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  • Writer's pictureVolume 82 Magazine

Carmelo Anthony & Others Back New Women's Basketball League That Aims For a Bigger Salary Than the WNBA

Napheesa Collier. Photo/Instagram

Sabreena Merchant for The Athletic reported the following news about a new women's basketball league, which aims to pay female athletes more than the WNBA:

A couple of years ago, after her Minnesota Lynx played a game in Los Angeles, Napheesa Collier was having a casual conversation with Alex Bazzell about Collier's experience as a professional women's basketball player. The two, who are now married, were discussing the holes in that experience when Bazzell suggested they create a league, as casually as if he were suggesting they go for a walk.

"It just kind of budded from there," Collier said. "Why wait for someone else to do something when we can do it ourselves?

"It formed from one little seed, one little thing said, and it blooms into a revolutionary thing."

That impromptu idea is now months away from debuting for the rest of the world. Unrivaled, the professional three-on-three league announced by Collier and fellow WNBA star Breanna Stewart in July, will officially launch in January. The new women's basketball league revealed its ownership model Thursday along with a star-studded list of investors, including Alex Morgan, Carmelo Anthony, Steve Nash, Megan Rapinoe, Ann Sarnoff, Gary Vaynerchuk and Michelle Wie West.

To fill those gaps Collier and Bazzell identified, Unrivaled prides itself on two major features: Players will be paid the highest average salary in women's professional sports league history, they said. That number wasn't disclosed, but as a baseline, the WNBA's mean salary for the 2024 season is about $120,000. Second, the 30 players who join the league in 2025 will receive equity in the league. As of yet, it's undecided if future participants will also have an ownership stake, but the founders wanted to ensure initial players had the most incentive and upside.

"Women's sports is on such a rise, and it feels like everyone is benefiting from that except the women in the sport, and obviously that's something we're trying to change and then also create generational wealth for these women," Collier said. "From the beginning, (Stewart) and I really set out to create a league that was founded on that principle that players deserve compensation and ownership that reflect their value."

Bazzell, who is president of the league, told The Athletic that the operations and compensation structure of Unrivaled is currently supported by its investor group, and that the league will profit through the traditional routes of brand partnerships, sponsors and media rights.

That latter item makes the inclusion of two specific investors especially important: David Levy and John Skipper, the former presidents of Turner and ESPN, respectively. Levy and Skipper are tasked with taking Unrivaled to television networks and bringing the product to a national audience.

Levy said he is optimistic about the league standing out as a television property. He told The Athletic that they will package two games a night to sell to networks to fit into a two-hour window. Three nights of games per week will allow for the possibility of multiple broadcast partners for different windows, though keeping games accessible is a priority.

"Sports is, in my opinion, the last appointment-viewing destination programming out there, and to have quality sports programming, that takes a leap of where you go on the food chain," Levy said. "The condensed game and the condensed time is going to be a really true benefit as we go into the marketplace starting next week."

"It's our job to make sure we are creating an easy access point, going where fans are at," Bazzell added. "We don't want this hidden, we don't want you to have to have eight different subscriptions or be behind paywalls or be blacked out. We just want to be visible because it's our obligation to players. And once that happens, the dollars are going to come because the viewership is going to be there."

Unrivaled has created a new version of three-on-three, one that uses a condensed full court, so there is two-way action but more space than in five-on-five. The unique nature of the play is a boon for the television product, but Bazzell emphasized that the flow was designed with players in mind, just as everything about Unrivaled is centered on player experience. Stars who get doubled regularly in the WNBA won't see that type of defensive congestion in three-on-three, allowing them to show off their individual skills. Collier expressed her excitement for the new format, which she says has been an easy sell to other players.

There are other U.S.-based options for WNBA players during the offseason, namely Athletes Unlimited, which just completed its third season in March. But because of its financial incentives, Unrivaled offers an opportunity for athletes to compete against their All-Star peers, something that can't always happen when they disperse across the globe for overseas play. It's a higher level of competition, which speaks to the hearts of the best players in the world. Bazzell knew that the product would have to be star-driven to make it competitive and marketable. Although only Collier and Stewart are attached so far, the league says multiple WNBA All-Stars have signed on.

"I love the fact that the top 30 WNBA players are going to be playing," Levy said. "If I closed my eyes and thought about, if this was the NBA, would I watch it? The answer is yes. LeBron and Steph and all the stars in the NBA, why wouldn't I do that? And of course, the WNBA now has a plethora of great talent and great stars. And if I closed my eyes and said, would I watch them? The answer would be yes."

As women's basketball fandom crests, the hope is that popularity of the WNBA will feed into interest in Unrivaled, and vice versa. Instead of players disappearing during the offseason, their momentum will carry into another domestic league and then back into the W.

"We look at ourselves as an extension of what the WNBA has built, what college basketball has built, the excitement," Bazzell said. "We want to extend the runway and bring more visibility to the stars domestically."

If the league fully blooms and achieves its goals, those stars will earn not only publicity, but they can profit from the gains women's basketball has made.

This story will be updated. To subscribe to Volume 82, click the link. To follow our Instagram, click here; for TikTok, click here!

1 comment

1 Comment

May 31

Excellent idea. What is most inspirational to me is the fact that men and women will be teaming up to creatively encourage a higher level of athletic competition and increase ownership for women. Way to go!

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