The WNBA is in search of a new president after Lisa Borders, who’d been in charge since 2016, stepped down on Tuesday morning to accept a position as President and CEO of Time’s Up. Her successor will be one of the most important in the league’s 22 years of existence.
Borders oversaw a number of wins in her short-term stint as the W’s president. She was at the forefront of the league’s transition to livestream games on Twitter, guided the league to its most-watched season in four years in 2018, helped launch WNBA players into their first-ever video game in NBA Live 18, transitioned the league into a new (and so far successful) playoff format and moved the first-ever professional basketball team to Las Vegas.
Momentum is moving in the W’s favor after a strong group of rookies impressed, Breanna Stewart emerged as the best player in the world, and her Seattle Storm team asserted itself as a potential dynasty, winning the Finals in a three-game sweep.
But there’s a wave of change on the horizon. The league’s and players’ Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire next season, the New York Liberty are for sale and a number of superstars are arguing for better treatment. Borders’ successor will inherit key issues and pressure to continue the growth of a league still in its infancy. It’s a tough job to sign up for.
The CBA is set to expire following the 2019 season
The players spoke more openly for change in the next CBA in the 2018 season than any before. Talks heightened after the Las Vegas Aces forfeited a game with playoff implications following a trip that lasted more than 24 hours from Vegas to Washington D.C. after several plane issues. (Teams fly commercially.) That momentum will only pick up in the next season.
Players are fighting for fairer pay based on the league’s revenue share. The NBA divides around half of its league revenue to pay player’s salaries, where the WNBA pays somewhere around 20 percent. Former No. 1 pick Kelsey Plum was one of many to speak out, stating “We are asking for the same percentage of our revenue shared within our CBA.”
Kelsey Plum spoke up today about WNBA salaries and it's pic.twitter.com/vF052WdLqX— SB Nation NBA (@SBNationNBA) July 12, 2018
Borders has spoken on the issue, stating, “This is a business, and the economics today don’t allow us to pay more. But when it does, we will. So no disagreement between the league, the teams and the players. We are completely aligned.”
“The WNBA has lost a significant amount of money in each of its prior 21 years of existence,” a WNBA spokesperson told SB Nation. A person familiar with the situation elaborated, expecting the league to lose $12 million in the 2018 season alone.
There’s more to it, too. Dallas Wings star Liz Cambage, the league’s leading scorer, spoke to SB Nation about the ways she feels the league is failing its players, including in marketing, advertising, scheduling and travel. These will all be talking points when the league and Players Association get to the table next year, and if expectations aren’t met players could shy away from playing. Cambage has already questioned if she’ll play in the 2019 season since she, like most other players, makes the bulk of her salary abroad. The league’s most prolific three-point shooter, Diana Taurasi, was paid by her Russian team to sit the 2015 season out.
The New York Liberty’s future is uncertain
In 2017, The Madison Square Garden Company announced that the Liberty were up for sale. The New York-based team is one of the league’s original franchises in arguably the biggest sports market with a steady follower base. In the 2018 season, the team only played two games at MSG after it was instead relegated to play games nearly an hour outside of New York City in Westchester at a much smaller venue.
Borders spoke on the issue, stating, “We want a team in New York. That is our flagship headquarters, right, the league is actually headquartered in New York. So Mr. Dolan and his team have told us that they are committed to selling the team and making sure that they have a good steward to hand it off to to play in New York.”
Nearly a full year following the announcement, the team is yet to be sold. Borders’ replacement will have to secure a similar promise to keep a pro women’s basketball team in New York City.
The WNBA is growing and it needs to stay on that track
The W had a number of audience growth accomplishments, capitalizing on Finals viewers (Game 3 was the highest rated game since 2010), the All-Star Game (viewers were up 17 percent) and marquee game viewers (Storm vs. Sparks on ESPN2 had the highest overnight rating for a regular season game since 2011) and more.
The increased Twitter presence was felt as the league aired more games on the social media platform, and fresh faces in the Finals brought new fans into the game. It’ll be on Border’s successor to find solutions to the aforementioned problems and build platforms around its stars to keep the league on the right path.
Border’s departure from the league was surprising, especially given what she was able to accomplish in a short period of time. There’s enormous pressure on the league to fill her place with someone who can withstand the upcoming economic hills and expand the league into a more profitable and popular one.