The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) is a professional women’s basketball league based in North America. The franchise has 12 teams, all of which are based in the United States. Founded on April 22, 1996 as a sister league to the NBA, the WNBA first commenced playing in 1997 with eight teams: New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Sacramento Monarchs, Utah Starzz, Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, and Houston Comets.
Of this founding octet, only three – the New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks, and Phoenix Mercury – are still playing in the league today under their original names. The Utah Starzz ended up relocating several times before being rebranded as the Las Vegas Aces in 2018, while the four other founding teams have since folded.
Although the WNBA operates as a sister league to the NBA, not all of the 12 teams playing in this franchise share either an arena or a market with a NBA counterpart. The teams who are totally independent (that is, do not share a market or an arena) include the Las Vegas Aces, the Connecticut Sun, and now, the Seattle Storm (although they initially shared both a market and an arena with the Seattle SuperSonics when they were founded).
Meanwhile, other teams, like the New York Liberty, the Los Angeles Sparks, and the Minnesota Lynx have direct NBA counterparts (the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Minnesota Timberwolves) and play at the same arenas as the men’s teams.
Like the NBA, the WNBA is also split into two conferences: Eastern and Western. However, unlike the men’s league, there are no further sub-divisions, so six teams make up each conference. Each season, every team gets the opportunity to feature in the playoffs for the chance to be crowned WNBA champion. The regular season commences in May and ends in August or September; during this timeframe, each team will play 36 matches (18 home and 18 away). Previously, WNBA teams played 34 games, so this is an increase from what fans are used to live streaming and watching on TV.
During an Olympic year, the WNBA has a one month pause to allow its players to focus on training and competing with their respective national teams.
The playoffs usually start in September, but sometimes begin in August if the quadrennial FIBA Women’s World Cup is taking place to allow players time to prepare and participate in that event. Eight teams qualify based on their regular season record, and the top two ranked teams get to skip the first two rounds (“double byes”) while the third and fourth-seeded sides skip the first round.
Thus, the top and second-placed teams start their tournament in the semi-finals, which is a “best-of-five” series, just like the finals, while the first two rounds are single-elimination contests.
There are two teams who hold the honour for the most successful side in WNBA franchise history. One of these teams, the Houston Comets, is no longer in existence, as it folded in 2008. The other is the Minnesota Lynx, which was founded in 1999 and plays at the Target Center, the same venue as their NBA counterpart the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In the USA, WNBA matches are broadcast nationally and regionally on TV and live-streamed online as well as are available on-demand. Some teams also offer coverage on local radio stations for regular season games and if the team is featuring in the playoffs.
WNBA League Pass is a subscription service sponsored by the league that offers live streaming and on-demand coverage of games throughout the season on fans’ mobile devices and computers.
Canadian fans can enjoy both English and French-language options (depending on location) of regular and post-season matches all the way up to the finals both on TV and online.
In the UK, WNBA matches are regularly shown nationally throughout the season both live and on-demand. Live streaming is also available for fans who prefer an on-the-go approach to staying on top of their favourite team’s matches.