WNBA to receive $2.2 billion in new TV rights deals

One of the biggest influences on the WNBA’s future appears close to being resolved: The framework for its new media rights deals is already in place. The league is set to rake in roughly $2.2 billion over 11 years as part of the NBA’s recently completed deals with Disney, NBC and Amazon, a person with knowledge of the figures confirmed to The Washington Post on Wednesday. The Athletic was first to report the terms.

The league’s current broadcast rights deals were set to expire after the 2025 season, and the NBA, which owns about 60 percent of the WNBA, negotiated the new deals, which are not yet official. The WNBA’s current broadcast rights were valued at about $60 million per year, and the new structure would be in the $200 million annual range. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said this spring that she expected to at least double the league’s annual rights revenue as interest has grown, and these terms would triple that.

“‘If you build it, they will come’ has come out now that everyone’s talking about the WNBA,” Engelbert said at the time. “One thing we wanted was an active free agency system, and we got that, right? Last year, there was big free agent movement, and that creates excitement and it creates household names. It creates rivalries. It created superteams. And that’s what you want in a league because that’s what makes people watch, that’s what drives value, whether it’s your media rights, your corporate partnerships or the valuation of your franchises.”

The revenue surge will significantly impact the league’s finances at a time when interest in the league and women’s sports in general has continued to grow. WNBA players are expected to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement after this year, which would end that deal after the 2025 season and allow the league and its players to negotiate a new deal that details everything from salary caps to benefits and other financial details. Nearly every player in the league not on a rookie contract is signing a short-term deal in anticipation of a new, increased salary structure. The league is also adding two expansion teams over the next two years.

The NBA’s broadcast rights deals are reportedly worth an estimated $76 billion over 11 years, and some have criticized the deal in which the WNBA negotiated its rights in conjunction with the NBA. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Engelbert have opposed that idea.

“It’s a huge advantage for us to go to market with the NBA,” Engelbert said this spring. “Especially with streaming services that rely on a 12-month subscription model. If we’re only there for 4 1/2 months … what’s the appeal? But we and the NBA are perhaps the only sports properties that can offer 330 days of live programming, almost year-round. That’s hugely valuable for a subscription platform.”

Terri Jackson, executive director of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, still had questions about the reported structure of the deal.

“We have wondered for months how the NBA would value the WNBA in its broadcast rights deal,” Jackson said in a statement Wednesday. “With a $75 billion deal on the table, the league is in control of its own destiny. More precisely, the NBA controls the destiny of the WNBA. We look forward to learning how the NBA arrived at a $200 million (annual) valuation, whether the initial reports are accurate or even close. Neither the NBA nor the WNBA can deny that over the past few years we have seen unprecedented growth across all metrics, players continue to demonstrate their commitment to building the brand, and fans continue to show up. There is no excuse to undervalue the WNBA again.”

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