WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announces league will expand to 40 games in 2023 season

CHICAGO — Prior to Sunday’s 2022 WNBA All-Star Game, league commissioner Cathy Engelbert addressed the media during her lengthy and wide-ranging press conference. Engelbert touched on a number of topics facing the league in both the present and the future. 

Here’s a look at some of the most important notes: 

Season expanding to 40 games in 2023

This summer, the WNBA expanded the regular season to a record 36 games. That mark will last for just one year as Engelbert announced that in 2023 the regular season will expand again to 40 games. 

“We’re seeing tremendous interest in the game, evidenced by viewership, and everything from draft on to today,” Engelbert said. “Our response to that also is to continue to try to grow, and we want to grow our footprint. Beginning next season, we’re going to play 40 games. … We need to have a more substantial season, so we’ll do that next year.”

The current collective bargaining agreement allows for up to 44 games in a season, and Engelbert would like to get there at some point. However, the amount of games the league is able to play in a given season will depend on the Olympics and FIBA Women’s World Cup. The league is able to expand to 40 games in 2023 because neither event is happening; however, in years with major international tournaments, that may not be possible. 

“On the 40 games, I would love to do that consistently every year,” Engelbert said. “I’d like to go to 44 at some point when we have a good footprint to do that. We’d like to do it, but we’re going to have to make decisions with our owners around the Olympic break. … Again, we have to be respectful of all the National Team commitments, not just of the USA team.”

Expansion by at least 2025

Earlier this year, Engelbert said in an interview with The Athletic that she wanted to add up to two teams by the 2024 season. While that is still her goal, she walked back those comments a bit on Sunday by stating it may not happen until 2025. 

“We’re working hard on data analysis,” Engelbert said. “We have about 100 cities through a lens of psychographics, demographics, arena, NCAA fandom, current WNBA fandom, merch sales, viewership. … I’m hoping that it’ll be a couple teams by no later than ’25, but I’d love it in ’24, but probably looking out to that kind of timeline, and again, lots of cities interested. That’s the good news, and now we have to find the right ownership groups with the right commitment and financial wherewithal to really be committed to standing up a WNBA team in their city.”

Engelbert acknowledged that Philadelphia was one of the cities under consideration, but declined to go into further details about which teams are on the list. She was also asked about whether the league would take local politics — in particular, gender and reproductive rights after the recent Roe v. Wade decision — into account when making a decision about where to expand. 

“Obviously, we continue to advocate for gender and health equity, especially in communities of color and access and reproductive healthcare,” Engelbert said. “Really important. You saw our strong statements we put out, both on the leak of the opinion and the final issuance of it, so that’s an important aspect of that.

“When we do our analysis of those hundred cities and run it through our psychographics and demographics, that comes through as a very important element as to how diverse the city is, what the support is around the city and state. That’s why the players were so smart this year is they picked their Social Justice Council pillar of voting rights, and more importantly to me, civic engagement, because we need to be more civically engaged, not just at the federal level but at the local and state level of who our elected leaders are in the states in which we play and certainly in every state.”

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