The league has also successfully courted backing from companies such as Google, Facebook, ATT, Nike and Deloitte, the professional services firm helmed by Cathy Engelbert before she moved to the W.N.B.A. in 2019 to serve as its commissioner.
When I interviewed her last week, Engelbert spoke of the need to change and amplify the league’s narrative. She hailed the devoted, diverse, youthful and socially progressive fan base. She wants the W.N.B.A. valued in new ways that go beyond old metrics like Nielsen ratings.
When I mentioned I rarely saw Storm gear in Seattle, my hometown, she hardly seemed surprised.
“We need to do better” at marketing and telling the league’s story, she said. If that happens, sales of merchandise will rise, along with overall popularity. “I mean, everyone should know who Sue Bird is,” she said. “She happens to be one of our household names, but we don’t have enough of them.”
The commissioner also singled out the importance of selling the game by highlighting individual stars and the intense rivalries among players and teams, akin to how the N.B.A. grew when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird came to that league.