The creation of the WNBA was officially approved by the NBA Board of Governors on April 24, 1996, and announced at a press conference with Rebecca Lobo, Lisa Leslie, and Sheryl Swoopes in attendance. The new WNBA had to compete with the recently-formed American Basketball League, another professional women's basketball league that began play in 1996.
The WNBA began with eight teams: the Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, Houston Comets and New York Liberty in the Eastern Conference; and the Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Sacramento Monarchs and Utah Starzz in the Western Conference.
While not the first major women's professional basketball league in the United States (a distinction held by the defunct WBL), the WNBA is the only league to receive full backing of the NBA. The WNBA logo, "Logo Woman", paralleled the NBA logo and was selected out of 50 different designs.
On the heels of a much-publicized gold medal run by the 1996 USA Basketball Women's National Team at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, the WNBA began its first season on June 21, 1997 to little fanfare. The first WNBA game featured the New York Liberty facing the Los Angeles Sparks in Los Angeles. The game was televised nationally in the United States on the NBC television network. At the start of the 1997 season, the WNBA had television deals in place with NBC (NBA rights holder), and the Walt Disney Company and Hearst Corporation joint venture channels, ESPN and Lifetime Television Network, respectively. Penny Toler scored the league's first point.
The WNBA centered its marketing campaign, dubbed "We Got Next", around stars Rebecca Lobo, Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes. In the league's first season, Leslie's Los Angeles Sparks underperformed and Swoopes sat out much of the season due to her pregnancy. The WNBA's true star in 1997 was WNBA MVP Cynthia Cooper, Swoopes' teammate on the Houston Comets. The Comets defeated Lobo's New York Liberty in the first WNBA Championship game. The initial "We Got Next" advertisement ran before each WNBA season until it was replaced with the "We Got Game" campaign.
Two teams were added in 1998 (Detroit and Washington) and two more in 1999 (Orlando and Minnesota), bringing the number of teams in the league up to twelve. The 1999 season began with a collective bargaining agreement between players and the league, marking the first collective bargaining agreement to be signed in the history of women's professional sports. The WNBA also announced in 1999 that it would add four more team for the 2000 season (the Indiana Fever, the Seattle Storm, the Miami Sol, and the Portland Fire), bringing the league up to 16 teams, with WNBA President Val Ackerman discussing expansion: "This won't be the end of it. We expect to keep growing the league."
In 1999, the league's chief competition, the American Basketball League, folded. Many of the ABL's star players, including several Olympic gold medalists (such as Nikki McCray and Dawn Staley) and a number of standout college performers (including Kate Starbird and Jennifer Rizzotti), then joined the rosters of WNBA teams and, in so doing, enhanced the overall quality of play in the league. When a lockout resulted in an abbreviated NBA season, the WNBA saw faltering TV viewership.
On May 23, 2000, the Houston Comets became the first WNBA team to be invited to the White House Rose Garden. Before this invitation, only men's sports teams had traveled to the White House.
At the end of the 2000 season, the Houston Comets won their fourth championship, capturing every title since the league's inception. Led by the "Big Three" of Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, and four-time Finals MVP Cynthia Cooper, the Comets dominated every team in the league. Under head coach Van Chancellor, the team posted a 98–24 record through their first four seasons (16–3 in the Playoffs). After 2000, Cooper retired from the league and the Comets dynasty came to an end.
The top contender in the 2001 season was the Los Angeles Sparks. Led by Lisa Leslie, the Sparks posted a regular-season record of 28–4. They advanced to their first ever WNBA Finals and swept the Charlotte Sting.
Looking to repeat in 2002, the Sparks again made a strong run toward the postseason, going 25–7 in the regular season under head coach Michael Cooper, formerly of the Los Angeles Lakers. Again, Leslie dominated opponents throughout the Playoffs, leading the Sparks to a perfect 6–0 record through all three rounds, beating the New York Liberty in the 2002 Finals.
Teams and the league were collectively owned by the NBA until the end of 2002, when the NBA sold WNBA teams either to their NBA counterparts in the same city or to a third party, as a result of the dot-com bubble. This led to two teams moving: Utah moved to San Antonio, and Orlando moved to Connecticut and became the first WNBA team to be owned by a third party instead of an NBA franchise. This sale of teams also led to two teams folding, the Miami Sol and Portland Fire, because new owners could not be found.
The WNBA Players Association threatened to strike in 2003 if a new deal was not worked out between players and the league. The result was a delay in the start of the 2003 preseason. The 2003 WNBA Draft was also delayed and negative publicity was gained from this strike.
