Opinion | Women’s Basketball Is on the Rise. Is Anyone Paying Attention?

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(SINGING) When you walk in the room, do you have sway?

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kara swisher

I’m Kara Swisher, and you’re listening to “Sway.” I have a confession. I’m not much of a sports gal. In fact, I refer to all games as “sportsball.” But I decided it’s time to get myself a bit of sports education. Enter my guest, Cathy Engelbert, the commissioner of the W.N.B.A. Engelbert has made some big moves for the league in the past year. She increased players’ salaries and oversaw a season where ratings for the W.N.B.A.‘s finals went up 15 percent. This, by the way, happened while the men’s finals saw a 49 percent drop in viewership. And yet, in terms of hard numbers, many more people are still watching the men, and there’s more money for them, too. This isn’t just a W.N.B.A. problem — it’s a sports problem at every level. Female athletes everywhere are challenging that status quo, whether it’s the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team pressing for equal pay, or a college basketball player named Sedona Prince creating a viral TikTok pointing out how unequal the N.C.A.A.‘s weight rooms were. So I wanted Engelbert’s take on the state of women’s sports, starting with what she thought of the weight room disparity.

cathy engelbert

Yeah, so it’s not about counting the weights in a weight room. It’s about the whole ecosystem around sports and women’s sports. So in sports, what I’ve learned, we’re a microcosm of the broader society, right? Whether it’s a patch on a uniform, a placement on the court or a field, or franchise value, it all comes down to, how is that being valued? And it’s being valued based on what I believe are decades-old quantitative metrics that apply to the men’s game and then a discount’s provided — is basically chopped off for the women’s game. So the men’s game has been around a lot longer than ours. The N.F.L. just passed 100 years. M.L.B. is over 100 years. N.H.L., over 100 years. The N.B.A. is reaching 75 years this next season after this. So we’re reaching our 25th year. So I would say, 40 years into those other leagues, even 25 years, we’re probably ahead as far as how we’re evolving the league, the players, the marketing, the exposure, but we still have an enormous amount of work to do.

kara swisher

And so there’s talk about equality in women’s sports, which dates back decades or generations. Is equality the goal, or is just making more money? I would assume both at the same time because money tends to speak, right?

cathy engelbert

Yeah, I think it’s actually equity is the goal, not necessarily equality. And it’s essentially to get the value based on how fans are engaging, how they’re watching the league, how many, how you bring them in. We skew younger, we skew more diverse, we skew more female. And that should be — to a company who’s trying to sell to their customer base, that should be pretty attractive. And it should be valued in the algorithm. So 80 percent of all consumer purchasing decisions, household decisions, are made or influenced by a woman.

kara swisher

Right. O.K., so one of the quickest ways to assess equity in this conversation is about pay. N.B.A. players make a ton more money than your athletes. Top players in your league can earn $500,000 annually. And that’s way more than they used to get. But it’s still less than the minimum salary, over $800,000 for N.B.A. players. And top players in the N.B.A. obviously earn 20- to 40-plus million dollars. And Mark Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks, has argued that this pay gap is because of the difference in revenue.

cathy engelbert

Yes, yeah. So I mean, the goal is not to compare ourselves to big men’s sports leagues that have been around for 50 to 80 years more than we have. The goal is to have a very competitive collective bargaining agreement, where it’s not just — when you sit down and talk to the W.N.B.A. players, it’s not just about pay. Because they’re moms. Because they’re average 25-, 26-years-old and want to start a family someday. So because they want better travel. They want two-bedroom apartments when they’re in season. So we put together a package that was very progressive around family planning benefits, mother benefits, fertility treatments, as you mentioned, a dramatic increase in cash compensation. We also promised that they’d have the ability to earn more compensation. And one of the ways they’re going to do that is through special competitions this year. And just in the Commissioner Cup final, the winning team will be able to earn in excess of $30,000 per player.

kara swisher

Right.

cathy engelbert

So we’ve got to build assets so that we can get sponsors to come in, and players can earn more money.

