says.

It would be great to see the league lean into this level or marketing, including naming the Cup Final location in advance. The WNBA currently holds the championship game at the arena of the team with the best record in Cup play. Bumping the tournament to earlier in the regular season may help boost early viewership numbers.

However, the new schedule gives fans a shorter window to plan travel, and that may impact the ability for the WNBA to get anywhere close to the record 17,000 fans in attendance for Game 3 of the 2023 Finals.

The 2024 WNBA Commissioner’s Cup will be held Tuesday, June 25 at the home arena of the higher seed. Although Prime Video has aired the Commissioner’s Cup Championship in the past, game time and broadcast details have not yet been announced.

11 Jan

Everything you need to know, from start date to the Olympic break

After announcing changes to the Commissioner’s Cup format on Monday morning, the WNBA released the full 2024 regular-season schedule in the afternoon. Opening night is set for May 14 and will feature four games, including the defending champion Las Vegas Aces hosting the Phoenix Mercury.

For a second consecutive season, teams will play 40 games, which marked a record-high last season. Despite the 2024 Olympics, which will require a mid-season break, the All-Star game will take place, as will the Commissioner’s Cup, as the league looks to capitalize on a record-setting and thrilling 2023 campaign.

“We eagerly anticipate tipping off the 2024 season and building on the success of last season, our most-watched in 21 years and a record-setter for social media engagement, digital consumption, All-Star merchandise sales and sports betting,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a press release. “Free agency and the 2024 WNBA Draft are sure to create excitement, and the new format to the Commissioner’s Cup will provide fans a great opportunity to see the best players in the world compete for bragging rights and prize money early in the season.”

Ahead of all the action, here’s everything you need to know about the 2024 WNBA schedule:

When does the season begin?
Opening night is set for May 14, which is slightly earlier than last season to help accomodate the Olympic break and the extended 40-game schedule. The four games will feature last season’s finalists as well as three of the four lottery picks. Here’s a look at the full opening night slate:

New York Liberty at Washington Mystics, 7 p.m. ET
Indiana Fever at Connecticut Sun, 8 p.m. ET
Phoenix Mercury at Las Vegas Aces, 10 p.m. ET
Minnesota Lynx at Seattle Storm, 10 p.m. ET
Note: Broadcast information has not yet been released for any games.

Will there be an All-Star Game?
Yes, the 2024 All-Star Game is set for July 20 in Phoenix, with the Mercury hosting for the third time in franchise history. This is notable because for much of the league’s history, the All-Star Game has been cancelled during Olympic years. Furthermore, the event will be a chance for a new-look Mercury franchise to reintroduce itself to the basketball world.

“As I’ve said from Day 1, we are going to make Phoenix one of the leading basketball destinations in the world, and the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game is going to be an unbelievable experience,” Mat Ishbia, who bought the Mercury and Phoenix Suns earlier this year, said in July when the All-Star announcement was made.

“As the women’s game continues to grow and reach new heights, we are going to put on an All-Star weekend that will accelerate that growth and elevate the league. I want to thank the WNBA and the entire Phoenix community for coming together to help bring the WNBA All-Star Game to the Valley. I couldn’t be more excited to show the world what Phoenix basketball is all about.”

Further details regarding All-Star weekend have not yet been announced. The league has largely been using a captain’s picks format in recent years, though it’s worth noting that in 2021, the last time there was an All-Star Game during an Olympic year, the game was played between Team USA and Team WNBA.

What about the Commissioner’s Cup?
The WNBA debuted its in-season competition, the Commissioner’s Cup, back in 2021, but it has failed to capture anyone’s attention in the way the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament did. That none of the championship games have been competitive certainly hasn’t helped the WNBA’s cause, but neither has the drawn-out, byzantine format.