After taking over a struggling franchise in 2002, former Detroit Pistons forward Bill Laimbeer had high hopes for the Detroit Shock in 2003. The team was just 9–23 in 2002. The Shock had three all-stars in the 2003 All-Star Game (Swin Cash, Cheryl Ford, and Deanna Nolan). Laimbeer orchestrated a worst-to-first turnaround and the Shock finished the season 25–9 in first place in the Eastern Conference. Winning the first two rounds of the Playoffs, the Shock faced two-time champion Los Angeles Sparks and Lisa Leslie in the 2003 Finals. The Shock beat the Sparks, winning game three on a three-pointer by Deanna Nolan.
After the 2003 season, the Cleveland Rockers, one of the league's original eight teams, folded because the owners were unwilling to continue operating the franchise.
Val Ackerman, the first WNBA president, resigned effective February 1, 2005, citing the desire to spend more time with her family. Ackerman later became president of USA Basketball. On February 15, 2005, NBA Commissioner David Stern announced that Donna Orender, who had been serving as the Senior Vice President of the PGA Tour and who had played for several teams in the now-defunct Women's Pro Basketball League, would be Ackerman's successor as of April 2005.
The WNBA awarded its first real expansion team to Chicago (later named the Sky) in February 2006. In the off-season, a set of rule changes was approved that made the WNBA more like the NBA.
In 2006, the league became the first team-oriented women's professional sports league to exist for ten consecutive seasons. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary, the WNBA released its All-Decade Team, comprising the ten WNBA players to have contributed, through on-court play and off-court activities, the most to women's basketball during the league's existence.
After missing out on the Finals in 2004 and 2005, the Shock bounced back in 2006 behind newly acquired Katie Smith, along with six remaining members from their 2003 Finals run (Cash, Ford, Holland-Corn, Nolan, Powell, and Riley). The Shock finished second in the Eastern Conference, and knocked off first-seeded Connecticut in the second round of the Playoffs. The Shock faced reigning champion Sacramento Monarchs in a five-game series. The Shock won game five on their home floor.
In December 2006, the Charlotte Bobcats organization announced it would no longer operate the Charlotte Sting. Soon after, the WNBA announced that the Sting would not operate for 2007. A dispersal draft was held January 8, 2007. Teams selected in inverse order of their 2006 records; Chicago received the first pick.
Former Los Angeles Lakers championship coach Paul Westhead was named head coach of the Phoenix Mercury on October 11, 2005, bringing his up-tempo style of play to the WNBA. This fast-paced offense was perfect for his team, especially after the league shortened the shot clock from 30 seconds to 24 seconds in 2006. Much like the early Houston Comets championship teams, the Phoenix Mercury had risen to prominence led by their own "Big Three" of Cappie Pondexter, Diana Taurasi, and Penny Taylor.
The Mercury were well-suited for fast offense behind these three players. Phoenix averaged a league-record 88.97 points per game in 2007; teams could not keep up with the new style of play, and the Mercury were propelled into first place in the Western Conference. Facing the reigning champion Detroit Shock, the Mercury imposed their high-scoring offense with hopes of capturing their first title in franchise history. Averaging 93.2 points per game in the Finals series, the Mercury beat Detroit on their home floor in front of 22,076 fans in game five to claim their first ever WNBA title.
In October 2007 the WNBA awarded another expansion franchise to Atlanta. Atlanta businessman Ron Terwilliger was the original owner of the new team. Citizens of Atlanta were able to vote for their choices for the new team's nickname and colors. The Dream, as they were named, played their first regular season game on May 17, which was a 67–100 loss to the Connecticut Sun.
Paul Westhead resigned from the Mercury after capturing the 2007 title and Penny Taylor opted to stay home to prepare for the 2008 Summer Olympics, causing the Mercury to falter in 2008. The team posted a 16–18 record and became the first team in WNBA history to miss the Playoffs after winning the championship in the previous season. In their place, the Detroit Shock won their third championship under coach Bill Laimbeer, solidifying their place in WNBA history before Laimbeer resigned early in 2009, effectively ending the Shock dynasty.
During the 2008 regular season, the first ever outdoor professional basketball game in North America was played at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City. The Indiana Fever defeated the New York Liberty 71–55 in front of over 19,000 fans.
Late in 2008, the WNBA took over ownership of one of the league's original franchises, the Houston Comets. The Comets ceased operations on December 1, 2008 after no owners for the franchise could be found. A dispersal draft took place on December 8, 2008 and with the first pick, Sancho Lyttle was taken by the Atlanta Dream.
