When it comes to WNBA predictions — the gist is, the future going to be nothing but net. Already in Deloitte’s annual 2020 outlook, they predicted the rise of women’s sports. Highlighting it as one of the trends that will have the biggest impact across the entire sports ecosystem.
The groundswell – created by the 2019 Women’s World Cup soccer event; inspirational performers such as tennis legend Serena Williams; the emergence of youthful stars like 15-year-old tennis phenom Coco Gauff; and the continued growth of the Women’s National Basketball Association – could represent a tipping point for women’s sports in general.
Add in a spotlight on US women’s basketball specifically, at the Olympic Games Tokyo (whenever it happens). With the possibility of a seventh straight gold medal for the lady ballers. Who have posted an overwhelming 100-1 record in international competition. And the sky is the limit!
So today, we’re going to make some WNBA predictions and bets about exactly where the league is headed over the next 10 years. Some might even surprise you, such as the potential rise of in-game purchasing like in eSports. Others are more obvious, such as the opportunity for more female head coaches. Let’s get after it!
Check out in-game improvements, changes to the league’s marketing, and fan engagement opportunities that we will see in the WNBA in coming years.
The in-game experience for WNBA viewers is definitely going to continue to improve. And with the rise of eSports, there’s likely to be some cross over.
This year in the Wubble for example, there were more cameras than ever before (more than twenty). Because there was space for them without the fans. As a result, they were able to put cameras in angles we’ve never seen before.
While today you can switch cameras within NBA2k21, things are likely to get even more exciting in real life. One option fans might have in the future, is to watch a specific player the entire game.
Want to watch how Arike Ogunbowale managed to get that shot off? No problem. Pick to view an iso camera of just her, and see the court as she sees it.
Because of the WNBA bubble we certainly got to enjoy more player content than ever before. Partially this insider peak was the result of mic’d up players – on the court and off. For example, Sue Bird talking to the ref on the side line.
In the future, it’s likely we’ll get even more audio we’ve never heard before. Whether it’s in the pre-game team huddles, in the tunnel, or on the court. More players, coaches, or even refs will be mic-ed during games.
It might even be possible for you to pick which player channel you want to listen to. To enjoy a specific athlete’s commentary during the entire match. Soon we might know who the best trash talker is!
It’s likely in the next few years fans will be able to make micro-purchases within a game like eSports. For example, easily buy your favorite player’s jersey from the WNBA store by clicking on the player while watching the game.
Another opportunity is for the league to work sneaker companies to make it easy to purchase the shoes the athletes have chosen to wear. And make that a revenue share with the players’ union as well. Viewers should be able to tap on the shoes they love in-game, and see an option for seamless purchase.
Another WNBA prediction is that sports organizations will double down on their investments in women’s basketball, as will sponsors. So in the future, we’d expect even more corporate sponsors flocking to capitalize on the new opportunities and avenues for engagement. That could be paying for court side banner placement, providing travel bags for the team, or co-branding new WNBA apps, as just a few examples.
Many sponsors have already started investing by marketing products and services to young female athletes and non-athletes alike via WNBA players. For example, this year we saw Sue Bird and Glossier, Tyasha Harris and Under Armour, and Natasha Cloud and Converse (plus Skylar Diggins-Smith with Puma all the way back in 2018.)
As part of this increased investment in the WNBA, we’d also expect new broadcasting options and airtime. For example, it’s too hard to find out how to watch the WNBA today. In the future, WNBA games will be available and easy to watch via Amazon Prime and Netflix.
There are other opportunities for distribution beyond game streaming though. Such as licensing for clothing – which will be tapped as well. For example, the WNBPA already has a collection with BreakingT. And Dick’s Sporting Goods put one of their shirts (“Bet on Women”) in 120 stores across the country.
Dick’s originally planned to put the “Bet on Women” shirts in stores in the 12 WNBA markets. But thanks to the success of the WNBA season— ratings were up 68% — and Breaking T’s great track record, Dick’s decided to put the t-shirts in every WNBA and NBA market.
The WNBA could follow suit by partnering with premium brands such as KITH to do new takes on its orange hoodie and new logo. They could also partner with Nike to release a slightly new twist each fall, incentivizing fans to get the signature one each year. And they could open up their distribution to include Amazon as a merchandise sales channel.
Today the WNBA has a statistics library, player bio overviews, and 173K subscribers on a Youtube channel. They feature player highlight videos, social justice news, and player diaries.
In the future, we predict the WNBA will release more statistics and data about in-game activity and players. With the rise of Synergy Stats, Whoop, and other data platforms, coaches and players have unprecedented access to data to inform their game. Soon, fans are likely to be let in on some of these insights – whether through infographics or a video series.
It’s also likely the WNBA will realize the power of its stars. And give them more options to easily participate in spreading the love of the game. The league could provide the opportunity for players to quickly express their opinions or give behind the scenes insights. For example their own version of The Players Tribune. Or an ongoing video series where all they have to do is show up in front of the perfectly lit camera.
And finally, the WNBA could create a strong gif library, and a stronger video library featuring highlights. They have such amazing content, they can chop it up into more bite-size pieces, and allow fans to spread it. Some of the most retweeted and shared clips, even by the players themselves, are in-game highlights of big buckets or big steals. The WNBA will isolate these moments. Upload them to a library, tag them, and make it easy to share them on social or via blogging platforms.
