The WNBA is nearly doubling its national TV exposure with a multiyear deal with CBS Sports.
CBS Sports Network will broadcast 40 WNBA games beginning next month when the season opens. The Minnesota Lynx vs. the Chicago Sky on May 25 will be the first game on the CBS Sports Network.
“Through our partnership with CBS Sports Network, the WNBA is joining an elite lineup of premium sports programming,” said NBA commissioner Adam Silver. “We thank CBS Sports for making such a meaningful commitment to women’s basketball and for providing another platform to showcase the world-class athletes of the WNBA.”
The league, which will begin its 23rd season on May 24, also has a deal with ESPN to show 16 regular-season telecasts, including three on ABC. Last year, the WNBA had a strong regular season with combined average viewership across ESPN2 and NBA TV up 31 percent over 2017. The CBS deal is the latest in an active offseason for the WNBA with AT&T as a new marquee partner, new uniforms by Nike and a rebranding of the league with a new logo.
All-Star Sue Bird and the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm will make six appearances on CBS Sports Network this season. That includes a WNBA Finals rematch against former league MVP Elena Delle Donne and the Washington Mystics on June 14.
The TV channel will use local broadcast feeds for now, similar to what NBA TV does for WNBA games. The upcoming NBA TV schedule of WNBA games has not been finalized yet, but nearly 50 games are expected to be broadcast — the same as last year.
“We are truly excited to partner with the WNBA, bringing the country’s premier women’s sports league to CBS Sports Network. This partnership is one of the biggest and most impactful women’s sports programming arrangements ever at CBS Sports, offering national exposure of 40 games per year,” said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. “This agreement provides great live content throughout the summer in prime time and on weekends, and aligns two great brands in the WNBA and CBS Sports. We look forward to working with the WNBA for many years to come.”
CBS executive vice president of programming Dan Weinberg said the WNBA was exactly what CBS was looking for to bolster its schedule.
“We are looking to partner with established brands that are growing with dedicated fan bases,” he said in a phone interview. “The WNBA checks every one of those boxes. (Playing in the) spring-summer lends itself to our programming schedule. We are clearly and obviously talking about the best basketball players in the world at the highest level. Associating ourselves with WNBA, it’s a great powerful established brand with popularity across the country.”
The sides are still discussing expanding the coverage to include features and other WNBA programming.
“It’s going to be beyond highlights,” said David Denenberg, who is the senior vice president of global media distribution and business affairs for NBA Entertainment. “Whether it’s features we develop or CBS develops, we want to do more.”
It’s unclear how the WNBA will decide which games will air on ESPN or CBS Sports Network going forward after this year. The league didn’t seem too concerned.
“Suffice it to say we have enough games we think we’ll put together a robust schedule for everyone,” Denenberg said. “We’ll announce the CBS schedule, ESPN schedule. I think we’re going to well serve all our partners.”