After an unsatisfying conclusion in 2008, the Mercury looked to bounce back to championship caliber. New head coach Corey Gaines implemented Paul Westhead's style of play, and the Mercury averaged 92.82 points per game throughout the 2009 season. Helped by the return of Penny Taylor, the Mercury once again locked up first place in the Western Conference and advanced to the 2009 Finals. The championship series was a battle of contrasting styles as the Mercury (number one league offense, 92.82 points per game) had to face the Indiana Fever (number three league defense, 73.55 points per game). The series went five games, including arguably one of the most thrilling games in WNBA history in game one of the series (Phoenix won in overtime, 120–116. The Mercury beat the Fever in game five, this time on their home court, to capture their second WNBA championship.
Not only did Paul Westhead's system influence his Mercury team, but it created a domino effect throughout the league. Young athletic players were capable of scoring more and playing at a faster pace. As a league, the 2010 average of 80.35 points per game was the best ever, far surpassing the 69.2 average in the league's inaugural season.
On October 20, 2009, the WNBA announced that the Detroit Shock would relocate to Tulsa, Oklahoma; the team is called the Tulsa Shock. On November 20, 2009, the WNBA announced that the Sacramento Monarchs had folded due to lack of support from its current owners, the Maloof family, who were also the owners of the Sacramento Kings at the time. The league announced it would seek new owners to relocate the team to the San Francisco Bay area; however, no ownership was found and a dispersal draft was held on December 14, 2009.
The 2010 season saw a tight race in the East, with three teams being tied for first place on the final day of the regular season. Five of the six teams in the East were in first place at some point during the season. The East held a .681 winning percentage over the West, its highest ever. In the 2010 Finals, two new teams represented each conference: the Seattle Storm and the Atlanta Dream. Seattle made their first finals appearance since winning it all in 2004 and Atlanta, coming into the playoffs as a four seed, impressively swept its opponents in the first two rounds to advance to the Finals in only the third year of the team's existence.
After the 2010 season, President Orender announced she would be resigning from her position as of December 31. On April 21, 2011, NBA commissioner David Stern announced that former Girl Scouts of the USA Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Laurel J. Richie would assume duties as President on May 16, 2011.
The 2011 season began with strong publicity helped by the rising young stars of the league and the NBA lockout. The 2011 NBA lockout began on July 1, 2011. Unlike the previous lockout, which affected the WNBA, president Laurel J. Richie confirmed that this lockout would have no effect on the WNBA. If the NBA season was shortened or canceled, the 2012 WNBA season (including the WNBA teams still owned by NBA owners) would run as planned. The lockout ended on November 26, and NBA teams would play a 66-game regular season following the lockout.
Many news outlets began covering the league more frequently. NBA TV, the television home of the NBA scheduled over 70 regular season games to be televised (along with a dozen more on ESPN2 and ABC). The new influx of young talent into the league gave many teams something to be excited about. Players like Candace Parker of the Sparks, Maya Moore of the Lynx, DeWanna Bonner of the Mercury, Angel McCoughtry of the Dream, Sylvia Fowles of the Sky, Tina Charles of the Sun, and Liz Cambage of the Shock brought a new level of excitement to the game, adding talent to the teams of young veterans such as Diana Taurasi, Seimone Augustus and Cappie Pondexter. The level of play was getting better, as evidenced by higher scoring, better defense, and higher shooting percentages. Fans responded to the new stars in the league; by the end of the 2011 regular season, nine of the twelve teams in the league had increased attendance over their 2010 averages.
The new influx of talented young players showed that the league's longevity gave young girls something to aspire to. Rookies coming into the league had the luxury of growing up watching veterans like Cynthia Cooper, Lisa Leslie and Teresa Weatherspoon. For the first time ever, young girls could now look at the WNBA as an opportunity for basketball to continue after college.
The new players delivered in 2011. Connecticut Sun center Tina Charles set a league record for double-doubles in a season with 23. Also, Sylvia Fowles of the Chicago Sky became only the second player in WNBA history to finish a season averaging at least 20 points (20.0ppg) and 10 rebounds (10.2rpg) per game. The San Antonio Silver Stars experienced boosts from their young players as well; rookie Danielle Adams scored 32 points off the bench in June and fellow rookie Danielle Robinson had a 36-point game in September. Atlanta Dream forward Angel McCoughtry was the first player in league history to average over 20 points per game (21.6ppg) while playing under 30 minutes per game (27.9mpg).
McCoughtry led her team to the Finals for the second straight year, but despite breaking her own Finals scoring record, the Dream was swept for the second straight year, this time by the Minnesota Lynx, which won its first title behind a fully healthy Seimone Augustus.
2012 featured a long Olympic break, but still saw the league grow. The Indiana Fever won the WNBA championship.