Typically, women’s sports leagues have been modeled after men’s leagues. However, there are often unique aspects of women’s sports that create new and different opportunities. In the future, the WNBA will break the mold, embrace those differences, and engage fans in a new way.
Part of this is the in-arena experience, which has to give fans something they’re not getting at home, and has to be seamless. For example, the NWSL has seen success in building fan engagement, with its players taking the time to interact thoughtfully with fans, staying after games for hours to sign autographs.
The WNBA will create more opportunities for adult fans to be up close with their players as well. Whether it’s through setting up simple autograph stations or a VIP Insider program like US Soccer (pre-sale access to tickets, insider-only events where players are available to interact, insider pre-game lounge access, and game day concierge texting service.) While the WNBA offers fan experience packages today, most are geared towards children.
Another part of this is online engagement at home between games. The W will empower fans to build fan clubs, and help bolster the ones that exist today. Again, similarly to the NWSL which has supporter groups (one of the first hires the brand new LA Angel City team made was someone to focus on the fans and community), the WNBA will partner with fan club leaders. They’ll work with them to provide PR access to players for Q&As. Send the clubs custom swag such as T-shirts or waterbottles. And give early access to purchase tickets, and shirts the players wear in the tunnel.
Ever since Kevin Love started talking about how being depressed is exhausting, more athletes are sharing their experiences with mental health (such as Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and USC Volleyball player Victoria Garrick).
“Mental health in athletes is crucial to their health overall,” said Vijay Jotwani, M.D., a Houston Methodist primary care sports medicine physician. “The biggest challenge is recognizing when an athlete might be struggling with a mental health problem and helping him or her seek assistance from a medical professional.”
In the future, not only will teams add sports psychologists on staff, but also they’ll have mental health resources available on staff. Because among professional athletes, data shows that up to 35% of elite athletes suffer from a mental health crisis. Which may manifest as stress, eating disorders, burnout, or depression and anxiety.
Also for years, female athletes have relied on training protocols, injury guidelines, and nutrition plans based on research conducted with men. Among studies in sports science, women accounted for only 3 percent of participants. When analyzing all exercise science medicine studies published between 2011 and 2013.
That’s partially because exercise science is often supported by sports organizations like the NFL and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). “Women’s sports organizations don’t have as much money as male sports organizations,” says Dr. Kate Ackerman, director of the Female Athlete Program at Boston Children’s Hospital.
So the WNBA will help fund studies into how females can maximize their performance and how they can recover from injuries. For example, how to deal with female concussions and how to best train during menstruation.
It’s an unfortunate WNBA fact that for the 2020 season, there were only 4 female coaches. And not one woman was a person of color. With over 80 percent of the league comprised of talented African-American women, it’s clear this should change.
The WNBPA proposed tapping the talent pool of retired players: “After nearly 25 years, the pool of retired players with interest and experience in coaching and front office positions is clear and extensive. These candidates should be recruited and have their names at the top of the list of any and all open head coach and front office positions in the @WNBA.”
Another option is for the WNBA or USA Basketball to launch an accreditation program for coaches. The W can launch an online or in-person coaching license pathway. And offer classes that cover grassroots coaching, coaching philosophy, the tasks of a coach, and the characteristics of players. Plus, help coaches develop personal growth action plans. This will create an even bigger pipeline of talented, experienced coaches in the future.
“Why does nobody watch the WNBA?” will continue be put to rest as the dumbest question of all time. This year, the opening weekend of WNBA games averaged 539,000 viewers total. And the draft, featuring Sabrina Ionescu, had 387,000 viewers.
The number of WNBA viewers and fans will increase exponentially over the next ten years. As more young women realize that a career in sports is a viable option for them. And as new media channels provide access earlier to their career highlights.
A great example of this already in motion is the popularity of UConn’s Paige Bueckers. Paige was a consensus five-star recruit and the number one player in the 2020 class. She also already – before her college career has even started – has more than half a million followers on Instagram.
With the rise of new media covering women at the high school level, such as Slam, House of Highlights, and MadefortheW, female hoopers are garnering more attention than ever before. They’re also getting added attention by making short video clips and sharing them via platforms such as TikTok.
For example, just a few days before the No. 22 Northwestern women’s basketball team (17-2, 7-1 Big Ten) cracked the AP Poll for the first time in four years, a TikTok featuring a group of the players reenacting the iconic “Potter Puppet Pals” YouTube video went viral. The 42-second video got up to more than 800,000 views, 145,000 likes and nearly 500 comments.
All that attention is likely to follow these young women and teams as their basketball careers progress. Some day Paige will be one of the UConn players in the WNBA, and bring that viewership with her.
From equal pay agreements to record audiences and new media deals, women’s sports are on the rise. A 2018 Neilson survey across eight key markets around the world (U.S., U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia and New Zealand) found that 84% of general sports fans are interested in women’s sports.
Of those, 51% are male, which confirms that women’s sports engage a gender-balanced audience. Plus, they found that 66% of the general population is interested in at least one women’s sport.
The WNBA had its most watched opener since 2012, this year. It’s clearly a league already on the rise. With the WNBA predictions today, you’ve seen into the future of the W. No doubt, the future looks bright. And, it’s not just because of their bright fire orange rebrand!
Written by Megan Mitzel, youth basketball coach, and Founder of Queen Ballers Club.
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