The WNBA has a new in-season tournament and it may be an early sign of what's to come in the NBA
- The WNBA is introducing a midseason tournament as part of its historic eight-year CBA announced this week
- The NBA could look to the WNBA's new Commissioner's Cup as a model for its own in-season tournament, which ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe report is in the works.
- For both leagues, a midseason tournament would help increase fan engagement and, ideally, increase ratings early in the season.
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The WNBA announced a new eight-year collective bargaining agreement this week that features a significant increase in player salaries, ensures maternity leave for players no matter their team, and improves marketing and travel across the league.
While many of the additions to the CBA were both historic and unprecedented, arguably the most unique and interesting component of the deal is the Commissioner's Cup - an in-season, 10-game tournament culminating in a special championship game for a "special prize pool."
According to a release from the WNBA, 10 early games from each team's regular-season slate - the first home and away game against each of their conference rivals - will be designated as part of Cup play. Then, the teams in each conference with the best record in said Commissioner's Cup games will face off in the Commissioner's Cup Championship Game.
The Commissioner's Cup finale is tentatively scheduled for Friday, August 14 - the tail end of the WNBA's monthlong break for the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.
The tournament is a strategic method for the league to pull in fans who were plugged into the USA Basketball Women's National Team's bid for its seventh consecutive gold medal. More broadly, it will also keep the WNBA faithful engaged before competition for the playoffs heats up in the second half of the season.
With ratings down this year, there have been rumblings that the NBA is considering implementing a similar concept in the near future. Reporting from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe indicates that the league, oft criticized for its too-long and too-uneventful regular season, has toyed with the idea of a European soccer-style in-season tournament of its own.
In similar fashion to the Commissioner's Cup, all 30 NBA teams would participate in a midseason tournament that begins with a set of regularly-scheduled intra-division games. The team with the best record from each of the six divisions plus two "Wild Card" teams with the next-best records would move on to the knockout stage.
The league has suggested proposals that include potential payouts to players and coaches for advancing in and winning the tournament, which Wojnarowski and Low report would extend from after Thanksgiving into the middle of December. In order to factor the in-season tournament into the 2021-22 season, as the NBA seemingly hopes to, Adam Silver and the league would need to reach an agreement with the NBA Players Association, television networks, and the teams themselves. And though it looks like a tall task, the proposal - which is tied to a play-in for the NBA playoffs and a shorter regular season - has gained traction across the league.
Perhaps the WNBA's Commissioner's Cup will serve as a means to gauge whether or not the NBA's proposal has legs. If fans, players, coaches, and front offices all embrace higher-stakes basketball earlier in the 2020 WNBA season, it stands to reason that the NBA could find success doing the same.