WNBA to capitalize on March Madness hype with new marketing strategy
The GIST: Women’s basketball is the moment. At Monday’s WNBA Draft, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the league plans to capitalize on the March Madness hype by increasing marketing spend and promoting incoming collegiate stars, several of whom will go pro after becoming household names.
The strategy: Engelbert noted the importance of the name, image and likeness (NIL) era, saying these deals “have been a positive for players coming into our league if they have national brands like Gatorade and Nike. They're our partners, too. They can come in with those NIL deals and then they can get activated even more broadly.”
- Younger players’ impressive social media followings will also help the WNBA expand its digital footprint, per Engelbert: “All of that is exactly what our strategy is all about … transforming the digital part, the fandom, bringing the fan experience, bringing the fan closer to players.”
- She wasn’t concerned about who didn’t declare for the draft, a major talking point before the event, noting that top college players will inevitably seek WNBA action.
The expansion: While the WNBA can help rising stars with branding, it won’t immediately help with roster spots. Engelbert will travel to potential expansion markets “in the coming months” but still hasn’t set a timeline to add new franchises. She recently visited Portland and has Toronto on the itinerary for next month’s preseason game.
- The league is frequently criticized for its small roster size, as its 12 teams only have 12 spots each, limiting the number of pro opportunities for a large pool of prospective talent. Untapped potential?
The roadblock: Even with increased marketing efforts, the WNBA just doesn’t have the same reach as college sports. Expansion is a long-term solution, but Engelbert recognized that star student-athletes can help the league bridge the gap by potentially transferring the “loyalty you see at the college level” to the pro league.
Zooming out: This new marketing strategy is in sync with the WNBA’s push to build its own brand alongside its players. The rise of college women’s hoops also makes the league a testing ground for NIL’s impact on pro sports, and a case study on if college and the pros can assist each other on the marketing court. It’s called teamwork.