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WNBA gets $75 million from high-profile investors

The WNBA says it will use $75 million to invest in a long-term transformation of the league. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

The WNBA added $75 million to its coffers through a capital raise that brought in new investments from some of the biggest names in business, athletics and entertainment.

The list of investors, announced Thursday, included former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, Carnival Corporation and Miami Heat owners Micky and Nick Arison, Dell founder Michael and Susan Dell, former WNBA star Swin Cash, former NBA players Baron Davis and Pau Gasol, Wizards and Mystics owner Ted Leonsis, and Nike.

The funds will be used in a variety of ways to increase league revenue and growth through investment.

“I can’t find another word for it, and I know I use it a lot, but another historic moment for the WNBA,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said. “To build or grow a business, you have to have access to capital and you have to have the right human capital and resources to then deploy it and execute on your strategy.”

Part of the plan is to put more resources into player and league marketing, growing the fan base with more opportunities to interact with the league, globalization and investments in operations. The goal also is to reach new audiences with promotion of players and games in areas outside of the WNBA’s traditional markets. The league labeled it a “multifaceted financial growth strategy.” Engelbert believes there should be a return on the investments within a three-to-five-year span.

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“That’s what a transformation is all about,” she said.

The commissioner mentioned research on how to make it easier for current and future fans to see or attend games and have access to merchandise, which has been an issue. Technology will be a significant focus, from in-game broadcast innovation to additional digital options to watch games.

Funds will continue to go toward the league’s social justice platform and investment in minority-owned businesses. The globalization aspect will look at a variety of ways to market around the world and growing a “global footprint.”

“Women’s sport is one of the best investments, with great potential to impact and grow the next era of basketball,” Sonja Henning, Nike vice president of North America league partnerships, said in a statement. “Nike has always been more than a sponsor with the WNBA — we’re a strategic partner. And we’re proud to be part of a movement to redefine the future of sport for a new generation — for WNBA players, fans and girls.”

The league celebrated its 25th anniversary last season with a variety of efforts, including the creation of the WNBA Changemaker program, which brought additional equity investments from partners such as Google, Amazon Prime Video and AT&T.

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