Professional Basketball

Q&A with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert


WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert took questions from media members at halftime of Friday’s Minnesota Lynx-Washington Mystics game. Here is the transcript from that media session.

Can you discuss the WNBA/USA Basketball Women’s National Team initiative?

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert answers a reporter’s question during the media availability at halftime of Friday’s Minnesota Lynx-Washington Mystics game at Target Center. Photo by Abe Booker III/Sportspage Magazine

As you know one of my priorities is to drive, you know, drive the economics of this league, drive the player experience. So one of the things, obviously, for those who weren’t there in Vegas when we announced USA Basketball keeping eight (or the) players in market, paying them to train, play some exhibitions with some of the top college programs here, in the US, and you know really looking forward to that. So, yeah, with obviously collective bargaining negotiations on the table, things our players can do in market, and certainly look forward to our players viewing the WNBA as their job.

Absolutely, and if you look our US National Women’s team is going for their seventh consecutive gold medal. And in those six consecutive ones they’re 100-1. A hundred wins and one loss; that’s a dynasty. So, we are going to be marketing and playing that up because these are all WNBA players playing for our US National Teams.

Welcome to Minneapolis and the Target Center.

First of all, it’s great to be here in Minneapolis. Love it. Love the environment here in Target Center. And obviously, I spent some time over at the practice facility with the players and they’re really looking forward to the parity in the league this year, and every games counts from here on in. They’re really focused on finishing the season strong, because they’re in the last quarter of the season, and making the playoffs, and driving a playoff run to the championships. And I think that is what is on their mind, number one, it’s basketball, and every game counts. Almost, with only eight games left for each team counts, every play counts, every quarter counts, every half. So you know, they’re very focused on their game right now.

What sets the Minnesota Lynx apart from other teams?

Yeah that’s absolutely something I’m observing, listening to. I’ve actually been to three markets, obviously Vegas, Washington, New York. So this fourth, but this is first on my nine-city tour for the next two-and-a-half weeks before playoffs because I really want to get to each market. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m listening, meeting with the basketball ecosystem in each city, you know trying to get best practices on what works, what isn’t working, what the sales and marketing capabilities look like. You know, the best part about being here too is meeting with the fan-base and you have such an amazing fan-base here in Minnesota for the Lynx and I think its great because they’ve had enormous success. So I really want to capitalize off of the feel here as I go to the other markets. 

Overall viewership is up, but attendance is down. Can you please talk about that.

So yeah. The way I read it is there are some tough comparisons on attendance because we’ve had some movement of arenas. So Washington moved to a smaller arena, Seattle is playing in a different arena while their arena gets renovated, so you know, it’s not apples-to-apples comparison year-over-year, next year we will have the same thing in movement of arenas and arena size. But you know, what we need to work on is making sure we provide the best fan experience depending on the arena that you are playing in in our 12 markets. And that our sales and marketing capability is being enhanced to bring the fans in. I think, adding the WNBA players to NBA2K this year will be a great broadening of fan base. Maybe some younger, digital-native players. You know, I have an 18-year-old son who plays that game, I think that will help. The run up to the Olympics we’re gonna market that really hard and try to get more fans in our seats during season. So, it’s a big focus of mine. It’s great that viewership is up. Certainly, especially when ESPN, who has been our long-time partner, broadcasts our games on ABC. Really good, when they’re on ESPN 2. You know, we don’t get as much followership there. I think broadening our exposure to our elite women athletes in this league is a big goal of mine and that’s certainly through different platforms. Twitter has been a great platform for us, as well; and our viewership is very strong when we stream live on Twitter. So, I think we need to look at all of these platforms that are emerging to make sure we are maximizing exposure for our players.

There have been a lot of injuries this season. Could you please address that.

Yeah, and we obviously look at a lot of data, you know, Honestly, injury is a part of sport having played up to college basketball level, I saw that throughout my career and it’s something we’re focused on, we’re looking at data all the time to determine whether it is a rest thing.  Obviously, you see some of the things the NBA is thinking on their side, how the schedule plays out, the season structure. And, they obviously play more games than we do, you know with just playing 34 in the W. Something we’re certainly monitoring, looking at the data, looking at player wellness, wellbeing, how they train. And, I think that teams are doing a lot in that area, as well.

In the offseason, there was talk about expansion to Toronto, but nothing happened. What is going on in regards to expanding the league?

Yeah, so I’ll just say a comment on expansion. My goal is to drive our 12 existing franchises from an economic perspective and a fan and player experience to the highest level, and drive this brand to a higher level and get more exposure year round, etc. So that is the focus. Expansion, one of the things when you look at is we have 12 teams, with 12 players-per-team, so we only have 144 players. This is the toughest league to make, if you think about it. Even if you are a first round draft pick, you are not guaranteed you’re going to make one of these teams. It’s kind of interesting. As a result I think the quality of our play is really great. Would we look at expansion down the road? That’s something certainly as interested investors want to talk about a franchise, we will look at it, but my number one focus as the commissioner is on our 12 franchises today. You know the Toronto thing was a rumor, so we are in no talks with anyone in Toronto right now.

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1 Comment

  1. Jacqueline

    August 21, 2019 at 7:29 pm

    Great interview. Kudos!