kara swisher

I mean, ultimately, it’s nice to have an apartment, but people say things like that to me. I’m like, just give me the money. I’ll spend it any way I like. It’s like, give me the equal money, and that’s fine. But in the N.B.A., about 50 percent of the league’s revenues go towards men’s salaries. In the W.N.B.A., it’s closer to 20 percent. The women’s players fought for 50 percent in this new agreement and got it, sort of. That split will apply this year if the league meets certain considerations, correct?

cathy engelbert

Yeah, I think you have a little apples and oranges in the comparison.

kara swisher

All right, go ahead. Explain it.

cathy engelbert

But as you look at the revenue model for our league, the media revenue — so the players will participate in 50 percent of a revenue share. But we’re in a growth mode right now. And I think three to four years down the road and as we go into the next collective bargaining negotiation, we’ll be in a much better place to have apples and apples when you compare to the provisions in the agreement. But I think our players were very pleased overall with what they negotiated. And we negotiated hard on those points around a revenue share. But I think what they’re really looking for is to participate in helping market the league, helping tell their stories. So then when you’re negotiating your next deal, whether it’s a media deal or a corporate sponsorship, you have the eyes on the game, and the value is there.

kara swisher

Low pay and benefits also affect play. In 2018, more than half of the W.N.B.A.‘s athletes played overseas in the winter to supplement their income. Obviously, they could get sick. They could get tired, injured. Do you see this as an issue? And do you want this to be phased out?

cathy engelbert

Well, we need to work with FIBA, which is the international organization governing basketball. And there’s a division in Europe, et cetera. And they run a World Cup. So yeah, we need to work together on them to make sure our schedules don’t overlap. But I’ll tell you, some of our players who don’t get a lot of playing time here in the W.N.B.A., because we’re the best league in the world, probably need to go play overseas. And then some of our star players and — early in their career, they want to get better. They want to be more dominant. And you see that with an athlete like Breanna Stewart. And yes, they make significant money as well overseas. So it’s not always a bad thing. Obviously, people get hurt in sports all the time. And whenever a player of ours gets hurt overseas, they say, oh, that’s because the W.N.B.A. is this broken model where — that’s not — I mean, people get hurt. But we did negotiate in the collective bargaining agreement, as we get into the third or fourth year of this agreement, a, what we call, prioritization element where players will need to be on time to training camp, or they won’t be able to play in the W.N.B.A.

kara swisher

Right. I’d assume you’d want to phrase this out. It’s like a second job, essentially.

cathy engelbert

Yeah, this is definitely something that was really important to the owners because they’re investing a lot in their team. And so we also enhanced offseason opportunities around internships. We should have done it this year, but because of the pandemic — because we couldn’t do anything live. League marketing agreements will put significant dollars at the league-level to a few players to do league marketing agreements. And they’ll have to stay in the U.S. in order to be eligible for that cash compensation. So we’re trying to find a lot of different ways, including we’re partnering with particularly the European leagues on their schedule and how that overlaps sometimes with our schedule.

kara swisher

So you’re working on this revenue model to help pay for this. So tell me — break apart the model a little bit. Explain where you look at sponsorships versus other opportunities for individuals, where they could sign deals and speeches and whatever else they make from it. And are you taking any cues from the N.B.A.? Talk a little bit about the model, how you look at it.

cathy engelbert

Well, again, from the N.B.A., we use the strength of their brand because we share that brand. And then it’s about looking for companies who want to support young, diverse women because they believe that they’re the next generation of leaders. Just another thing from a business perspective, every time I meet with a potential sponsor or partner, I say, what are your growth objectives? And usually, when they tell me, I can find some way the W.N.B.A. — in partnering with us — can help. And especially with the growing digital native generation becoming consumers — like one of our strategies is, what are some other assets? This Commissioner’s Cup is an asset. Is their e-sports for women? Because that’s underinvested in. What are the other adjacencies that we can invest in around innovation? Wearables, and how can that be integrated into the broadcast to make the game more interesting to a viewer, especially a digital native viewer? So —

kara swisher

So you’ve also launched Changemakers Program at the W.N.B.A. with Deloitte, Nike, AT&T, most recently, Google, signing on as partners. These partnerships are about supporting marketing and streaming efforts. Can you talk a little bit about the strategy to do that? Because you’ve got to get this in people’s faces, presumably, using the money from these massive corporations.

