One month into the job, new WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert says she is ready to stir things up and use her business acumen to shore up the financial outlook for the professional basketball league. The former chief executive officer of accounting firm Deloitte was in Indianapolis for Inspiring Women Night at an Indiana Fever game this week.
“We need to capitalize and market this league so that we have a coolness factor so we can attract more fans, attract corporate sponsors, and drive revenue,” said Engelbert.
Engelbert worked 33 years at Deloitte, the last four as CEO. She was credited with leading a large transformation across the business by embracing new technologies. Engelbert wants to use that same mindset in the WNBA.
“I was a beneficiary of that in my formative years that helped me become a leader in a very male-dominated world.”
She was appointed WNBA commissioner in May to take a hard look at the league, see what needs to be transformed and how to broaden the revenue base. She started her new position in July.
“There’s no doubt coming in with the business experience with transformation experience, with dealing with culture change all of those things. And we’re currently in the bargaining negotiation.”
Engelbert took the reins while the league is in the middle of salary negotiations. She acknowledges pay disparity is an issue that needs to be addressed in a league started 23 years ago. But she says it’s not as easy as writing bigger checks.
“As you think about a transformation, there are three pillars, player experience, fan experience, and economics. And the economics will lead to higher player pay,” said Engelbert.
Engelbert played basketball for Lehigh University until 1986. Her coach was Muffet McGraw who moved to the University of Notre Dame in 1987. McGraw was the special honoree at the Fever game which brought Engelbert to Indy. Engelbert says McGraw has helped lead women sports to an important moment in time.
“We have such a platform for women in sports at this moment, this movement around women’s empowerment,” Engelbert explained. “The players are so socially minded and community conscious. I’m taking over at a great time in the conversation around women’s leadership.”