The 2018 WNBA season is over, and the 2019 season won’t start until May. That long offseason gives us an opportunity to think outside the box a bit. The WNBA has been in business for 22 seasons and there are no signs of it slowing down. So, in 10 years, the WNBA should still be going strong.
But how will the league look by 2028? Since the WNBA is still growing, it will likely be a very different league than it is right now.
1. Expansion will happen once again!
Since 2010, the WNBA has enjoyed a period of franchise stability, with the league staying steady with 12 teams. Some teams have moved, however, like the Tulsa Shock to Dallas and the San Antonio Stars to Las Vegas. But, in general, teams have moved only when there has been a market willing to become a team’s home and an ownership group has been ready to take the team on.
With the league keeping the number of teams capped at 12 and experiencing more viewership growth, there will be more cities and ownership groups interested in having a team of their own. This is going to happen sooner, rather than later.
2. The first and second rounds of the WNBA Playoffs will become best-of-three series.
The WNBA Playoff format currently features best-of-five game series in the semifinals and finals, and single elimination games in the first two rounds. The excitement of a single elimination game deciding a professional team’s playoff path is intriguing, but all teams should host a playoff game once they make the postseason. Currently, the seventh and eighth seeds in the WNBA Playoffs are not guaranteed to host a playoff game if they do not make the WNBA Semifinals. With increased viewership and the fans wanting to see more than a single elimination game, this should happen in near rather than distant future.
3. The WNBA’s broadcasting contract revenue will more than double.
NBA players’ contracts are not in the millions because of ticket and merchandise sales. The anchor of the NBA players’ riches is its nine-year, $24 billion broadcasting deal which started in the 2016-17 season.
The WNBA’s 2018 viewership on ESPN2 is much higher than it was the year before and there is no sign of this slowing down. In light of that, it isn’t unreasonable to see that the league’s revenue from ESPN and Twitter more than double, if not triple, in the near future.
4. Star players’ salaries will move up much higher than those of average players.
The minimum NBA salary for a player with no experience in the 2018-19 season is $838,464, but it could be as high as $35,654,150 if the player is in the first season of a new contract. Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors is the highest paid player, with a salary of $37,457,154, meaning he will make 44.67 times the salary of an undrafted rookie in the 2018-19 season.
The minimum WNBA salary, on the other hand, in the 2018 season was $41,202 for an undrafted player with no experience and a maximum salary is $115,500. So someone like Sue Bird is only making 2.8 times the salary of an undrafted rookie.
Star WNBA players have been very vocal that their salaries are not high and that they have to go play overseas during the fall and winter where they could earn much more money with another club. The WNBA has been open about wanting to pay players more, but so far have not acted on it. Since the league is a superstar-driven league like the NBA, players like Bird or Elena Delle Donne are more likely to see higher salaries, while minimum contract players are likely to see only smaller increases in their pay.
5. The best international players will still stay in Europe or Australia.
The WNBA may pay players more, but the league will remain a summertime affair. The summer is also when continental tournaments like FIBA AmeriCup or EuroBasket Women happen.
Unfortunately, the WNBA season won’t make things that much more enticing for someone like an Alba Torrens or Sandrine Gruda to play stateside. They get paid more to stay east of the Atlantic, in Europe. And their international teams, Spain and France, respectively, are still just as likely to hold camps and friendly competitions during the summers, while the WNBA season is going on. Because of that, it is unlikely that international players would want to play for long periods in the WNBA (in Gruda’s case) or at all in (Torrens’).
6. A work stoppage is likely.
So far, most of these predictions are positive. More people will go to games, the league will generate more revenue and players will get paid. However, growth often comes after difficult situations have been resolved. The WNBA is facing said difficulties given that players are fighting low pay and benefits while owners are trying to keep costs reasonable.
The players or team owners can opt out of the current CBA as early as after the 2019 season, or 2021. Given how vocal the players were in 2018 about wage inequities, it appears they will opt out next year.
Before the 2018 WNBA Finals, then-President Lisa Borders said, “[The WNBA does not] have the revenue today to support greater revenue sharing with our players, but it’s coming.”
This sounds like Borders is trying to have it both ways. She has been openly sympathetic about the desire of WNBA players to get paid more, but not all of the owners are billionaires like their NBA counterparts. Ultimately, these circumstances spell WORK STOPPAGE, whether the players go on strike or the owners lock the players out.
Though a work stoppage may very well happen, a pause in play probably wouldn’t last for very long. That said, it would probably spur significant improvements in player pay and benefit the league for the better in the long term.
Any other predictions you have on the WNBA before the 2028 season? Let us know in the comments below!