WNBA goes to more compact format for Commissioner’s Cup

Michael Voepel, ESPN.comDec 18, 2023, 02:59 PM ET

CloseMichael Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

The WNBA, in an effort to better suit its schedule and to increase fan engagement, is moving to a shorter, more compact format for its in-season Commissioner’s Cup competition in 2024, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said Monday.

The event is moving to a five-game format — down from 10 games — where each team plays the other teams in its conference once. All Cup games will be played in a two-week period from June 1-13.

That will be followed by the Cup final on June 25 between the top two teams in the standings, hosted by the team with the best record in Cup play.

Engelbert told ESPN that if the league doesn’t add a 14th team for the 2025 season, the WNBA is prepared to make the Cup format work with 13 teams. The league will continue to have 12 teams in 2024, but an expansion franchise in the San Francisco Bay Area will be added in 2025.

The league hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a 14th franchise for 2025, but Engelbert said it would need to be nailed down soon to be ready by then.

“The nice thing about the position we’re in, having announced the Bay Area, we have a lot of interest from potential investor and ownership groups,” Engelbert said. “You probably need 18 months to two years to get a team going. I’m not ruling out a second team for 2025. So it may be 13 for 2025, but I think pretty quickly in 2026 and 2027, we have some really good options.”

All Cup games — except the final — will be a part of the team’s 40-game schedule. The previous format consisted of 10 games per team — the first home game and first road game each team played against its five conference rivals.

Engelbert said the league felt that format — spread out over a much longer period — didn’t engage players and fans as much as the compacted format should. The fact that 2024 is an Olympic year — the league will break from July 18-Aug. 14 for the Paris Summer Games — also added incentive to change the Cup format.

“I think the cadence of the season will make a lot more sense to fans,” Engelbert said.

The teams in the final compete for a $500,000 prize pool. The Commissioner’s Cup also will continue to feature a platform through which the league makes charitable contributions to nonprofit organizations aligned to the players’ social justice work.

The Seattle Storm won the inaugural Cup in 2021, followed by the Las Vegas Aces (2022) and New York Liberty (2023).

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