By Zac Cornell
In its first-ever capital raise, the WNBA raised $75 million from investors, valuing the league and its teams at $1 billion. Touted in a WNBA press release as “the largest-ever capital raise for a women’s sports property,” the league brought in high profile investors including Nike, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs, and Michael and Susan Dell.
In announcing the capital raise on CNBC’s Squawk Box, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said, “We’ve all seen the reports that less than 5% of all sports media coverage and less than 1% of all sponsorship dollars go to women’s sports, so access to this capital … when you’re trying to grow a business, it is really going to help us move the needle.”
Engelbert said the influx of cash will help the WNBA expand globally, by improving their digital presence such as their website, app and league pass, and market “our stars into household names both here in the U.S. and globally.”
In an interview with The New York Times, Engelbert promised, “We’re going to take a huge step forward in transforming the league and getting us an economic model that is worthy of players on the court.”
Enthusiasm for women’s sports, and the WNBA in particular, has been evident to anyone paying attention. According to ESPN, last year’s viewership was up 49% from the 2020 regular season. In addition, the WNBA postseason and finals had their highest viewership in years.
Many of the two dozen investors are closely connected to the WNBA and recognize the league’s growing potential. Clara Wu Tsai and Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai, owners of the WNBA’s New York LIberty the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets invested as well as Swin Cash, a former three-time WNBA champion and current vice president of basketball operations for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans. Miami Heat owner Micky Arison also invested.
This year will mark the 26th season of the WNBA.