LeBron James and Steph Curry are household names and brand magnates, but Diana Taurasi and A’ja Wilson haven’t quite reached that level. That’s despite being, respectively, the W.N.B.A.’s career top scorer and reigning MVP. And it’s despite the average viewership for the 2020 women’s basketball finals shooting up 15 percent from the previous year — while the men’s finals saw a 49 percent drop. In a sport that’s beloved and at a time when female athletes are raising their profiles (think Naomi Osaka and Megan Rapinoe), why isn’t the W.N.B.A. minting superstars?
That’s a question Cathy Engelbert, the league’s commissioner, is grappling with. Since joining the W.N.B.A. in 2019, she has settled a collective bargaining agreement to increase player compensation and has overseen the W.N.B.A.’s recent push into sports betting. In this conversation, Kara Swisher and Engelbert discuss why women’s sports are underwatched and undervalued, what that means for pay equity and whether the women’s league will ever be financially independent from their parent organization and male counterpart: the N.B.A.