Earlier this year, we wrote about the surging popularity of women’s soccer in the United States, and how the sport’s growth promised to open exciting new investment opportunities in markets around the country. The Women’s World Cup, which took place in July and August, did indeed draw record attendance and TV viewership numbers around the world, including in the U.S., where fans tuned in to watch Team USA’s matches despite kickoff times that were often in the middle of the night for most U.S. viewers. (And also, as we hoped, the NWSL has formally announced that a new expansion team will be coming to the San Francisco Bay Area in the 2024 season.)
But soccer isn’t the only women’s sport enjoying the spotlight this year. A new women’s hockey league, the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) is set to start play in six markets across the U.S. and Canada in January 2024. The PWHL will become the only women’s professional league in North America. The league intends to collaborate with the NHL to host games and events around the U.S. and Canada, including neutral-site games outside of the league’s six home markets, with the goal of raising the profile of the new league, its teams and players, and the sport in general. The league has signed a collective bargaining agreement with the National Women’s Hockey Players Association (something prior women’s hockey leagues were unable to accomplish) and has strong financial backing.
Women’s basketball is similarly on the rise and in the spotlight. The 2023 WNBA regular season saw the league’s best in-person attendance in 13 years, and the biggest television audiences in 21 years. The momentum has continued into the playoffs—the WNBA Finals, featuring the New York Liberty and the reigning champion Las Vegas Aces, are taking place this week—where Game 2 between the Connecticut Sun and New York Liberty had the highest average audience of any WNBA playoff game (excluding Finals games) since 2001.
The WNBA is not hesitating to leverage its growing footprint in the U.S. sports landscape. This week, the league announced that a new expansion franchise will be created the San Francisco Bay Area, and will begin playing in the 2025 season. It will be the first new team since 2008. The team will be part of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors franchise, and the two teams will share a business structure. The new WNBA team will play at the Chase Center in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood, where the Warriors have played since the facility opened in 2018, and will be headquartered and hold practices in Oakland in the facility which housed the Warriors prior to their move across the Bay. And the league isn’t stopping its quest for expansion in the Bay Area, as reports have emerged that Portland is also “under strong consideration” for a WNBA expansion team of its own.
As was (and is) the case with soccer, the growth of women’s sports generally, including hockey and basketball in the U.S., presents exciting opportunities to club owners, manager, investors, lenders, and advertisers. Just as the women’s soccer world has benefitted from this summer’s hugely popular Women’s World Cup, women’s sports, including basketball can be expected to receive an additional boost in attention from the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris next year. Particular, stakeholders in and around the world of women’s basketball will have the chance to capture the attention of new audiences as the game grows in the U.S. and around the world. And as the WNBA adds teams to its ranks, additional opportunities will arise as teams seek out new or remodeled arenas and training facilities, gameday and equipment vendors, broadcasting and media services, and both physical and digital retail spaces.
And in another parallel with the NWSL, the WNBA’s existing franchises are seeing their valuations soar. Early this year, the Seattle Storm sold a minority stake in the team at a valuation of $151 million, which shattered the prior record for a WNBA franchise. With at least one new team joining the league in coming years, and an ever-growing number of people tuning into the league’s games, valuations for the franchise and the league itself are almost certain to continue growing.
In February, we said “there are good reasons to pay close attention to women’s soccer as an area of opportunity in the months ahead.” It looks like the same is very much true for women’s basketball and hockey.