Women’s basketball is on the rise. A new pro league aims to take advantage.

As a former pro who has trained some of the biggest names in the NBA and WNBA, Alex Bazzell talks basketball all day long. So it was no surprise that he and his wife, a three-time WNBA all-star, were discussing the state of the sport after she had finished playing a game a few years ago. They sat chatting in a Los Angeles hotel when a seed was planted that could reshape the landscape of women’s basketball.

The result of that conversation was officially announced Thursday morning: Unrivaled, a new professional women’s basketball league co-founded by Collier and reigning WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart, will debut in January 2025.

“Obviously it sounds crazy at first,” Collier told The Washington Post. “ ‘We should create a league.’ It’s not like it’s just a ‘We should go out for ice cream tonight’ kind of thing.

“So, yeah, just started as a conversation randomly after a game, and then it formed into this thing where we can make so much change, and why wait for someone else to do it when we can do it ourselves?”

Unrivaled aims to feature 30 elite players composing six teams for a three-on-three competition played in Miami. Investors include U.S. soccer stars Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, 10-time NBA all-star Carmelo Anthony, Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma, actor Ashton Kutcher, former ESPN president John Skipper and former Turner president David Levy and others. Bazzell will serve as league president. The business model gives players equity and a vested interest in the league, and the league said in its announcement it will offer the “highest average salary in women’s professional sports league history.”

“The women’s game is at such a pivotal point right now … but unfortunately, still, the majority of the money that we make is off the court,” Collier said. “So we want to change that … to make money playing basketball.

“Even today, as women’s basketball is on a rise, there’s a drop-off in viewership and athlete marketability and competition between the collegiate and professional level. So you really see the college game is so popular right now, and all these stars, especially this rookie class that’s coming in, it’s amazing to see the viewership and marketability go up there. But we wanted to do that on a professional level as well.”

The goal is to create a product that is easy to consume and features some of the best players in the world. The three-on-three format is expected to showcase players’ skills in a more free-flowing game, but players will still run full-court — though shorter than the regulation 94 feet. Games will last about an hour and be played on an LED court. Participants are expected to be announced in the summer, including several WNBA all-stars. Multiyear contracts are expected to keep players committed beyond a year-to-year basis.

The league has been in planning and development for two years, but the current timing seems ideal as the WNBA and NCAA women’s basketball tournament have set record viewership numbers. Huge audiences have tuned in to see young stars such as Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese after name, image and likeness (NIL) rules allowed them to grow their brand in college. WNBA teams such as the Washington Mystics have moved games against Clark’s Indiana Fever and Reese’s Chicago Sky to higher-capacity arenas to accommodate the bigger crowds they anticipate.

“There’s been a lot of new leagues that started and not had success,” Levy said. “And there’s a lot of reasons for that, whether it’s operational or just talent on the field. You’ve got to remind yourself these are not brand names that nobody knows. These are the best of the best women’s basketball players in the world that are going to be competing in a three-on-three competition.

“If you closed your eyes and said, ‘If this was the NBA, would you be interested?’ And the answer, obviously, would be yes. You get to see LeBron [James] and Steph [Curry] and everybody else playing on the three-on-three tour. Here we have the best brand names in the WNBA playing. I don’t think this is quote-unquote a start-up from a standpoint of quality of the sport and the brand names.”

The league founders hope there are advantages to playing in the WNBA offseason and not being in direct competition with the established league. Bazzell is pitching the three-on-three format as quality development for WNBA players who want to grow their games during the offseason.

Many of the details still have to be worked out. Some brand partnerships are still being finalized. The biggest remaining task is evaluating and negotiating media deals with linear, digital and streaming platforms. Bazzell said they want to be as accessible and as visible as any product in sports and want to avoid fans having to “jump through hoops to go find us.”

A postgame conversation years ago seems to have been paced at the perfect speed to capitalize on interest in the women’s game that may be at an all-time high.

“There’s the old dictum that all things that you predict are going to happen, happen more slowly than you ever thought,” Skipper said, “until it becomes an inflection point and takes off at a rate you never thought it could. I think we’ve kind of hit the right moment.”

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