cathy engelbert

Absolutely, so it’s so great that a company like Google stepped up to support the W.N.B.A. And if you type W.N.B.A. in your Google browser, you’ve got a confetti of our brand, our orange logo woman. So we need to continue to innovate within these partnerships, because we do need those to support everything we negotiated on behalf of the owners as part of collective bargaining. And we need more partners, bigger partners, and those partners that really share the values of these W.N.B.A. players and really want to activate in a different way than maybe on the men’s side with their partnerships.

kara swisher

Sure, but now streaming — another thing is streaming in this business model, you mentioned is a big part of the revenue, especially going forward. Last spring, a journalist tracked women’s sports coverage by ESPN and found that there was no programming on its main station. And its three primary networks, ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNews, only aired 9-and-a-half hours of women’s sports programming. In comparison, the networks devoted 72 hours to cornhole, a game where you throw beanbags at holes in plywood, which is a very riveting game — I get that. But what do you think is the reason why networks aren’t covering women’s sports?

cathy engelbert

Well, it’s a bit of a circular argument. A lot of times, when you’re talking to a media company, they’re like — not that they don’t want to cover us and other women’s sports. It’s like, they don’t want to pay what we think the real value is to do it because they’re saying, well, you don’t have enough viewers. Well, but if we don’t get more coverage and exposure, you’re not going to get more viewers. And therefore, it’s this circular argument that you never get out of. So I think what we’re doing already with signing Amazon Prime, having signed Facebook and Twitter, obviously ESPN, longtime partner — and we are on ESPN major network, both for our draft — So I think the tide is turning on this exposure topic. Again, as we think about how young fans and digital natives consume content and how much that’s changed, my kids will sit in front of the T.V., and they’ll be second-screening something else. And maybe there’s other opportunities there. So I think streaming and reliance on digital platforms will become more important than ever. It also gives you a lot of data behind how the fan’s engaging, how to target them. I know we’ve got some data around how the average W.N.B.A. fan on social media is likely to be engaging in socially conscious-type content, in addition to the W.N.B.A.. So if a partner wants that kind of customer, we’re the league. So one point, Kara, too is, individual women’s sports actually do pretty well. They’ve got some pay parity, especially at the tennis level. They’ve got superstars, household names like Serena Williams. So we’ve got to take that model and adjust it into the team environment, where we have 144 players, not one, that we’re marketing. And we want to market and build household names. We want to market and build rivalries.

kara swisher

Right, right. Well, I think you have no choice. I think broadcast networks just do what they want. In terms of ratings, the W.N.B.A. finals averaged 440,000 viewers for three games. And the N.B.A. Finals, which lasts six games, averaged 7.5 million. It’s a delta, but it’s also, to me, online media is the only way to go.

cathy engelbert

Well, and that’s why you have to build — this year, we’ll have 150 — for the first time in our history — 150 national broadcasts through traditional and streaming. But when you look at, again, the nature of the fan — if you build household names, just a few, and build a couple big rivalries, that’s where you’re going to get the 7 million fans watching. And the N.C.A.A. women’s game has proven that, when that UConn-Baylor game was on. So you have to have compelling players and compelling rivalry. And that’s what we’re trying to build. So that will take some time, Kara. But when I came in the league, I — big studier of history. And 40 years into the N.B.A., they were on tape delay, the N.B.A. Finals. And they had this huge rivalry that came out of college in the Midwest. And it was Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. And then a few years later, you had Kobe and Shaq. And now you have Steph and LeBron and K.D. and all the other greats. So there is some — where I would study the history.

kara swisher

Do you have one that you are watching?

cathy engelbert

Well, right now, it’s definitely Vegas and Seattle, who were the two best teams last year. And they both happened to be in the Western Conference. Connecticut’s going to be great this year. Chicago, Candace Parker, longtime player for the Sparks. She now will be on Chicago. So I think you’ll see a little Chicago-Los Angeles with Nneka Ogwumike, who’s the president of the Players Association. That’s an emerging rivalry. So there’s so many emerging ones. And you don’t need 10 of them. You just need a few of them and a few household names.

