When Nike said that "a league partnership can’t be just a business transaction" last year, it meant it. Not even a full year later, the Swoosh is deepening its relationship with the WNBA by becoming an equity investor in the women's basketball league.
When Nike reaffirmed its WNBA partnership in 2021, it'd only been developing uniforms with the league for three years. Now, Nike wants to get even more closely involved with the league, beyond efforts like the WIN Program.
As part of its 25-year partnership plan with the league, Nike has become an equity investor in the WNBA, espousing plans to foster recruitment and boost visibility for WNBA players.
"Nike has always been more than a sponsor with the WNBA — we’re a strategic partner," Sonja Henning, VP, NA Leagues Partnerships at Nike said. "And we’re proud to be part of a movement that is redefining sport for a new generation — for WNBA players, fans and girls."
On top of the professional injustices that players face, there's also a systemic social indifference to be dismantled.
"We have just these embedded feelings that the women’s version of something is weaker, slower, easier, dumbed-down," former Warsaw Sports Marketing Center director Whitney Wagoner said in an interview last year. "You point to a lot of male athletes, and the reason they’re so powerful is not just that they’re a good basketball player, it’s that somehow they’ve become pop culture icons."
Here is a perfect problem for deep-pocketed Nike to solve. For instance, if Nike puts the necessary capital into promoting WNBA stars, it can give them a deserved boost into the same rarefied realm occupied by so many male basketball players.
This public announcement by Nike caps the WNBA's largest-ever funding round, which includes support from individuals embedded in the NBA, like Miami Heat CEO Nick Arison and Warriors vet Baron Davis, and outsiders like — of all people — former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.