The much publicized 2013 WNBA Draft produced Baylor University star Brittney Griner, Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, and Notre Dame All American Skylar Diggins as the top three picks, the draft was the first to be televised in primetime on ESPN. Griner, Delle Donne, and Diggins were thus labelled "The Three To See", but with the draft also came standouts such as Tayler Hill, Layshia Clarendon and Alex Bentley. The retirement of legends Katie Smith, Tina Thompson, Ticha Penicheiro, and Sheryl Swoopes coupled with the arrival of highly touted rookies and new rule changes effectively marked the end of an era for the WNBA and the ushering of another.
On the court, the Minnesota Lynx won their second title in three years, defeating the Atlanta Dream in the Finals, and becoming the first team to sweep the playoff since the Seattle Storm.
The promotion of Griner, Delle Donne, and Diggins helped boost television ratings for the league by 28 percent, and half of teams ended the season profitable. The improved health of the league was on display after the season, when the Los Angeles Sparks' ownership group folded; it took the league only a few weeks to line up Guggenheim Partners to purchase the team, and the franchise also garnered interest from the ownership of the Golden State Warriors.
The WNBA originated with 8 teams in 1997, and through a sequence of expansions, contractions, and relocations currently consists of 12 teams. There have been a total of 18 franchises in WNBA history.
As of the 2015 WNBA season, the Los Angeles Sparks, New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury, and the San Antonio Stars (formerly Utah Starzz) are the only remaining franchises that were founded in 1997.Note
Eight WNBA teams are associated with the NBA team from the same market and are known as sister teams. These teams include the Indiana Pacers and Fever, the Los Angeles Lakers and Sparks, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx, the New York Knicks and Liberty, the Phoenix Suns and Mercury, the Atlanta Hawks and the Dream, the San Antonio Spurs and the Stars, and the Washington Wizards and Mystics. Of these teams, only the Dream and the Sparks are owned separately.
Three WNBA teams are in the same market as an NBA team but are not affiliated. The Connecticut Sun are located in the same regional market as the Boston Celtics; though the teams are not affiliated with each other. Though located in the same market, the Chicago Sky are not affiliated with the Bulls, as evidenced by their differing home arenas; the Sky play at Allstate Arena in nearby Rosemont, as opposed to the Bulls playing at United Center. The Dallas Wings, which had been the Tulsa Shock before moving to the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex after the 2015 season, are not affiliated with the existing NBA team in the Metroplex, the Dallas Mavericks. As with the Sky and Bulls, the Wings and Mavericks play in different arenas, with the Wings playing at College Park Center in Arlington as opposed to the Mavericks playing just outside downtown Dallas at American Airlines Center.
The remaining WNBA team, the Seattle Storm, was formerly the sister team of the now relocated SuperSonics but was sold to a Seattle-based group before the SuperSonics moved and become the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The now defunct Utah Starzz, Charlotte Sting, Miami Sol, Portland Fire, Cleveland Rockers, Orlando Miracle, Houston Comets and Sacramento Monarchs were also sister teams of the Jazz, Hornets, Heat, Trail Blazers, Cavaliers, Magic, Rockets and Kings, respectively. The Detroit Shock was the sister team of the Pistons until the teams' owner sold the Shock to investors who moved the team to Tulsa, Oklahoma. During its tenure in Tulsa, it was not affiliated with Oklahoma's NBA team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Sparks are the only team that shares a market with an NBA Development League team; the Sparks share the Los Angeles market with the Los Angeles D-Fenders, while the Shock shared the Tulsa market with the Tulsa 66ers until the latter team was relocated to become the Oklahoma City Blue.Detroit Shock – 1998–2009 (relocated to Tulsa)
Orlando Miracle – 1999–2002 (relocated to Uncasville, Connecticut)
Utah Starzz – 1997–2002 (relocated to San Antonio)
Tulsa Shock – 2010–2015 (relocated to Arlington, Texas)
Charlotte Sting – 1997–2006
Cleveland Rockers – 1997–2003
Houston Comets – 1997–2008
Miami Sol – 2000–2002
Portland Fire – 2000–2002
Sacramento Monarchs – 1997–2009
Teams hold training camps in May. Training camps allow the coaching staff to prepare the players for the regular season, and determine the 12-woman roster with which they will begin the regular season. After training camp, a series of preseason exhibition games are held.
The WNBA regular season begins in May. During the regular season, each team plays 34 games, 17 each home and away. Each team plays one in-conference team 4 times and the remaining in-conference teams 3 times each (12 games). Each team then plays the six out-of-conference teams 3 times (18 games). As in the NBA, each team hosts and visits every other team at least once every season.
In 1999 the league held its first ever All Star Game where the best players of the Eastern Conference played against the best players of the Western Conference. Since the All Star games were ongoing, the west has been dominant until 2006 the east finally won a game.
