The WNBA is dangling a half million in prize money in hopes of getting its players and fans excited about a new in-season tournament that’ll debut this season.
The league is launching its inaugural Commissioner’s Cup, an in-season competition in which teams will play 10 designated regular-season games against conference opponents — 60 in total — before the Summer Olympics break.
The top teams in the East and West conferences in Cup games will play each other in a championship game on Aug. 12 at Phoenix Suns Arena in Phoenix.
Players of the winning team will receive at minimum $30,000, while those on the runner-up team will have an opportunity to earn $10,000. The MVP of the Commissioner’s Cup Championship is awarded $5,000. Total prize money is $500,000.
Amazon Prime Video, the WNBA’s new media partner that’s airing 16 games this season, will broadcast the championship game.
“To have the Commissioner’s Cup come to life in this historic 25th WNBA season is a testament to the players, fans, partners and WNBA teams who have supported and driven innovation at the league,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a release. “Together, we view the Commissioner’s Cup not just as a compelling competition, but as a multifaceted platform designed to drive opportunities for broader fan engagement, create additional interest around our regular season games, convene around equity and equality themes in our WNBA markets, and provide the players with an opportunity to earn significant cash compensation.”
Cup games will be the first home and road games each team plays against its five conference rivals, all set to take place between May 14 and July 11.
The Storm’s Cup games are May 15 (Las Vegas), May 20 (at Minnesota), May 22 (at Dallas), May 2 (Minnesota), June 4 (Dallas), June 27 (at Las Vegas), July 4 (at Los Angeles), July 7 (Los Los Angeles), July 9 (at Phoenix) and July 11 (Phoenix).
In-season tournaments are common in overseas basketball and MLS, but it remains to be seen if WNBA fans will be receptive to the new format.
“I think for the players, it’s actually going to be pretty normal,” Storm guard Sue Bird told Yahoo Sports. “We’re used to playing in that system. And hopefully for the fans, it’s just going to generate excitement. You know, everybody loves watching games that mean something. So not only is this, like, a little bit of midseason bragging rights, there’s also money on it. I mean, you can’t get more meaningful than that.”
— Storm star Breanna Stewart was named The Associated Press preseason player of the year. Seattle was picked second in the AP’s preseason poll behind No. 1 Las Vegas. Chicago was third in the rankings followed by Washington, Minnesota and Phoenix. The bottom half of the poll included Los Angles, Connecticut, Dallas, Atlanta, New York and Indiana.