kara swisher

Yeah, you do. So one thing my son mentioned — and I think he’s correct about it — is, we’re conditioned to expect certain things because of the men’s sports. In basketball, for example, there’s dunking, which is exciting. Sue Bird has talked about it. She said, “A little boy or a little girl goes to an N.B.A. game. They want to see the crazy windmill dunk and be wowed because that’s been rammed down our throat or conditioned to think that’s the only thing that’s great.” And a lot of women’s players do dunk. Not that many, but they do. But it’s not quite the same twisty windmill dunky thing that you see the men doing. Do you have to do that? Do you have to mimic that? Or do you think there’s other ways?

cathy engelbert

I do not think so. I think — obviously, the men’s game is played above the rim at both the college and the pro level. The women’s game is not played above the rim. Even though we have some fabulous athletes who do dunk. And I had this colleague from where I used to work, who came to me and said — for his daughter and son, he said, “The first game I want them to be exposed to is a W.N.B.A. game, not an N.B.A. game.” Because he wanted them to see the pure form of the sport, the pure running of the pick-and-roll, the pure running of how to get positioned off of a pick for a three-point shot like Diana Taurasi and Sabrina Ionescu did. They both hit game winners with less than a second or so on the clock on Friday night in our opening night. So can’t ask for a better script there. But I have no concerns about changing the game. As I said, this foundation on which the game sits, including the game and the brand, are very strong. [MUSIC PLAYING]

kara swisher

We’ll be back in a minute. If you like this interview and want to hear others, follow us on your favorite podcast app. You’ll be able to catch up on “Sway” episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with Knicks super fan, Spike Lee, and you’ll get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Cathy Englebert after the break.

So stepping back, you came in the middle of a pandemic from Deloitte, essentially. So talk about your background a little bit. What was your first move when you got here?

cathy engelbert

Yeah, so I came in, and my first thing to do was to assess the economics of the league. And what’s wrong, what’s not? I did a 12-city tour, so I joined —

kara swisher

Pre-pandemic. Pre-pandemic, right?

cathy engelbert

Pre-pandemic, yes. Because I came in a little bit halfway through the 2019 season, which actually was really helpful because then we got to October, and we got into the guts of the collective bargaining. So I needed to go out to meet the entire system, the arena workers, the players. I mean, I didn’t know anybody coming into this role. The coaches, the general managers, the team presidents, the owners, the media, the fans — the fans were my favorite part — the officials. And so really assessed at that point what should our strategy be, how do we transform, how do we do this in a way that protects the integrity of the game and advances the brand? Because my assessment was, the foundation of the game and the brand are extremely strong. But the ecosystem and the organization and the teams, we need a whole transformation around that. So I came up with three pillars. One was, we’re going to be a very player-first league. The second one is, we’re going to look at stakeholder success. And those stakeholders range from players to fans to the owners. And then the third one was the fan experience, fan engagement. And that’s what we’re doing. And if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I think we’d be a little further along. But having to put on a season in a bubble last year was not easy. Probably in my 35 years in business, and almost two of them in sports, the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

kara swisher

Yeah, so how much did it set you back, the pandemic?

cathy engelbert

Yeah, the good news is, I actually don’t think in the end — like, had we not had a season, with our size and scale, it would have been existential and would have set us back enormously. And I’m not sure whether it would have been recoverable in five years or 10 years. But it would have been long-term. I think, because we had a season, a 22-game season. So reduced, but we had it — And so I’m a huge believer in that a crisis tends to amplify your weaknesses, but is absolutely the time to actually fix things and innovate. And we innovated through a second-screen experience, where we had 140 million fans tap on our Tap to Cheer app digitally. And then you can grab data from there. You can draw in new fans.

kara swisher

When will sports be, though, normal again? I think going, attending. How do you look at that?

cathy engelbert

Well, even — I’m in the New York area. Even New York came out and said for fully vaccinated fans, you can go to full capacity in a place like Madison Square Garden or the Barclays Center. So we have to take a break during the Olympics this year. We’re really hoping coming off the Olympic breaks, we’ll get more into substantial capacity. I’m not sure if it’ll be full-full, but really good sign going into the N.B.A. playoffs, for instance, that some of these arenas now, states will start allowing full capacity. And when a shot is made, to hear that roar, it’s really important, I think, for the future of the game.