In July, the regular season pauses to celebrate the annual WNBA All-Star Game. The game is part of a weekend-long event, held in a selected WNBA city each year. The actual game is played on the selected WNBA team's home court. The All-Star Game features star players from the Western Conference facing star players from the Eastern Conference. During the season, fans vote for the players they would like to see start the game. In 2004, The Game at Radio City was in held in place of a traditional All-Star Game. The 2006 All-Star Game was the first game to feature custom uniforms that match the decade anniversary logo. Due to the Olympics, there was no WNBA All-Star Game in 2008, 2012, and 2016. In 2010, an exhibition game (Stars at the Sun) was held.
Shortly after the All-Star break is the trading deadline. After this date, teams are not allowed to exchange players with each other for the remainder of the season, although they may still sign and release players. Major trades are often completed right before the trading deadline.
During years in which the Summer Olympics are held, the WNBA takes a month off in the middle of the season to allow players to practice and compete with their respective national teams.
The WNBA Playoffs begin in late September, with eight teams qualifying for the playoffs. Having a higher seed offers several advantages. Since the first two seeds get double byes, and the next two seeds get first-round byes, having a higher seed generally means one will be facing a weaker team. The team in each series with the better record has home court advantage. Since 2016 Verizon is the official sponsor.
The first two playoff rounds follow a tournament format with each team playing a rival in a single elimination game, whichever team that wins, advances into the next round, while losers are eliminated from the playoffs. For the first round, the matchups by seed are 5th vs 8th and 6th vs 7th. In the second round, the matchups by seed are 3rd vs the lowest remaining seed and 4th vs the highest remaining seed. In the semifinals, the matchups by seed are 1st vs the lowest remaining seed and 2nd vs the highest remaining seed. This leaves two teams left to play each other in the WNBA Finals. In the first and second rounds, is a single elimination game. In the semifinals, the best-of-five series follows a 2–2–1 home-court pattern, meaning that the higher-seeded team will have home court in games 1, 2, and 5 while the other team plays at home in game 3 and 4. This pattern has been in place since 2016 (changed from the best-of-three series 1–1–1 format for four teams in each conferences, where the higher seed hosted the opening game in the first two rounds).
The final playoff round, a best-of-five series between the victors of each conference, is known as the WNBA Finals, and is held annually, currently scheduled for October. Each player on the winning team receives a championship ring. In addition, the league awards a WNBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award. For this round, the series follows a 2–2–1 pattern, meaning that one team will have home court in games 1, 2, and 5, while the other plays at home in games 3 and 4. The 2–2–1 pattern in the WNBA Finals has been in place since 2005.
The Houston Comets holds the distinction of having won the most championships with 4 titles despite folding in 2008.
Current teams that have no WNBA Finals appearances:Washington Mystics
In 2011, a decade and a half after the launch of the WNBA, only two players remained from the league's inaugural season in 1997: Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson. Thompson holds the record for the number of years in the league (fifteen). Lisa Leslie was the longest-tenured player from the 1997 draft class; she spent her entire career (1997–2009) with the Los Angeles Sparks. Tangela Smith has played the most games in her career (415).
The members of the WNBA's All-Decade Team were chosen in 2006 on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the WNBA from amongst 30 nominees compiled by fan, media, coach, and player voting. The team was to comprise the 10 best and most influential players of the first decade of the WNBA, with consideration also given to sportsmanship, community service, leadership, and contribution to the growth of women's basketball.
Players for the WNBA's Top 15 Team were chosen in 2011 on the anniversary of the league's fifteenth season from amongst 30 nominees compiled in a similar manner to that of the All-Decade Team process.
Over 30 players have scored more than 3,000 points or more in their WNBA careers. Only six WNBA players have reached the 6,000 point milestone: Tina Thompson, Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings, Katie Smith, Lisa Leslie, and Lauren Jackson.
In 2007, Paul Westhead of the Phoenix Mercury became the first person to earn both NBA and WNBA championship rings as a coach.
In 2008, 50-year-old Nancy Lieberman became the oldest player to play in a WNBA game. She signed a seven-day contract with the Detroit Shock and played one game, tallying two assists and two turnovers in nine minutes of action. By playing in the one game Lieberman broke a record that she herself had set in 1997, when she was the league's oldest player at 39.
Ticha Penicheiro (Portugal) provided 2,599 assists in 454 games playing for the Sacramento Monarchs, Los Angeles Sparks and Chicago Sky since 1998. she also holds the record for most assists per game, with 5.7.
