Before the start of the 2021 WNBA regular season, the league announced details on the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup, an in-season tournament between all 12 teams taking place during the first half of the summer.
The Commissioner’s Cup was supposed to debut in 2020 but didn’t end up taking place due to the entirety of the season being held in the wubble in Bradenton, Florida. Now with teams back in their respective markets for the 25th season of the league, we have a better understanding of what this tournament is and what the WNBA hopes it will lead to in the future.
“To have the Commissioner’s Cup come to life in this historic 25th WNBA season is a testament to the players, fans, partners and WNBA teams who have supported and driven innovation at the league,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement before the season. “Together, we view the Commissioner’s Cup not just as a compelling competition, but as a multi-faceted platform designed to drive opportunities for broader fan engagement, create additional interest around our regular season games, convene around equity and equality themes in our WNBA markets, and provide the players with an opportunity to earn significant cash compensation.”
— WNBA (@WNBA) May 12, 2021
With the tournament underway and some fans still unsure what the contest entails, let’s take a look at the details on exactly what the Commissioner’s Cup is, how it works, what’s on the line for teams that finish at the top, and what the timeline looks like during the regular season.
What the Commissioner’s Cup is and How it Works
The Commissioner’s Cup is an in-season competition that began at the start of the regular season and will continue throughout most of the summer. A total of 60 regular-season contests spread throughout all 12 teams will count towards the Cup standings.
Teams that compile the highest winning percentage in each of the Western and Eastern conferences will advance to the Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game on Aug. 12 in Phoenix. That game will be aired on Amazon Prime Video, a new media partner of the WNBA.
Since the regular season contests count towards the Cup standings, that means there are no additional games for WNBA teams and their players other than the Championship Game. So, from a team perspective, there are not many changes required as it relates to handling games pegged as Cup games.
When Engelbert spoke about the Commissioner’s Cup after it was announced ahead of the new year, she noted this tournament was “an idea presented by the players themselves,” meaning players were obviously on board with it. WNBA general managers seem to be in favor of the in-season tournament as well, with 42 percent of GMs voting in the annual GM Survey that the best parts of the Cup are the additional storylines and interest that could arise from the contest.
“Hopefully for the fans, it’s just going to generate excitement. You know, everybody loves watching games that mean something,” Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird said in an interview with CBS Sports. “So not only is this, like, a little bit of midseason bragging rights, there’s also money on it. I mean, you can’t get more meaningful than that.”
What do the Winners Get?
Perhaps the best part of what the Commissioner’s Cup could offer players throughout the league is the prize pool that the top teams will receive. As we all know, pay for WNBA players is much lower than other professional leagues, although the league and the WNBA Players Association has worked to improve that in recent years.
Key Points from today's #WNBA Commissioner's Cup announcement:
1⃣ 500K prize pool 💰
2⃣ Amazon Prime Video to stream Championship on August 12
3⃣ 60 "Cup Games" in the first half of the season between May 14 and July 11 https://t.co/8jbn6TO75X
— WNBA (@WNBA) May 12, 2021
With this in-season tournament, players will be battling for a piece of a prize pool that totals $500,000. According to the WNBA, members of the winning team will be able to earn in excess of $30,000 per player, while members of the runner-up squad will have an opportunity to earn $10,000 per player. Whoever wins the MVP award in the championship game will also get an additional $5,000.
Not only could the in-season tournament provide some additional interest to WNBA fans, but it will provide some players with additional compensation throughout the summer. It also gives teams something else to play for annually outside of the traditional playoffs.
Timeline and Standings
All Cup games will take place prior to the Olympic Break, which spans from July 15 to Aug. 11. The Championship Game on Aug. 12 will take place after the conclusion of the Olympics and just days before the second half of the regular season tips off on Aug. 15.
Just like there is for the WNBA regular season standings, there is a site where fans can track the up-to-date standings for the Commissioner’s Cup.
At WNBA.com, you can find the updated standings for the in-season tournament here.
The inaugural Commissioner’s Cup will be interesting to follow throughout the first portion of the WNBA season this summer. It will be intriguing to see if this tournament will continue to evolve beyond this year and how players, the league, and fans respond. At the very least, it offers additional goals—both with hardware and compensation—for teams to work toward during the summer.