kara swisher

Did I hear that you think the Olympics will go ahead?

cathy engelbert

So far, the Olympics are going ahead. You hear different things about spikes in Covid in Japan. But so far, it appears that it’ll go forward. I mean, it’s not that far away. And again, our players are preparing ultimately to head to Tokyo when we take our break after our All-Star game this year.

kara swisher

O.K., let’s talk about the social justice issues because I think that got a lot of attention. The W.N.B.A.‘s last season was dedicated to social justice and the Say Her Name campaign, which advocates for Black women and girls who are victims of police brutality. As a league, why has the W.N.B.A. been so much more politically engaged than other leagues? Now individual players in the N.B.A. certainly are. LeBron James comes to mind. Is this a business decision for you? Do you think about it that way?

cathy engelbert

Yeah, I think about it, again, as part of our main pillar about a player-first league. And when you are leading a league of 80 percent women of color and the racial justice crisis hits in the form of the George Floyd murder — But I think these players — go back and look at their history. This is not something they just started last summer. And I think they’ve done such important work in the community, whether it’s around racial inequality or advocacy for L.G.B.T.Q.+ or criminal justice reform, like Maya Moore and Natasha Cloud on gun issues. So I’m just so impressed with these players. So that’s why I say, as the commissioner of this league, my responsibility, again, is to let the players lead and we’ll amplify. And that’s what we’ve done.

kara swisher

So but, do you think it’s a business asset? You were talking about assets.

cathy engelbert

I do. I definitely do. Because as I was wrapping up my term at Deloitte, when I started that term, I didn’t spend any time on employee activism. By the end, I was spending significant time every week on employee activism. So as a former C.E.O. who was dealing with these issues, I think brands are now proud to partner with the W.N.B.A. because they know what these players stand for.

kara swisher

They certainly have stepped forward a lot. The Atlanta Dream arguably helped flip the Senate when they wore the shirts that said “Vote Warnock” in defiance of Kelly Loeffler. She was the co-owner of the team at the time. And she’s written to you to criticize the league’s statements on Black Lives Matters. Can you talk a bit about the decision making that happened when it came to making those statements, talking to the players?

cathy engelbert

Yeah, I’ll say I was sitting down in quarantine in Bradenton, Florida. And when the letter came in and the associated media with it, again, it was — O.K., I understand this is politics. I want to go talk to the players about it. Because, of course, their first reaction was, let’s campaign against and do all this stuff. And we just talked it through. And they listened to me. And I listened to them. I gave them my best advice about how to strategize. They then took that back, I think led by Sue Bird —

kara swisher

What was your advice?

cathy engelbert

My advice was, find elected leaders who share your values and get advice from strategists because you’re not the expert at this. And you need to make sure, for your own brands, that you are doing the right thing for you. I mean, I was pretty sure from a league perspective, we were going to continue to support what the players wanted to support, as a player-led league. But I did counsel them. And I think Sue and others, Elizabeth Williams of the Dream, stepped up to think through it — by the way, while playing at the highest level competitively.

kara swisher

You said the league would not ask Loeffler to give up her ownership. Why not?

cathy engelbert

Yeah, again, we evaluate all the time our owners, what they say publicly. And we are a league that stands for inclusivity. We are a league that stands for tolerance. And if there was a point at time where I evaluated things that she was saying that would be something I would take to the rest of the owners about whether she should be forced out, sure, I would have done it. But I wasn’t seeing that. I was seeing a political campaign, political stances. And again, that’s why we advised the players that this isn’t something — if you’re expecting us to take an owner out, right now, based on the body of information I had at the time, there was not a basis to do that. And I think our ownership group agreed with that.

kara swisher

O.K. Do you think you’d make a different calculus on social justice if you oversaw a larger league? The W.N.B.A., as you said, has 12 teams, 144 players. The N.B.A. has 30 teams and over 500 players. Does that make a difference?

