In the spring of 2023, we reported from the US that women’s sports were on the rise.  Just one year later, that incredible momentum not only shows no signs of stopping – similar to the growth we have reported in the UK.  From the record-shattering viewership of  the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, to increasing opportunities for team sponsorships and greater prime-time media coverage, women’s sports have caught the attention of brands, companies, and fans around the world it’s climbing to new heights.

New Branding Deals

With worldwide attention driving viewership across more women’s sports—not just in basketball but also soccer, tennis, and lacrosse—brands are capitalizing on the increased interest. 

  • In May 2023, the Women’s National Basketball Association (“WNBA”) announced CarMax as a new WNBA Changemaker.  “WNBA Changemakers are a collective of purpose-driven companies that harness their power to elevate women in sports and support the league’s mission around advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.”  As a WNBA Changemaker, CarMax will help build the brand of WNBA athletes and promote the WNBA through annual player media sessions and new social media context series.
  • In June 2023, the WBNA announced an additional multi-year exclusive partnership with Discount Tire, naming it the Official Tire Retailer of the NBA and its in-house brand, Continental Tire, the Official Tire of the WNBA.  “As part of the partnership, Discount Tire and Continental Tire will receive media exposure across a variety of platforms including through TV visual signage, and on court virtual signage during WNBA national broadcasts, as well as across the league’s official social and digital sites.  The WNBA and its newest partners will also collaborate on future promotional efforts….”
  • In July 2023, the WBNA announced a multi-year partnership with Mielle, making the leading black-founded and woman-led beauty brand an Official Marketing Partner and the Official Textured Hair Care Partner of the league
  • In October 2023, the WBNA and SKIMS announced a multi-year partnership making SKIMS the official underwear partner of the WNBA.  The timing of the partnership for the brand proved ideal on the heels of the WNBA’s record-breaking season of viewership, attendance, and digital engagement.  In fact, the 2023 AT&T WNBA All-Star game and WNBA Live presented by U.S. Bank saw a 111% increase in WNBA partners engagement and a 70% percent jump in WNBA merchandise sales around the same timeframe.

According to the WNBA’s news release covering SKIMS deal, SKIMS continued to capitalize on the interest and viewership into 2024.  “The WNBA and SKIMS will work together on unveiling WNBA focused activations as the league approaches its 2024 season, specifically at the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game, the midseason showcase in Phoenix, Arizona, as SKIMS is named an associate partner.  The two-day fan festival which celebrates the intersection of sports, fashion, music, and culture will return for the third consecutive year.”

New WNBA Teams, New Interest, More Creative Events

In 2022 WNBA Commission Cathy Engelbert hoped to identify cities for WNBA expansion efforts by the end of 2024.  That work came to fruition when the Golden State Warriors were awarded a WNBA expansion team in October 2023.  The expansion is the first for the WNBA since the Atlanta Dream in 2008.

The Warriors also became the sixth NBA franchise to have a WNBA team, joining the Indiana Pacers (Indiana Fever), Minnesota Timberwolves (Minnesota Lynx), Brooklyn Nets (New York Liberty,) Phoenix Suns (Phoenix Mercury), and Washington Wizards (Washington Mystics).  The team will begin play in the 2025 season.

The 2024 NBA All-Star weekend also created a unique cross-over event with a battle of the genders in “Stephen vs. Sabrina” 3-point challenge—a one-on-one matchup between the Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry and the New York Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu.  Saturday night ratings for All-Star Weekend peaked during the challenge with 5.4 million viewers watching.

Record Breaking Viewership and Attendance Continues

In 2024, the games during the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball tournament sold six times as many tickets for its Final Four games as the Men’s Final Four games.  A total of 292,456 fans attended the first and second round games, an increase of more than 60,000 over 2023 attendance figures.  Even attendance at the opening round games increased, pushing the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship total attendance over the 9.2 million mark over the 41-years of the championship game.

In 2023, the WNBA experienced its most-watched season in 21 years, adding to the record-breaking year of 46.7 million people tuning in to women’s sports generally.  The New York Liberty hosted the largest crowd in WNBA history with 17,143 witnessing Game 3 of the WNBA Finals against the Las Vegas Aces at the Barclays Center. The Las Vegas Aces eventually won the 2023 WNBA Championship, becoming the first WNBA franchise in more than 20 years to repeat as champions. 

The 2024 WNBA season has already shattered records with the Indiana Fever versus the Connecticut Sun May 14, 2024 game averaging 2.12 million viewers, making it the most watched WNBA game since 2001.

Impressive Leadership

One thing that must be mentioned in reviewing the strides women’s sports has made in such a short time: the iconic coaches.  While few women appear in sports team leadership—which includes upper management, coaches, and owners—this women’s basketball season brought truly impressive leadership talent.

For example, South Carolina’s Women’s Basketball Head Coach Dawn Staley became the first Black coach to win three career NCAA titles, and only the fifth coach to win at least three NCAA Championships.  She joins University of Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma (11), University of Tennessee’s Pat Summitt (8), Louisiana State University’s Kim Mulkey (4) and Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer (3). Coach Staley also entered the undefeated season coaches club with Auriemma, Summitt, Mulkey and former University of Texas at Austin coach Jody Conradt. 

To spotlight and support more women coaches, the Washington Spirit—an WNBA franchise—announced its “inaugural Coaching Mentorship program to help elevate and support female coaches in its region, the first program of its kind to create access for the next generation of female coaches.”  The program joins WeCoach, the NCAA’s Development Academy that began in 2003, which focuses on developing and mentoring women coaches across all sports.

What’s Next and Brand Takeaways

With these ground-breaking and rapid developments over just the past year in women’s sports, companies should continue to seriously consider investing in branding possibilities and partnerships with women– which includes individual athletes, teams, leagues, events, and organizations.  The 2024 Olympics will offer yet another opportunity for companies to leverage the world’s attention on women’s sports.  Proactively engaging in house as well as outside counsel to audit, review, or assist with those efforts can be a wise step in maximizing opportunities around women’s sports.  One thing is for sure: the world will be watching.   

About the Squire Patton Boggs Women’s Sport Group

We are committed to supporting and facilitating the development of women’s sport globally to ensure that its full potential is realized, and we believe that the sporting and commercial opportunities are exponential as women’s sport becomes more popular and visible worldwide.

Our dedicated women’s sport group comprises leading lawyers across multiple disciplines and jurisdictions, with unrivalled industry knowledge, connections and experience. We are approachable and proactive, and passionate about the growth and influence of women’s sport, advising our clients across the full spectrum of legal services, including commercial, regulatory and contentious matters impacting the fast-growing women’s sport industry.

Our market-leading team of sports lawyers has a real understanding of the issues that matter and how to make an impact. We are proud to be at the forefront of these critical developments and to support our clients in achieving their aims and aspirations.