LAS VEGAS — The 2024 WNBA All-Star Game will remain out west when Phoenix hosts the annual event next summer, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced Saturday.
It will be the Phoenix Mercury’s third time hosting the game, participating in its second-ever All-Star Game in 2000 and the event in 2014. The news came during Engelbert’s speech ahead of the 2023 game at the Michelob Ultra Arena, which was announced in January. It is the first time the league has announced an All-Star venue during its tenure, which began in mid-2019.
The Mercury has announced that the Skill Challenge and 3-Point Shootout will take place on July 19 and the All-Star Game on July 20.
“We kind of took a three-year look at hosting All-Star because we want to move it forward a lot more than at least [while] I’ve been here, we’ve done that,” Engelbert told Yahoo Sports over the phone on Thursday. “Three-time WNBA champions, they had hosted the Commissioner’s Cup when we did that first year at a neutral venue. Great people to work with. They know how to do it, they have a great turnout. They’re one of the original teams from way back, so yeah, we’re really excited to be working with them.
Engelbert said the league has been working with Phoenix since last fall and began wrapping it up at the beginning of the calendar year. Mat Ishbia, the new team owner of the Mercury and NBA’s Suns, announced in late May that the franchise had made a formal bid for the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game.
“Phoenix is one of the greatest basketball cities in the world and the perfect place to bring players and fans together to celebrate the sport,” Ishbia said in a statement in May. “The Phoenix Suns and Mercury want to continue to find new and important ways to partner with the city to make a real impact on our community.”
The Phoenix City Council later unanimously approved the resolution to host the game and an NBA All-Star Game in 2025 or 2026. The franchise, city, mayor’s office, governor’s office, Phoenix Convention Center and other local groups wanted to present a united front on their bids.
“We have become known as ‘Championship Valley’ because we have the know-how and ability to run the best major sporting events and mega-events,” Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego told KJZZ.
An announcement a year in advance gives fans more time to plan outings and vacations, especially at a time when more and more travel across the country is on the rise. It also gives more attention to sponsors and companies that have invested more in women’s sports.
The site of this year’s event, Michelob Ultra Arena, with a capacity of 12,000, sold out months ago and players had last-minute trouble finding tickets. Footprint Center seats more than 17,000.
The 2022 All-Star Game in Chicago hosted the first WNBA Live event, a multi-day fan festival featuring player meet-and-greets, interactive booths, live panels, fan skill challenges, and viewing parties. The festival expanded from the 15,000-square-foot area outside Chicago’s Wintrust Arena to the 75,000-square-foot experience in Vegas’ Mandalay Bay, similar to the event held each year at the Women’s Final Four.
“Our business partners actually want to know where we are [and] know how they’re going to think about activation at All-Star,” Engelbert said. “And then we make it a habit to do next year [announcement] at the All-Star Game.”
Vegas sponsors included American Express, Mielle, STARRY and Kia. Fans could get their nails done at the nail bar, visit the Playa Society pop-up for merchandise, take photos with Nike’s flower wall, and hang out at the pop-up Sports Bra, a women-only sports bar in Portland, Oregon. There was also a center court again for activations and children had plenty of games to compete. Engelbert said the league plans to “keep blowing that out” for the Phoenix event and is happy to see the brands and agencies host features.
“It feels a little bit more like an NBA All-Star weekend, although it’s a lot warmer,” said Engelbert.
The 2024 season is during an Olympic year, which historically meant the league did not hold the annual mid-season event as top players competed for Team USA. When the Tokyo Olympics were held in the summer of 2021, the league held an All-Star Game as Team USA, all of whom were automatic All-Stars, against the WNBA All-Stars who were not on the national team. It was also the league’s 25th anniversary year.
“I’ve always thought about Sue Bird and how long she played in the league,” said Engelbert. “She could have been an All-Star 20 times, but there were times when we didn’t, so we definitely wanted to skip that next year and not skip it like we’ve done in the past. But we also put [in] 40 games now. We have a challenging footprint and everything.”
Engelbert said “we’ll definitely be looking at that format” with USA Basketball as an option again and more details on the game’s set-up will follow later. The Olympic Games will be held in Paris from July 27 to August 11, 2024.