cathy engelbert

No, I think it would be, again, if we had 500 players or 144, I think you actually have to build relationships with players and owners and calculate and kind of see beyond. I told the players, you’re playing checkers, you need to play chess, right? You need to be looking to the future as to what your brand you want to be and what you’re going to do post your playing life. Don’t just think about today and the impact you can have. You need to have a longer term impact on whatever you decide to do here. So there was a little business tie-in. We got to take the economics of this league to the next level. We’re in a very politically divisive time in our country. But I do think having a very socially conscious community-minded player set, whether it was 140 or four or 500. And obviously, they don’t all share the exact same views —

kara swisher

Have you had to deal with dissent from players who want to play basketball and don’t want to be involved in social justice or players who have different political views?

cathy engelbert

Players do have different views on, O.K., this is my paycheck, and I want to keep playing. And I don’t want to shut down this league. And so — absolutely, you have to listen to the different — you have to listen to the majority, but you also have to listen to the vocal minority. The players actually have an executive committee at the Players’ Association, who we met with every week leading into the tip of the season because so much was going on. It was so emotional. They had a huge burden. I mean, Nneka Ogwumike, what a leader. She just stepped up. And I mean, if I was any company in this country, I would hire Nneka to work for me when she’s done her playing career. Because she showed an enormous amount of leadership, but took an enormous burden on to make sure that she was listening to all aspects of how players were feeling. And if you were a Black player versus a white player, you might have been feeling very differently. We had players who were moms to sons. And I’ll never forget — one of the players came to me the night of the Jacob Blake situation and said, “Cathy, in 10 years, this could be my son.” And she was extremely emotional. So listening and absorbing all of that was important.

kara swisher

Mm-hmm. So in addition to racial justice, the league has also made a strong statement supporting L.G.B.T.Q. rights, like supporting trans and non-binary players — Layshia Clarendon, when they received top surgery earlier this year. In contrast, the National Women’s Soccer League stayed mum after Canadian player Quinn came out last year as trans. What prompted your decision to speak out?

cathy engelbert

Yeah, well, first, as I think one of the most inclusive league in sports, what was important to me is that Layshia felt supported. So we’re going to continue to speak out on those type of issues and support trans athletes and support Layshia and others as it relates to non-gender binary and all the things that have emerged — again, in society, where once politics gets involved, it plays well in the media. But ultimately, people ask me all the time questions that I go, oh, we’re 100 percent supportive of our athletes.

kara swisher

This is — over six anti-trans sports bans, has moved into sports really heavily, passed by state legislatures so far this year. And nearly 70 more proposed bills related to sports are on the deck because their priorities are not quite in the right place. What do you think of this wave?

cathy engelbert

Right, so we’re fortunate because we’re a team sport. And so we can be inclusive, and anyone can play in our league. I can imagine for individual sports, like track and field and other sports like that, it gets a little more complicated. So — and again, I think a lot of legislation is impacting youth sports, not professional sports. And so, obviously, our players are working on their activism at that level, at the state legislation level. And so certainly, we weigh in. And I’m on the phone all the time with people about these issues. And ultimately, we want the message to be, we’re the most inclusive league in sports.

kara swisher

So Renee — speaking of people being able to be in charge of their own destiny, which is what that is all about — not all about, but it’s partially about — Renee Montgomery, the former player for the Atlanta Dream, is part of the group that ended up buying the Dream from Kelly Loeffler. Would you like to see more former players become owners? LeBron James has also said back in January he might be interested. How do you look at that, that kind of ownership structure, going forward?

cathy engelbert

Yes, absolutely. Renee is going to set the path to more former N.B.A. players being owners. Now the issue is, whether you’re an N.B.A. player or W.N.B.A., if you’re a current player, you cannot own a piece of the team. But once you retire, you can, which is why Renee retired, and she became eligible to become a part-owner in the Atlanta Dream. So I just love that that happened and that that’s going to set the blueprint for other W.N.B.A. former players to be owners.

kara swisher

So now you noted the possibility of expansion in the next year or so. The N.B.A., again, has three times as many players. Your virtual draft got attention this year by the number of top contenders who were passed by in the first round. So what’s the timeline and the size of the expansion you’re thinking about?

