WNBA Draft may want to take some notes from NFL for its

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

Thursday, April 28 saw the conclusion of the first round of the NFL’s draft. 

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young was selected by the Carolina Panthers first overall. C.J. Stroud went to the Houston Texans with the second pick. Will Anderson went third also to the Texans. Anthony Richardson was taken by the Indianapolis Colts, Jalen Carter was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles and a couple of noteworthy quarterbacks in Kentucky’s Will Levis and Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker went undrafted in the first round. 

Speaking of those Indianpolis Colts, among those that were present at the team’s VIP draft party were a couple of noteworthy figures from the Indiana Fever in Destanni Henderson and Aliyah Boston. The latter knows a bit of something about being a first overall pick. 

Previously, all drafts used to be held in a centralized location – typically somewhere in New York City. Recently, we have seen the NFL, MLB and NHL begin to take their draft shows on the road. In the case of Major League Baseball, it held its draft for a few years at its MLB Network’s Studio 42 in Secaucus, New Jersey.  

The presentation for the WNBA’s draft has certainly improved – especially as the W has emerged out of the panic about the pandemic. But would it really be the smart move for the WNBA to return to Spring Studios for the 2024 draft? 

Part of the reason why the NFL Draft is such a much-anticipated period on the calendar is because it realizes its brand is so powerful that it can take its draft anywhere and draw a crowd. That is another element to the NFL Draft that makes it so attractive – it allows for maximum fan access and that simply cannot be accomplished in the condensed confines of a Spring Studios. 

One must understand the history of the draft to understand where the WNBA’s draft has the potential to evolve to in the future.

There were a few seasons where the WNBA simply held its draft at the NBA’s Entertainment Studios – also in Secaucus. In 2006, the WNBA moved its draft to Boston at the Boston Convention and Entertainment Center. That year’s Women’s Final Four was also held in Boston that year. The next two year’s of WNBA Drafts were staged in Cleveland and Tampa – also in conjunction with Final Fours that emanated from both locales. 

Then the draft returned to Secaucus at the NBA studios. In 2011, the year UConn’s very own Maya Moore was selected first overall by the Minnesota Lynx, the draft was held at ESPN headquarters in Bristol. It remained there until 2014 when the location of the draft was moved to Mohegan Sun Arena – the home venue of the Connecticut Sun. Of course, Connecticut had the top pick that year and they selected Chiney Ogwumike out of Stanford. 

The draft stayed at Mohegan Sun Arena until 2017 when it was moved back to New York City at the Samsung 837 studios. That year Kelsey Plum was selected first overall out of Washington by the Las Vegas Aces (who were the San Antonio Stars).

For the 2018 and 2019 rendition, it was held in Nike’s New York City headquarters – a larger location than Samsung 837. In 2018 and 2019, respectively, A’ja Wilson and Jackie Young were first overall selections – both to the Aces. 

The pandemic induced virtual drafts in 2020 (Sabrina Ionescu, 1st overall – New York Liberty) and 2021 (Charli Collier – Dallas Wings). Last year was when the draft first moved to Spring Studios and Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard was selected first overall by the Atlanta Dream after a deal made with the Washington Mystics. 

The WNBA is no longer in a scenario where it can afford to think small – it has to think big and the success of LSU vs. Iowa should be the catalyst for Cathy Engelbert to start thinking big about its marquee events – including the draft. 

This should especially be the case since the 2024 draft is shaping up to be one of its deepest drafts in history. Pundits are comparing it to the 2003 NBA Draft that saw LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade headlining its class. 

The last thing the WNBA needs to do is have the 2024 draft in a locale that only allows for limited access by fans and media at best. The 2024 draft needs to be in a much larger venue that allows for maximum access by media and fans. 

And the perfect location could be sitting right in the WNBA’s face – but the W continues to play in ours. And we understand that there is no sense in comparing the W’s budget to that of the NFL. Still – small thinking will not get the WNBA anywhere in terms of treating the draft like the signature occasion it is.

For almost every season since 2013 (save for the 2020 COVID year when it was done via conference call at ESPN’s Bristol headquarters), the NBA draft has been staged at Barclays Center – the home court of the Brooklyn Nets. 

Wait a second…Barclays Center is the home court of the Brooklyn Nets…and the New York Liberty. It is a modern-day basketball cathedral. If the intent of the W is to keep the draft in the Tri-State area, why not move it to Barclays? We are confident that they can work through what scheduling conflicts may arise between them and the Nets.

The Jacob Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s West Side may also be a viable option. Could the WNBA look at an outdoor location such as Central Park? If the endgame is to have the draft outside of the Tri-State Area, why not move the draft to a Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, Las Vegas, Seattle, Atlanta or a city like Toronto, Oakland or Portland that is in the running for an expansion franchise. 

The days of the WNBA thinking small with its product need to come to an end. Between the bull market women’s sports are in, the upward trajectory of interest in the women’s game and the increasing amount of money that flows into women’s sports, the W is running out of excuses to continue to be steered by the penny-pinchers who only see it as a charity instead of a profitable business. 

One of the biggest days on the WNBA calendar is the draft – the WNBA needs to start treating it as such.