Around the beginning of September, the regular season ends. It is during this time that voting begins for individual awards. The Sixth Woman of the Year Award is given to the best player coming off the bench (must have more games coming off the bench than actual games started). The Rookie of the Year Award is awarded to the most outstanding first-year player. The Most Improved Player Award is awarded to the player who is deemed to have shown the most improvement from the previous season. The Defensive Player of the Year Award is awarded to the league's best defender. The Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award is awarded to the player who shows the outstanding sportsmanship on and off the court. The Coach of the Year Award is awarded to the coach that has made the most positive difference to a team. The Most Valuable Player Award is given to player deemed the most valuable for (her team) that season.
Also named are the All-WNBA Teams, the All-Defensive Teams, and the All-Rookie Team; each consists of five players. There are two All-WNBA teams, consisting of the top players at each position, with first-team status being the most desirable. There are two All-Defensive teams, consisting of the top defenders at each position. There is one All-Rookie team, consisting of the top first-year players regardless of position.
Winners are from the most recent season unless otherwise indicated.
A number of international players that have played in the WNBA have earned multiple all-stars or won MVP awards: Elena Baranova, Russia – the first international player in the WNBA (1997), one-time All-Star (2001).
Lauren Jackson, Australia – two-time champion (2004, 2010), three-time MVP and eight-time All-Star
Ticha Penicheiro, Portugal – won a championship with the Monarchs in 2005 and four-time All-Star
Penny Taylor, Australia – three-time champion (2007, 2009, 2014) and four-time All-Star
Tammy Sutton-Brown, Canada – two-time All-Star
Sophia Young, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – four-time All-Star
Some of these players, among them Penicheiro, Sutton-Brown, and Young, played U.S. college basketball.
Rules are governed by standard basketball rules as defined by the NBA, with a few notable exceptions:The three-point line is 22 feet 1.75 inches (6.7501 m) from the middle of the basket, 21 feet 8 inches (6.60 m) at the corners. This is the same distance used under new FIBA rules; FIBA had increased its three-point distance to 22 feet 1.75 inches (6.7501 m) since October 1, 2012 (for domestic competitions).
The regulation WNBA ball is a minimum 28.5 inches (72 cm) in circumference and weighs 20.0 ounces (570 g), 1 inch (2.5 cm) smaller and 2 ounces (57 g) lighter than the NBA ball. Since 2004, this size has been used for all senior-level women's competitions throughout the world in full-court basketball. Competitions in the half-court 3x3 variant used the women's ball until 2015, when a dedicated ball with the circumference of the women's ball but the weight of the men's ball was introduced.
Quarters are 10 minutes in duration instead of 12.
Games are divided into four 10-minute quarters as opposed to the league's original two 20-minute halves of play, similar to FIBA and NCAA Women's college rules (many WNBA players play in European or Australian leagues, which all use the FIBA rule set).
A recent trend with new WNBA rules has been to match them with a similar NBA rule. Beginning with the 2006 WNBA season:The winner of the opening jump ball shall begin the 4th quarter with the ball out of bounds. The loser shall begin with the ball out of bounds in the second and third quarter. Previously under the two-half format, both periods started with jump balls, presumably to eliminate the possibility of a team purposely losing the opening tip in order to gain the opening possession of the second half. This is not a problem under the four-quarters because the winner of the opening tip gets the opening possession of the final period.
The shot clock was decreased from 30 to 24 seconds. The rule changes signaled a move away from rules more similar to those of college basketball and toward those that provide a more NBA-like game. FIBA also uses a 24-second clock.
The 2007 WNBA season brought changes that included:The amount of time that a team must move the ball across the half-court line went from 10 to 8 seconds.
A referee can grant time-outs to either a player or the coach.
Two free throws and possession of the ball for clear-path-to-the-basket foul. Previously only one free throw was awarded as well as possession.
In 2012, the WNBA added the block/charge arc under the basket. As of 2013 the defensive three-second rule and anti-flopping guidelines were introduced. The three-point line was also extended.
Starting in 2017, Tissot will be the official timekeeper for the league, as it will use a unified game clock/shot clock system.
The WNBA did not start out able to support itself. During the mid-2000s, the NBA spent more than $10 million per year to keep the WNBA financially solvent. In 2007, teams were estimated to be losing $1.5 million to $2 million a year.
The league has begun to do better financially in recent years. In December 2010 Donna Orender said that the league had its first-ever "cash flow positive" team (Connecticut Sun) for the 2010 season. In 2011, three teams were profitable, and in 2013, six of the league's 12 teams reported a profit. The league has also signed extended television contracts with ESPN and sponsorship agreements with Boost Mobile.
