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Increasing fan engagement for the WNBA

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Team members
Caroline Berg
Kristen Fairbank
Megan Lee
Tessa Wayne

Faculty mentor
Riitta Katila

Sponsor organization
The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) is a women’s professional basketball league comprised of twelve teams across the United States.

Project description

We were tasked to solve the question of how to maximize fan engagement with the WNBA’s in-season tournament, the Commissioner’s Cup. The WNBA is reformatting the tournament beginning in 2024 to make it more concise and engaging, and we hope to take advantage of the structural change. Our ultimate goal was to find a way to maximize revenue for the WNBA, largely through increased game attendance and viewership.

Techniques and methods used

To solve our problem, we conducted three types of data analyses:

  • A difference-in-differences model using game attendance data from multiple years.
  • A competitive analysis of three comparable in-season tournaments (NBA In-Season Tournament, Emirates FA Cup, and the EFL/ Carabao Cup).
  • A survey of 440 respondents of various demographics.

The WNBA was very responsive and eager to work with us, which made our experience with this project very positive. While we had originally wanted to conduct a deeper analysis with viewership data, it was difficult to obtain and we chose to focus specifically on attendance data.

We had a lot of success getting responses to our survey and the results were very fruitful in terms of takeaways for the WNBA. Particularly because Stanford is a women’s basketball hub, we had access to a very concentrated population of valuable fan opinions.

Solutions and deliverables

We arrived at three data-driven recommendations and strategies to maximize the Commissioner’s Cup’s return:

  • Create clearer distinctions between cup and regular season games: Even WNBA fans do not find much of a difference between Cup and non-Cup games. 70% of survey respondents who classify themselves as WNBA fans are not more likely to watch a Cup game on TV than a regular game. Fans preferred Cup games to have more specific media coverage, more emphasis on rivalries, and a greater focus on the charitable component of the tournament.
  • Target college basketball fans to support retention as WNBA fans: 66% of NCAA women’s basketball fans demonstrated an interest in the WNBA versus 55% of NBA fans. We suggest that NCAAW fans are more likely to convert to WNBA fans than NBA fans. These NCAAW fans expressed interest in following their favorite college players through their careers in the WNBA and have more of a connection to women’s basketball.
  • Implement player-focused marketing during the tournament: Greater media coverage is the greatest factor in increasing interest in the WNBA. Our survey respondents expressed an interest in player-oriented marketing and learning more about the players personally. These player-specific marketing strategies should emphasize focus on rookies, as college fans are more likely to follow their favorite college players in their WNBA careers.

We hope that these recommendations will guide the WNBA moving forward and create a future where women’s basketball receives the recognition it deserves.

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2024 senior projects