Later this week, the historic 25th WNBA season will begin on Friday, May 14. To celebrate the milestone, the league unveiled a number of initiatives, including a new game ball, new uniforms, and will later announce the 25 greatest players and moments. In addition, this season will see the debut of a new competition, the Commissioner's Cup.
On Wednesday, the league officially announced the details and schedule for the competition, which will feature a $500,000 prize pool for the players.
"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," commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement. "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."
How does the Commissioner's Cup work?
The Commissioner's Cup will be an in-season competition, meaning that there are no extra games involved except for the championship. Select regular season games -- 10 per team and 60 overall -- will count towards cup standings, and the team from each conference with the best winning percentage in those games will meet in the championship.
Cup games will include each team's first home and road matchup against in-conference opponents. For example, that means when the Phoenix Mercury play the Minnesota Lynx on opening night, that will be a Cup game, but when the Mercury play the Connecticut Sun a few days later, that will not be a Cup game.
All "Cup" games will take place prior to the Olympic break, and the championship will be held on Aug. 12 in Phoenix ahead of the season's resumption on Aug. 15.
What's at stake?
This being the inaugural edition of the Commissioner's Cup, there's no historical meaning to the competition just yet. Still, there's plenty at stake for both the teams and the players.
For one, since the Cup will be held in-season, all Cup games are also regular season games. So even if a team isn't particularly devoted to winning the Cup, they'll still have the usual motivation to win these games to try and improve their record and seeding for the playoffs.
And then, most notably, there's the $500,000 prize pool, which will be split between the teams that make it to the championship. Players from the winning team will get as much as $30,000 per player, while players from the losing team will get as much as $10,000 per player. An additional $5,000 prize will be given to the MVP of the championship game.
For rookies making just over $70,000, that's the chance to win nearly 50 percent of their salary. And even for veterans making the supermax of $221,000, that's still a significant sum.
What do the players think of the competition?
In an interview with Yahoo, Seattle Storm legend Sue Bird said the Cup will be "normal" for players given their experience with similar competitions overseas.
"We're used to playing in that system," Bird said. And hopefully for the fans, it's just going to generate excitement. You know, everybody loves watching games that mean something. 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."
Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne, meanwhile, added that players will be motivated by the Cup.
"It's also motivating just as a competitor to have another championship to go for," Delle Donne said.