On June 1, 2009, the Phoenix Mercury was the first team in WNBA history to announce a marquee sponsorship. The team secured a partnership with LifeLock to brand their jerseys and warm-ups. It was the first branded jersey in WNBA history. Following the expiration of the LifeLock deal, the Mercury secured a new uniform sponsorship deal with Casino Arizona and Talking Stick Resort on February 3, 2014.
Other teams eventually followed in the Mercury's footsteps to bring the total to nine current teams with sponsorship deals:Indiana Fever – Finish Line, Inc.
Minnesota Lynx – Mayo Clinic
San Antonio Stars – H-E-B
Chicago Sky – Magellan Corporation
Los Angeles Sparks – EquiTrust Life Insurance; team was formerly sponsored by Farmers Insurance
New York Liberty – DraftKings; team was formerly sponsored by Foxwoods Casino
Connecticut Sun – Frontier Communications
Seattle Storm – Swedish Medical Center; team was formerly sponsored by Bing
The now-relocated Tulsa Shock (Osage Casino) and currently active Washington Mystics (Inova Health System) had jersey sponsorships at one time.
On August 22, 2011, the WNBA announced a league-wide marquee sponsorship with Boost Mobile. The deal would allow the Boost Mobile logo to be placed on eleven of the 12 teams' jerseys (excluding San Antonio) in addition to branding on the courts and in arenas. A source said the deal is a "multiyear, eight-figure deal."
On March 14, 2016, the WNBA was completing a deal with Verizon Wireless to place them on 10 of the 12 team jerseys. The deal includes a space on the front of 10 jerseys, excluding the Stars and Sun, in-arena advertising, and reserved commercial space during WNBA broadcasts. The deal also includes the sponsorship of the All-Star Game, Inspiring Women Luncheon, and other unspecified events, The deal will not include the Monthly and Yearly Awards.
On March 28, the league introduced new uniforms, with the new Verizon sponsor, which eliminated white jerseys and made the secondary color a basis for a uniform. The jersey font will remain unchanged as well as the primary color used for the away uniform. Teams can use either jersey for home and away games. Pictures of the jerseys can be seen on the WNBA website, although the Storm and Wings have not released their jerseys yet.
In 2009, the Phoenix Mercury became the first American professional basketball team to feature advertisements on their uniform when they sold an ad to LifeLock Insurance on the front of their jerseys, leading many people to wonder if ads on NBA uniforms were coming soon. Since then several other WNBA teams have followed suit. The NBA announced in the summer of 2016 that they will begin to feature advertisements on jerseys, with the first team to do so being the Philadelphia 76ers (with a StubHub sticker now on their jerseys). Before the start of the 2011 season, every team announced a new look for their uniforms. The supplier of the uniforms for the league, Adidas, upgraded all teams to new high-tech designs, much like they did for the NBA prior to the start of their season.
Sponsorships have come from major companies such as; Boost Mobile and Farmers Insurance. Pepsi and Nike have also partnered up with the WNBA.
Prior to the 2009 season, the maximum team roster size was changed from 13 players (11 active and 2 inactive) to 11 players (all active). Any team that falls below nine players able to play due to injury or any other factor outside of the control of the team will, upon request, be granted a roster hardship exception allowing the team to sign an additional player or players so that the team will have nine players able to play in an upcoming game or games. As soon as the injured (or otherwise sidelined) player(s) is able to play, the roster hardship player(s)—not any other player on the roster—must be waived. In March 2014, the WNBA and players signed a new, 8-year collective bargaining agreement, increasing the number of players on a roster to 12.
The WNBA Draft is held annually every spring. The draft is three rounds long with each of the 12 teams in the league (trades aside) getting three picks each. The draft order for the eight teams that made the playoffs the previous year are based on team records, and the team with the highest previous record will pick last. For the remaining top four picks, a selection process similar to the NBA Draft Lottery is conducted for the four teams that did not qualify for the playoffs.
In 2008, a new six-year collective bargaining agreement was agreed upon between the players and the league. The salary cap for an entire team in 2010 is $827,000 (although it was later lowered to $775,000). By 2013 (the sixth year under this agreement), the cap for an entire team will be $900,000. In 2010, the minimum salary for a player with three-plus years of experience is $51,000 while the maximum salary for a six-plus year player is $101,500 (the first time in league history that players are able to receive over $100,000). The minimum salary for rookies is $35,190. Many WNBA players supplement their salaries by playing in European, Australian, or more recently Chinese women's basketball leagues during the WNBA off-season. The WNBA has been criticized for paying female players less than their NBA counterparts.
