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WNBA commissioner says a profitable shortened coronavirus season is "existential" for the league

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told CNBC on Friday that she sees the shortened season of this year's corona virus as critical for the league and female professional athletes everywhere.

"This could move the women's sports counter," she told Squawk Box the day before Saturday's opening games. "It is existential for us to have a season economically."

Since many sports leagues are restricted to corona viruses for security reasons and television stations are hungry for live sports, according to the New York Times, about half of the WNBA games will be broadcast on television this year. This is a change from previous years when men's sport was given priority.

Engelbert, former CEO of Deloitte and an outstanding basketball and lacrosse player from Lehigh University, hopes that the Women's National Basketball Association can use the opportunity for additional TV coverage.

"Part of that was getting more attention to these elite athletes," she said. "Less than 5% of all sports covered are women's sports."

The WNBA promotion starts on Saturday with three games, meaning a shortened season of 22 regular games with playoffs.

Given the risks associated with playing basketball during a pandemic, the 12 teams and their support staff are quarantined at the IMG Academy sports complex in Bradenton, Florida, where all games are played without fans. Getting players and staff into a "bubble" is a strategy that is also being pursued by the National Basketball Association of Men and Major League Soccer in Orlando and the National Women & # 39; s Soccer League in Utah.

"A lot of the scenario was planned, so much of my business experience is beneficial," said Engelbert, noting that since the first quarantine in early July, no WNBA player has tested positive for the corona virus.

"We were lucky because we know that this virus is complicated," she said. "We started individual quarantine when the players came to Florida. Four days later, we were only doing team activities."

"It was a Herculean effort and a huge sacrifice from the players and coaches," she added. "So far, so good, but I don't want to hex it."

Engelbert, who is also a board member of Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit advocacy group, said that the insights gained in the WNBA bubble could be extended to other offices as companies strive to return to work.

"I think there are lessons to be learned here, but they are no different from the public announcements of wearing masks and washing hands," said Engelbert.

"I realize that not everyone can do the tests that we're doing here," she continued. "But one thing I've learned in the three weeks here is that if you follow science, it works."

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