May 5, 2022
WNBA expands Twitter partnership, inks new multi-year deal
Examining the WNBA's Twitter games within the larger media rights landscape
On Wednesday, the WNBA announced an expansion of its existing partnership with social media platform Twitter. The renewed deal includes streaming rights for 12 regular season games, including the season opening match-up of the Seattle Storm and Minnesota Lynx, as well as expanded Twitter-specific content, including weekly broadcasts on Twitter Spaces. Terms were not disclosed, but The Next has learned the 2021 deal between the WNBA and Twitter netted the league $250,000.
The WNBA struck its first deal with Twitter in 2017 alongside a slew of other new-age media deals, including an agreement with mostly-defunct music streaming platform TIDAL. The WNBA was the first professional women’s sports league to officially partner with Twitter, which has since gone on to partner with the National Women’s Hockey League. In the time since the first Twitter live-stream of a WNBA game logged over 1.1 million views, 60 percent of which came from outside the U.S., Twitter has become a key part of the WNBA’s fan engagement strategy.
The league’s primary account, @WNBA, has been steadily growing in recent years, adding nearly 200,000 followers since May 2018. On October 8, Twitter Sports launched an ad specifically highlighting the online community that has formed around the WNBA, #WNBATwitter. The ad has garnered 21.2 million views to date, and #WNBATwitter has since become an official Twitter “hashflag.” Several other team-specific hashflags have been created for fans to use throughout the 2022 season.
While the WNBA has not made viewership data from the 2018–2021 seasons available to the public, Twitter’s free-to-view streams of WNBA games averaged 613,000 unique viewers in 2017. Three of the 20 games offered peaked at 1.1 million viewers. For context, in 2016, 10 Thursday night NFL games streamed on Twitter averaged 3.5 million viewers.
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This season’s offerings will expand what was offered last year: 12 regular season games will be streamed live through the WNBA’s official Twitter account with the associated hashtag #WNBATwitterLive. In previous years, the Twitter stream of each game included overlays of live fan tweets, polls, and opportunities for Q&A with commentators. The WNBA also plans to offer highlight videos through Twitter for its major calendar events, including Commissioner’s Cup games, the All-Star game, and all postseason games.
The following regular season match-ups will be streamed live on Twitter:
|Friday, March 6||Minnesota Lynx at Seattle Storm (CC)||10:00 p.m.|
|Friday, May 13||Indiana Fever at New York Liberty (CC)||8:00 p.m.|
|Friday, May 20||Washington Mystics at Atlanta Dream (CC)||7:30 p.m.|
|Friday, May 27||Los Angeles Sparks at Indiana Fever||7:00 p.m.|
|Friday, June 3||New York Liberty at Washington Mystics (CC)||7:00 p.m.|
|Friday, June 10||Chicago Sky at Connecticut Sun (CC)||7:00 p.m.|
|Friday, June 17||Phoenix Mercury at Dallas Wings (CC)||8:00 p.m.|
|Thursday, June 30||Atlanta Dream at New York Liberty (CC)||7:00 p.m.|
|Thursday, July 7||Seattle Storm at Los Angeles Sparks (CC)||10:30 p.m.|
|Thursday, July 14||Dallas Wings at Minnesota Lynx||8:00 p.m.|
|Thursday, July 28||Minnesota Lynx at Atlanta Dream||7:00 p.m.|
|Thursday, Aug. 11||Connecticut Sun at Los Angeles Sparks||10:30 p.m.|
In addition, the WNBA’s Twitter Spaces show will make a return. This time around, fans can look forward to a weekly, audio-only, live broadcast, hosted by Ari Chambers and Monica McNutt. The show will feature game previews and recaps, interviews with current and former players, and other relevant stories and features.
Notably, the WNBA is making all content produced in partnership with Twitter available for advertising by brands that are a part of Twitter’s Amplify program. The evening of May 4, Twitter executives and senior directors presented at Digital Content NewFronts, a three-day event for digital media companies to present major content plans, particularly digital video, to advertisers. The renewal of its partnership with the WNBA once again made an appearance in the platform’s presentation.
This comes at a time when the digital marketing landscape is facing major changes. Apple’s Identification for Advertisers (IDFA) system has long been used to track and log user data. Third parties, like Facebook’s Ad program, collect and sell this demographic and behavioral data to brands who use it to optimize targeted advertising campaigns. As of the release of iOS 14, however, Apple has rolled out an easily accessible opt-out for IDFA sharing, in an attempt to protect consumer privacy. For companies like Meta, Facebook’s parent company, whose data profiles were heavily dependent on access to IDFA data, this has meant taking a nearly $10 billion hit to revenue as well as to trust with advertisers. This seismic shift to the roster of advertiser-friendly media platforms has flung open the door for others, like Twitter, to slot their content where Facebook’s once was.
While billionaire Elon Musk’s recent purchase of Twitter has also been a consideration for advertisers (Musk has famously paid $0 to advertise Tesla, and has long opposed advertising on Twitter), longstanding and stable partnerships with organizations like the WNBA are valuable for the platform. Ever since ads began appearing alongside videos of hate speech and violence on YouTube in 2017, advertisers have been more hesitant to sell ads on platforms with a history of harmful content. Twitter’s 6-and-counting year deal with an exceptionally diverse, politically active, yet still family friendly, league whose fan base skews young, is a bright-spot for skeptical brands.
Other recent media deals the league has pursued include passing the exclusive international streaming rights to 17 games, including the first Commissioner’s Cup game, to Amazon. 30 Seattle Storm games will also be available to Prime Video users in Washington State. WNBA games can also be found streaming on Facebook Watch and NBA TV, as well as on traditional TV broadcasters in ESPN and CBS.
As the league moves towards a new media rights deal by the middle of the decade, a diverse portfolio of long-standing digital streaming deals, like the one it has forged with Twitter, may give the WNBA some of the momentum it needs to secure the financial turnaround the league and its players need to thrive.
Howard Megdal contributed reporting to this piece.
Written by Isabel Rodrigues
Isabel Rodrigues (she/her) is a contributing writer for The Next from upstate New York who regularly covers 3x3 and the state of women's basketball in the U.S. and internationally. She also covers women's sports for The Daily Princetonian, the independent student newspaper of Princeton University.