The decision of superstar Diana Taurasi to sit out the 2015 WNBA season was seen by some in the media as a harbinger of salary-related troubles in the future. The Russian club for which she was playing at the time, UMMC Ekaterinburg, offered her a bonus well in excess of the league's salary cap to sit out that season. Taurasi accepted largely because she had not had an offseason since she was playing college basketball more than a decade earlier. Such offers have often been made to star American players, including Taurasi herself, but none were accepted until Taurasi did so in 2015.
WNBA players are awarded bonuses for certain achievements. Some of the bonuses given by the league (amount is per player) include: WNBA champion: $10,500; Runner-up: $5,250; Most valuable player: $15,000; All-WNBA First Team member: $10,000; All-Star Game participant: $2,500.
The following shows the top jersey sales since the start of the 2016 season.
The following shows the top teams sales since the start of the 2016 season.Val Ackerman, 1997–2005
Donna Orender, 2005–2010
Laurel J. Richie, 2011–2015
Lisa Borders, 2016–present
In 2012, however, average attendance per game dropped from 7,955 to 7,457 (-6.3%). Attendance per game stayed consistent at around 7,520 per game. However, in 2015 the WNBA’s attendance per game decreased by 3.4 percent to 7,318. This is a record low for the WNBA since it was created in 1997. Many teams have experienced drops within their attendance; (San Antonio Stars: -37.4%, Washington Mystics: -7.9%, Tulsa Shock: -702%) these losses have caused the attendance of the WNBA to drop.
President Laurel Richie stated that after the 2015 season ends they will create an expansion committee and begin evaluating if and how the WNBA should go about expanding their reach.
Currently, WNBA games are televised throughout the U.S. by ABC, ESPN2 and NBA TV.
In the early years, two women's-oriented networks, Lifetime and Oxygen, also broadcast games including the first game of the WNBA. NBC showed games from 1997 to 2002 as part of their NBA on NBC coverage before the league transferred the rights to ABC/ESPN.
In 2007, the WNBA and ESPN came to an 8-year television agreement. The agreement would be the first to pay television rights fees to the league's teams. Never before has an agreement promised rights fees to a women's professional league. The agreement runs from 2009 to 2016 and is worth millions of dollars.
In June 2007, the WNBA signed a contract extension with ESPN. The new television deal runs from 2009 to 2016. A minimum of 18 games will be broadcast on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2 each season; the rights to broadcast the first regular season game and the All-Star game are held by ABC. Additionally, a minimum of 11 postseason games will be broadcast on any of the three stations. Along with this deal, came the first ever rights fees to be paid to a women's professional sports league. Over the eight years of the contract, "millions and millions of dollars" will be "dispersed to the league's teams."
In 2013 the WNBA and ESPN signed a six-year extension on the broadcast deal to cover 2017–2022. In the new deal, a total of 30 games would be shown each season on ESPN networks. Each team would receive around $1 million per year.
Some teams offer games on local radio, while all teams have some games broadcast on local television stations:
From 2010 to 2011 the regular season broadcast drew 270,000 viewers a growth of 5 percent from 2010s’ numbers. As sponsorships continued to grow with deals from ESPN to air WNBA games on ESPN and ESPN 2. The league did experience some success on the digital forefront. Its saw increases on it mobile page views by 26 percent along with a major increase in its social media space; Instagram grew by 51 percent this past year.
In 2009, the WNBA announced the launch of WNBA LiveAccess, a feature on WNBA.com that provides fans with access to more than 200 live game webcasts throughout the WNBA season. All of the WNBA LiveAccess games are then archived for on-demand viewing. Most games (except broadcasts on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2, which are available on ESPN3) are available via this system. The first use of LiveAccess was the E League versus Chicago Sky preseason game.
Prior to the 2011 season, LiveAccess was given an overhaul, and the system became more reliable and many new features were added. Before the 2012 season, it was announced that users of LiveAccess would have to pay a $4.99 subscription fee to use the service. In 2013, this was increased to $14.99. In 2014 the streaming service was renamed WNBA League Pass.
On the 2008 season opening day (May 17), ABC broadcast the Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury matchup to showcase new rookie sensation Candace Parker. The game received a little over 1 million viewers.
Ratings still remain poor in comparison to NBA games. In 2008, WNBA games averaged just 413,000 viewers, compared to 1.46 million viewers on ESPN and over 2.2 million on ABC for NBA games. In addition, WNBA games have much poorer visibility, attendance, and ratings than NCAA games.1 The Connecticut Sun was known as the Orlando Miracle 1999–2002.
2 The San Antonio Stars were known as the Utah Starzz 1997–2002 and the San Antonio Silver Stars 2003–2013.
3 The Dallas Wings were known as the Tulsa Shock 2010–2015 and the Detroit Shock 1998–2009.