December 8, 2022 

These 10 players with WNBA marketing deals are already paying dividends

Engelbert: 'Now we can start to blow this out'

The degree to which WNBA Player Marketing Agreements — PMAs in the shorthand — are already paying dividends is clear in the impact they are having on local communities.

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But in ways that matter for the future of the league, the 10 players on PMAs — a list confirmed by multiple sources familiar with the list to The Next to be Diamond DeShields, Dearica Hamby, Napheesa Collier, DiDi Richards, Arike Ogunbowale, Kahleah Copper, Ariel Atkins, Jasmine Thomas, Kelsey Mitchell and Izzy Harrison — can also chart a course forward to an economic future that doesn’t need to include playing overseas, according to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

“So I think we’ll have 10-plus players under player marketing agreements this offseason,” Engelbert said in a media zoom on Thursday. “We had three last year. Again, coming into COVID and the Olympic year last year, we couldn’t do much more than that. But now we can start to blow this out and really get players under these agreements.”

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The players run the gamut from some of the league’s biggest stars to others still on rookie-scale contracts. The amount of money that can be made on those deals is significant — running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars — but also often pales in comparison to other potential off-court offers available to the WNBA’s biggest superstars for what are, in many cases, one-off opportunities, several people familiar with the economics of those opportunities told The Next.

While that led in some instances to a disconnect between the WNBA’s biggest stars and the PMAs, it did not in every case — notably, people like Ogunbowale, Copper and Mitchell. Moreover, this isn’t an inherently bad thing for the league, but quite the contrary — it is simply another pathway toward keeping its U.S. players, as much as possible, at home and in the public eye, in the same way team marketing agreements have under the new CBA as well.

“Already, one of the players from last year’s crop, I was talking to one of the heads of one of the media companies, and he’s like, wow, I really see her showing up everywhere,” Engelbert said. “She’s amazing. She’s great. We’d like her to come on. So that’s the purpose is to try to get these players more exposure. So not just we pay them to stay here in the U.S., but also that they get to build their brands and they get to connect with, whether it’s media brands or corporate brands and get endorsements.”

“But we have to build an economic model,” Engelbert continued. “We’re only 26 years young. We’re not 75 or 100 or 110 like some of the men’s leagues. So we’re working on that and studying history. We’re building rivalries and building household names. That’s part of the player marketing agreements is to really put a lot of money — we’ll spend $1.5 million on that. Have a half-million-dollar prize pool that didn’t exist before for the Commissioner’s Cup. And we bumped up our bonus pool for playoffs to a half million.”

As the league approaches more significant enforcement of its prioritization rules, agreed to by both sides in the collective bargaining agreement signed back in 2020, the ability to financially reward players will matter more and more. This coming season, players must report by the start of the regular season to be eligible to play in the WNBA season. In 2024? Players must report by the start of training camp. Unless overseas leagues blink, that will mean forcing players to choose between the WNBA and overseas opportunities.

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And that’s before accounting for whether the once-lucrative leagues in Russia and Ukraine are even going to be viable options for the players. Brittney Griner is home. Now it’s about preventing another scenario like the nightmare she went through in 2022.

“We need to make sure that our players know these opportunities exist,” Engelbert said. “They’re focused on playing basketball during their young years, I call it, and not everybody’s body will hold up, like Sue Bird’s did for 20 years. But we’re providing more and more opportunities should the players want to take those opportunities.”

Howard Megdal contributed reporting to this story.

Written by Jackie Powell

Jackie Powell covers the New York Liberty and runs social media and engagement strategy for The Next. She also has covered women's basketball for Bleacher Report and her work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Harper's Bazaar and SLAM. She also self identifies as a Lady Gaga stan, is a connoisseur of pop music and is a mental health advocate.

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