As a result, two big changes are coming to the cup this season:

Each team will play five Commissioner’s Cup games — down from 10 — against each of its in-conference rivals
All five games will be played in a two-week period from June 1-13. Previously, games were spread out over multiple months
“The newly designed, concentrated structure for this in-season tournament adds an increased sense of urgency and excitement,” Engelbert stated in a press release.

All Commissioner’s Cup games will still count as regular-season games, as has been the case, and qualifying for the championship remains the same: The team from each conference with the best record in cup games gets in. Furthermore, a $500,000 prize pool remains up for grabs.

The championship will be played on June 25 and hosted by the team with the best record in cup games.

What’s going to happen when the Olympics roll around?
The vast majority of basketball leagues around the world, both men and women, start in the fall and end in the spring, which is why major international tournaments are scheduled for the summer. The WNBA, of course, plays in the summer, and as such routinely has to alter its schedule to give players the opportunity to represent their countries.

That is no different this season. With the 2024 Olympics set to take place in Paris from July 26-Aug. 11, the WNBA will pause for a mid-season break from July 21-Aug. 14. Team USA will be competing for a record eighth consecutive Olympic gold medal.

Play will resume on Aug. 15 with a three-game slate.

Are there any other key dates to know?
Jan. 21: Teams can begin negotiating with free agents
Feb. 1: Teams can officially sign players to new contracts
April 15: 2024 WNBA Draft
April 28: Training camps open
May 5: Preseason games begin
Aug. 8: Trade deadline
Sept. 19: Regular season ends

11 Jan

Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones, Elena Delle Donne among best players available

The long WNBA offseason is about to heat up, with free agency set to begin later this month. Teams will be allowed to start speaking with players on Jan. 21, though no deals can officially be signed until Feb. 1. Between now and then, there figures to be plenty of interesting speculation.

For much of the league’s history, free agency didn’t matter all that much. Key players rarely became free agents due to the length of contracts and the number of times a franchise could use the core designation. That all changed with the new collective bargaining agreement in 2020. Now, free agency is a key aspect of the calendar, just like any other league.

That’s no different this year, with a number of superstars set to hit the market, including five former MVPs: Breanna Stewart (2018, 2023), Jonquel Jones (2021), Elena Delle Donne (2015, 2019), Nneka Ogwumike (2016) and Candace Parker (2008, 2013). And that doesn’t include the likes of Skylar Diggins-Smith, Brittney Griner and Satou Sabally.

One way or another, the league is going to shift this winter. Ahead of all the action and intrigue, here’s everything you need to know:

When does free agency start?
Teams can start talking to free agents on Jan. 21, but nothing can officially be signed until Feb. 1. Those rules will always be skirted to some extent, but teams caught breaking them will be punished under the league’s tampering rules. The Seattle Storm were fined in 2022 for jumping the gun on Sue Bird’s re-signing.

How does WNBA free agency work?
WNBA free agency largely operates just like the NBA. There is a moratorium period where teams can speak to players but not offically sign anything, and free agents are grouped into different classifications that dictate how both they and teams can operate. The two main groups are unrestricted free agents, who can speak to and sign with any team they want, and restricted free agents, who can speak to and sign with any team they want, but can have that offer matched by their prior team.

The WNBA also has a reserved category, which is for players who hit free agency with fewer than three years of service. Often, these are veterans who entered the league later in their career, but they can also be younger players who, for whatever reason, were not on a typical rookie-scale contract. The prior team has exclusive negotiating rights with said players.

Furthermore, in rare instances players’ contracts can expire while they are suspended. When this happens, players are technically found to be “withholding service,” according to the CBA, and are listed as “suspended — contract expired.” In practice, these players are treated much like reserved players, though the prior team does not have to extend a qualifying offer.

Finally, there is the core designation, which is most analogous to the NFL’s franchise tag. If a team uses the core designation on a player, they gain exclusive negotiating rights with them, even if that player was set to be an unrestricted free agent. Teams must use this machination wisely, however, as each player is only allowed to be “cored” two times in their career as of 2024.