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New 3x3 Women’s Basketball League Banking on Star Power, Media Deal to Cut Through

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New 3x3 Women’s Basketball League Banking on Star Power, Media Deal to Cut Through

Unrivaled, a new 3x3 professional basketball league co-founded by Breanna Stewart and Napheesa Collier, recently announced the closing of an oversubscribed seed round and its plans to debut in January 2025. 

The capital will enable the startup property “to get [a] facility [and] sign a substantial number of major players with guaranteed contracts,” Dan Rosensweig (executive chairman, Chegg Inc. and an investor in the round) said.

Unrivaled is expected to feature many of the game’s biggest stars (think: U.S. Olympic roster), which will make it vastly different than most challenger leagues. 

“30 [of the top players] playing during the [time of year] people want to watch [basketball], that has a real chance to create a ton of value,” Rosensweig said.

It’s the primary reason investors are so bullish on the league’s prospects and its chances at long-term success. 

Ashton Kutcher, Michelle Wei, and Steve Nash are among the high-profile celebrities on the cap table. David Levy (via an investment from Horizon Sports & Entertainment) and John Skipper have also backed Unrivaled and are selling its media rights. 

HS&E is the league’s sponsorship sales agency of record too.


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Women’s basketball’s rise in popularity over the last ~18 months is undeniable. 

But it’s fair to wonder if general market sports fans want or need more than seven months of it each year. For context, football season spans less than six. 

It’s also logical to question if the market can support another women’s pro league. Few, if any, WNBA or NWSL teams are profitable on a year-to-year basis, and the competition for consumer eyeballs and dollars is only rising.

It must be noted that franchise values within those leagues have risen dramatically in recent years. Ron Burkle paid $2mm for the NWSL’s San Diego Wave FC in 2021. He sold the team for $120mm earlier this year. 

But Unrivaled’s investors and leadership is convinced that with its star power, between sponsorships, media rights, digital media, and ticket sales, a path to short-term profitability exists.

“You can see [with the NBA’s negotiations] there is demand for quality basketball,” Levy said. 

That includes women’s basketball. 

“Whether it’s NCAA or the WNBA, you’re seeing double and triple digit increases in viewership [and attendance],” Levy said.

There are also a growing number of corporations investing in women’s sports.

Fortune 500 “brands [and top agencies] are starting to shift real dollars into [the category],” Levy said. “AT&T, Ally, Nissan, Google, [and] GroupM [are] all [doing it because they] see the ratings and engagement.”

That bodes well for a league featuring the sport’s biggest draws. 

In fact, “there is an expectation [Unrivaled] will turn profitable very quickly,” Rosensweig said. 

All six of its teams will be owned an operated at a league level to start. The single-entity structure ensures competitive balance on and off the floor and gives executives the flexibility needed to best monetize their assets.

“Everyone’s in the exact same boat, rowing in the same direction,” Bazzell said. “We are all working collectively together for the same mission.”

That includes the players who will receive equity in the new league in addition to their salaries (players will receive the highest average salary in women’s pro sports history). 

But Unrivaled is not spending wastefully. It is focused on keeping overhead low. 

The league is keeping its costs down by playing the bulk of its games at a single venue in Miami. The 600 hours of programming created at the facility will be used to promote the property and its players across social and digital channels.

But while the centralized model reduces travel costs, it will also make it hard for the new league to build fandom on a local level. 

“That's why the WNBA is expanding to 16 cities, from 12,” Bazzell said. It “needs more touch points around the country.”

Unrivaled will have a small tour component baked into its schedule. The idea is to give a greater number of women’s hoops fans the chance to see their favorite players up close. 

“But initially, the athletes themselves, their popularity, the size of their social networks, will [have to] overcome that hurdle [and do much of the heavy lifting to market the league],” Rosensweig said.

The thinking is they simply need to make general market sports fans aware of the product and when the games are taking place. With the best talent competing, those individuals will make the time to watch.

While Unrivaled will debut with a single-entity structure, selling some of/all its teams could be in the league’s future. Big3’s recent success unloading a franchise for $10mm suggests it is a realistic option.

In the meantime, the league will focus on maximizing the value of its broadcast rights.

“For this to become huge it’s about media,” Bazzell said.

Levy anticipates strong demand for the rights when he and Skipper take them to market. There are more distribution platforms than ever before, and high-quality women’s sports programming remains relatively limited.

But don’t expect Unrivaled to take a deal from one of the digital players. Its two-hour broadcast time blocks (think: two one-hour games) were specifically designed to fit linear television.

“We want to make sure this is visible,” Bazzell said. “We already know brands want more exposure.”

The players do too. 

Unrivaled is managing to attract top talent by giving those chosen the chance to remain in U.S. during the WNBA offseason and get paid well while doing it, albeit not as well as most could likely do overseas. But by remaining stateside American players can continue building their personal brand, and sponsors’ brands, as opposed to being out of sight and mind abroad.

“We are a platform and [it provides] further exposure for brand [activations and executions],” Bazzell said.

If that’s the case though, it’s fair to question why the league is awarding players equity?

Rosensweig, a tech executive, said he views Unrivaled like any other start-up he would invest in, and that the best performing companies tend to be the ones who value their employees.

We “want everyone to be incentivized to make the league great, to promote the league, to care about it,” he said.

But tech is a highly competitive field where the best talent can float between companies. Pro sports is not. Women hoopsters generally do not want to go overseas to earn additional compensation. 

Historically speaking, there has not been an attractive alternative. That changes come ’25. 

Investors are banking on the league’s star power –and a traditional media deal(s)– will be enough cut through.

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