cathy engelbert

Yeah, the depth and breadth in this league is actually really getting impressive. The globalization of our player group — our number two pick was from Finland this year, Awak Kuier. And so there’s so much potential here. But I am not a, run to expand then fix the economics of the league. We’ve got to do a little more transformation of the economics of the league coming off this pandemic. And then we’re absolutely going to be talking about expansion and — because the talent is definitely there. And this is one you asked me earlier about where the pandemic was a disadvantage. This was one where it was a disadvantage. Had we been able to be growing our fan base and growing the economics at the team-level in addition to the league-level, we’d be in a better position more short-term for expansion. But we’re definitely going to start thinking about that after we get through this season.

kara swisher

How many? Where?

cathy engelbert

The where, I get a lot of requests for different cities. It’ll certainly be something — we’re doing some data gathering and analytics now on women’s basketball and women’s sports in different big cities across America. There were teams in Houston, for instance. There was a team in Detroit, the Bay Area. I mean, I’m a big fan of saying —

kara swisher

Yeah, they’ve got some good teams.

cathy engelbert

Yeah, and if technology is driving so much of your economy and you don’t have a team — if you’re a major professional sports league in the U.S. and you don’t have a team in the tech center of the country, yeah, Bay Area would be pretty interesting. A lot of people say women’s basketball would do great in Portland and Toronto and Philly and Nashville, Knoxville, and Boston. So lots of cities thrown out there.

kara swisher

I vote for San Francisco. Anyway, so is a completely independent W.N.B.A. a possibility? Complete independence from the N.B.A. Is that something you’d like to see?

cathy engelbert

Yeah, I mean, I think Adam, when he hired me, gave me this commissioner title, comes with big responsibility. And it comes with big empowerment to make decisions independently, but recognizing we always share our brand. So there’s some things that totally makes sense to share with the N.B.A. and not be totally independent. And then there’s things where I’ve been empowered to really be independent, like in our sponsorship platform and media deals.

kara swisher

Right, would you like to be completely independent?

cathy engelbert

Yeah, I mean, I have a little bit of a different philosophy. Once we get the stakeholder success pillar in a better place, you could then think about how it would look being independent. But would we bring in outside investors? Would we think about piloting how we could be more independent, how we could be more self-sufficient, how we could break some of the dependency? Sure, but as long as we share the brand and as long as it’s working — and I think right now, for me, it is.

kara swisher

All right, now I know you have to go, but I have one more question. How do I convince my son that he doesn’t need to see the dunk to enjoy women’s — give me the line I say to him. Because literally, he drove me crazy in the car drive on the way down.

cathy engelbert

Well, is he a big basketball fan?

kara swisher

Yes, he is. He’s a player, too.

cathy engelbert

Yeah, if he’s a good player —

kara swisher

Yeah.

cathy engelbert

Has he spent the time to evaluate and watch the pace of our game, the level of our game, the athleticism of these players? I mean, there is no one male or female that, when they come to a game, walks out saying, that wasn’t a great product on the court. So tell him to call me. I will get him —

kara swisher

I will. Can you get a player to dunk on him, though? He’s 6’2’‘, almost 6’3’’ now.

cathy engelbert

All right, we’ll get either Brittney Griner or —

kara swisher

I can’t do it. I tried. I tried, Cathy.

cathy engelbert

Tell him we have players 6’8’’ or taller.

kara swisher

I said “dunkadunk” to him but I’m 5’2’‘, and he’s 6’3’‘, so it was an unequal situation. Anyway, I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

cathy engelbert

Thank you so much.

kara swisher

Bye.

cathy engelbert

Take care. Bye bye.

kara swisher

Bye. [MUSIC PLAYING]

“Sway” is a production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Nayeema Raza, Blakeney Schick, Heba Elorbany, Matt Kwong, and Daphne Chen; edited by Nayeema Raza and Paula Szuchman; with original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Erick Gomez; and fact-checking by Kate Sinclair. Special thanks to Shannon Busta, Kristin Lin, and Liriel Higa. If you’re in a podcast app already, you know how to get your podcasts, so follow this one. If you’re listening on the Times website and want to get each new episode of “Sway” delivered to you with a 5’2’’ dunkadunk — at least I learned something — download any podcast app and search for “Sway” and follow the show. We release every Monday and Thursday. Thanks for listening.

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