The WNBA is poised to blow the whistle on its 28th season Tuesday night. From the juggernaut Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty to new marquee talent like Caitlin Clark taking the floor, the league is growing faster than ever. Here’s what you need to know.

What to watch opening night:

There will be four games played Tuesday night:

The New York Liberty vs. the Washington Mystics 

The Indiana Fever vs. the Connecticut Sun 

The Phoenix Mercury vs. the Las Vegas Aces

The Minnesota Lynx vs. the Seattle Storm

2023 MVP Breanna Stewart joined the Liberty in free agency last February after playing her first seven years in Seattle. Joining a core cast of Sabrina Ionescu, Jonquel Jones, Betnijah Laney and Courtney Vandersloot, Stewart led the Liberty to the finals, where they fell to the Las Vegas Aces.

The Fever are bringing rookie phenom Caitlin Clark to Connecticut, where tickets have already sold out at the Mohegan Sun Arena – the first home opener to sell out in over 20 years, the team said in a press release. Clark became college basketball’s all-time NCAA Division I scoring leader in March and, after being selected at the top of the 2024 draft, has big expectations heading into her first season.

While Clark is the new kid in town, the Las Vegas Aces are the big kids. The team won its second championship in a row last year, beating the Liberty 70-69 in Game 4 of the series despite missing multiple starting players. Even with hoop legend Candace Parker’s retirement, the Aces still have stars in spades, returning two-time MVP A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, and Chelsea Gray.

The Phoenix Mercury will be without star Brittney Griner, the team announced Monday, after the center fractured a toe on her left foot. Griner missed all of the 2022 season due to her months-long detainment in a Russian prison on drug charges.

The Storm have passed on from the Breanna Stewart era, clocking in third on CBS Sports’ power rankings (Behind the Aces and Liberty). The team acquired forward Nneka Ogwumike and guard Skylar Diggins-Smith in free agency to assist the league’s leading scorer, Jewell Lloyd.

The opening night slate will be available to watch on ESPN networks, with select games streaming on ESPN+, Disney+, and the WNBA League Pass. The rest of the season will be televised across CBS, ESPN, ABC, ION, Prime Video, and NBATV.

Regular season play continues until late September, with the All-Star game scheduled for July 20 in Phoenix. The WNBA will pause play after the All-Star game until August 15 this year so the athletes can compete with their respective national teams in the Summer Olympics.

Growing the game

With the groundwork laid by the WNBA’s previous stars and the addition of exciting new talent like Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso, Cameron Brink and Rickea Jackson, more eyes are on the league than ever before. This year has seen a significant uptick in investment in the women’s league. 

The WNBA consists of only 12 teams, with 12 roster spots per team – it isn’t uncommon for a drafted player to get cut from the final roster just weeks later. The Los Angeles Sparks, who drafted Brink and Jackson with top five picks, waived the 28th overall pick McKenzie Forbes on Sunday.

Luckily for players on the bubble, the WNBA is expanding for the first time since 2008. League Commissioner Cathy Englebert announced in October that The Golden State Warriors were awarded a WNBA team for 2025. On Friday, CBC Sports reported that Toronto would be next, receiving an expansion team for 2026. 

“It’s complex because you need arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things, you need committed long-term ownership groups. The nice thing is we’re getting a lot of calls,” Englebert said during a pre-draft press conference last month, adding that she was confident the league could grow to 16 teams by 2028.

Along with expanded job opportunities, WNBA players will be receiving expanded benefits previously reserved for their male counterparts. The league announced a charter flight partnership with Delta Air Lines last week so players will no longer have to fly to games on commercial airlines.

“I express my appreciation and support for a bold move by the commissioner and team governors that in turn shows that they understand and value the health and safety of the players. It is time to be transformational. It’s time to bet on women,” WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike said in a press release.

While Clark and the Fever were seen enjoying themselves on a charter flight to Connecticut Monday, personnel from multiple teams told ESPN they had not heard from the league about when they would be permitted to charter.

The increasing investment in the WNBA isn’t just internal – the rising profile of the league has brought sponsorship opportunities to athletes as well. Clark reportedly signed a $28 million endorsement deal with Nike, which announced a forthcoming signature shoe with A’Ja Wilson – the first Black woman to headline a signature shoe with the company since Sheryl Swoopes in 2002.

Kim Kardashian’s shapewear brand SKIMS unveiled an underwear campaign Monday to celebrate its blockbuster partnership with the league featuring Candace Parker, Cameron Brink, Dijonai Carrington, Kelsey Plum and Skylar Diggins-Smith. The collaboration is SKIMS’ first to feature female players. The company, valued at $4 billion by Forbes, also has partnerships with the NBA and Team USA.



Source link