Napheesa Collier #24 of the Minnesota Lynx hits a free throw during a game against the New York Liberty on May 25, 2024 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Jordan Johnson | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

A new women’s basketball league has attracted a slew of investors from the media and sports worlds at a time when ratings and general interest in the WNBA and other professional women’s leagues are on the rise.

Unrevealed, the professional women’s basketball league founded last year by Breanna Stewart of the New York Liberty and Napheesa Collier of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, said Thursday it has closed a seed funding round ahead of its launch in January.

Athletes will be given equity in the new league, and Unrevealed said it will also include contract opportunities that will offer the highest average salaries in the history of women’s professional sports leagues.

The long list of investors includes media executives such as former ESPN president John Skipper, former Turner president David Levy and former Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff, as well as athletes and others including NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony, who has invested through a venture capital firm led by U.S. women’s national soccer team captain Alex Morgan.

“I think this is a great investment … that David and I and the other group of investors have a chance to start something that I think is going to be very impactful,” said Skipper, co-founder of Meadowlark Media. “It’s a rare opportunity where we can build something … and we don’t have to disrupt anything else.”

The league – which will run in the months before the WNBA season and operate in a new format – aims to provide athletes with another option to play basketball in the US during the off-season, as well as help raise the salaries of professional women’s basketball players.

“It’s trying to fill a gap in the calendar for these players. It’s extending the runway of professional basketball,” said Alex Bazzell, Unrevealed’s president and Collier’s husband.

Stewart & Collier Announced plans Unrevealed was formed last year in response to the WNBA’s new priority rules as part of the 2020 collective bargaining agreement. Those rules require players to return from playing internationally by the start of training camp, which means they could miss out on lucrative overseas contracts. Many female athletes play in other countries to increase their earning potential when the WNBA season ends.

“For a long time, going overseas was the only option for guys in the offseason, and so this is kind of changing the narrative about that and giving another option,” Collier said. “Going overseas is a great option for some players, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you can do to make money and play basketball and get better.”

The Unrevealed season will run from January to March and will feature 30 top female basketball players across six teams playing a 3-on-3, full court style game on a Miami soundstage.

Although 10 players have already signed, they have not been formally announced yet.

The league is building its own facility in Miami. It has two baskets, but it’s about two-thirds the size of a regular court.

“So it’s smaller, but it gives you space for the guys to showcase their skills and compete against each other every night and not have an extra four players on the court bothering you,” Collier said.

Unrivalled Investor

New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart (30) and Las Vegas Aces forward Alysha Clark (7) in action during Game 4 of the 2023 WNBA Finals between the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty at Barclays Center on October 18, 2023 in Brooklyn, NY.

M. Anthony Nesmith | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

The list of investors highlights the diversity of those willing to invest in women’s sports, as well as the league’s potential. The size of the seed funding round – which was oversubscribed – is undisclosed.

Through Morgan’s venture firm Tribe Ventures, other top athletes and sports figures who have invested in Unrevealed include NBA All-Star Steve Nash, LGPA champion Michelle Wie West, Olympic gold medalist Megan Rapinoe and Koby Altman, general manager of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. NCAA University of Connecticut women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma and the NBA’s Tyrus and Tre Jones are also investors.

Other investors holding stakes in Unrevealed include private equity firm KKR Media Chairman Richard Sarnoff, actor Ashton Kutcher, Forbes Executive Vice President Moira Forbes, VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuk, TV producer and Full Picture founder and CEO Desiree Gruber, Chegg Executive Chairman Dan Rosensweig, Andor Capital founder Dan Benton, and the Range Group.

While Skipper has been involved since last year, Levy – who is also the co-founder and co-CEO of Horizon Sports & Experiences – became aware of the investment opportunity in recent months and got involved.

“Part of the vision of this agency [HS&E] “Our goal is to be involved in women’s sports, promote women’s sports and be true to our word,” Levy said.

In addition to investing, Skipper and Levy will negotiate media rights deals for Unrevealed. Lucrative media rights deals and fees help boost sports leagues’ finances and players’ salaries. Sports rights have become a particular focus for media companies in recent years as live sports attract massive audiences.

Both said negotiations on media rights have yet to begin, but a key part of the talks will be getting the Games as wide an audience as possible.

“We want to make sure people can see the product,” Levy said, adding that a key component is the one-hour period of unrevealed games, which is a plus for fitting the programming schedule.

The league also has planned sponsorship opportunities, which will include Levi’s HS&E. Bazzell said some brands have already committed to Unrevealed, but announcements will be made at a later date.

Increased interest in women’s sports

Caitlin Clark poses with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert after being selected with the first overall pick by the Indiana Fever during the 2024 WNBA Draft.

Sarah Stier | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

Unrevealed comes at a time when interest in women’s sports is growing — from spectatorship to investment.

Levy said it takes time for growth and interest in sports to occur, as the WNBA is only a few decades old, in contrast to leagues like the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL that have been around for much longer.

“I’m so excited that every player will have equality,” Collier said. “That was a huge deal for us, creating generational wealth for these athletes.”

The recent rise of WNBA player Caitlin Clark in the sports world has brought renewed scrutiny to the salaries of professional female athletes.

Clark was the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer for both men’s and women’s basketball and has attracted record TV viewership. The former Iowa star was selected No. 1 by the Indiana Fever in April, a showing that broke the league’s record for draft viewership.

However, despite the bright spotlight on her, according to the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement, Clark’s rookie salary contract will be $338,056 over four years. That’s a stark contrast to last year’s NBA No. 1 draft pick, Victor Wembanyama, who signed a four-year, $55 million contract with the San Antonio Spurs.

Even President Joe Biden had his say on the matter, saying on social media that “women in sports continue to push new boundaries and inspire us all. But right now we’re seeing that even if you’re the best, women aren’t given their fair share.”

While Clark has secured multiple sponsorship deals with companies like Nike and Gatorade, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said at a recent CNBC summit that a “false narrative” is circulating about Clark’s expected salary.

Engelbert compared Clark’s earning potential to C-suite salaries, and said that aside from endorsements, Clark “has the potential to earn up to half a million dollars this year in WNBA salaries alone.” He said the focus is on Clark’s base salary, which is collectively bargained and is low.

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