WNBA Targets Broader National Reach With CBS Sports Deal

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Photo Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The WNBA continues to expand its national broadcast footprint, with Monday’s fast-moving deal with CBS Sports being the latest statement of intent regarding the league’s upward trajectory.

“They were immediately receptive once we initiated the conversation,” said David Denenberg, NBA senior vice president of global media distribution and business affairs. “It’s a powerful brand, and that’s great messaging for our fans.”

The pact calls for CBS Sports Network to air 40 games this season, which upped the number of nationally televised WNBA games from 67 to 97, including the league’s all-star game on ABC. ESPN Networks are slated to broadcast 16 games, including 11 on ESPN2, three on ABC and two on ESPN. NBA TV will match CBS’ total with 40 games, while 20 more will be broadcast on Twitter.

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Denenberg says the impetus for the deal on the league’s behalf came from its ESPN viewership growing 35% in 2018 over 2017. It became a metric they could take to other potential partners, as well as one that spurred them to target further growth opportunities. CBS Sports made for an attractive partner because of its brand, Denenberg said, one which not only serves existing fans but opens the doorway to new audiences, too.

“The thought was to broaden our national scope,” Denenberg said. “That’s really the emphasis. We made good strides and we need to double down and serve the desire to consume more.”

CBS Sports looks at several factors when evaluating potential programming, according to Dan Weinberg, CBS Sports executive vice president of programming. The first is live events, as they draw more viewers. Likewise, the network is attracted to properties with elite athletes competing at the highest level. The season is also of interest, and the WNBA’s late spring and summer schedule fit nicely into CBS Sports’ programming.

“Under those guidelines, this deal becomes a no-brainer,” Weinberg said. “It’s advantageous for our organization. It’s high-quality programming with some of the best basketball played in the world by some of the best players in the world.”

Beyond the expansion of televised live games, CBS Sports also gains rights to some “ancillary, storytelling aspects” that both Denenberg and Weinberg said will help grow the two properties through the multi-year partnership. The extra content could be as simple as highlights but can stretch to short-form and long-form storytelling off the court, Weinberg said.

While the extra content is still to be fleshed out as the deal evolves, both sides see the benefits of sharing WNBA player stories to help attract new fans irrespective of which party produces it.

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“We’re just getting our feet off the ground,” Denenberg said. “We hope as we move forward to tell the stories of these great players. We really want people to learn about the players and get fans to identify with them.”

CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus called the deal “one of the biggest and most impactful women’s sports programming arrangements ever at CBS Sports” upon its completion. Weinberg emphasized McManus’ comments and said it’s a tremendous arrangement for CBS, WNBA and women’s sports.

“It’s not only a premier women’s league, it’s one of the premier sports leagues in the world,” Weinberg said. “There’s a lot of excitement.”