Brand Strategy

How the New York Liberty are staying hot during the offseason

The team built on 2023 momentum by announcing its 2024 schedule on an episode of the popular YouTube series Hot Ones.
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Sarah Stier/Getty Images

4 min read

The New York Liberty were on fire last year in more ways than one.

The Brooklyn-based WNBA team made it all the way to the finals, setting league attendance records along the way before facing defeat at the hands of the Las Vegas Aces. In December, two months after the season ended, the team made sure its 2024 schedule release announcement continued to bring the heat: Liberty star forward and two-time MVP Breanna Stewart dropped the news on an episode of Hot Ones, the YouTube series turned standalone brand where guests eat hot wings while being interviewed.

“Over the past few seasons, schedule release day in the WNBA has become a big event,” Shana Stephenson, the Liberty’s chief brand officer, told Marketing Brew. “I always challenge our marketing team to really think of something that’s creative, original…Even though I like to be inspired by other teams and leagues, I also still like to make sure that it’s original and also unique to the W.”

The Hot Ones collab seems to have met those qualifications. It was the first time Hot Ones worked with a WNBA team, and the episode also included some twists to add the flavor of the WNBA. Fans have since snapped up tickets like they’re hot wings at a sporting event: The Liberty has sold 54% more full and partial season-ticket plans for this season than it had by the end of the 2023 season, Stephenson said, and revenue from all Liberty ticket options—including single-game tickets, season tickets, half-season plans, and luxury suites—is up 166% year over year.

Perfect pair

When Stephenson was brainstorming ways to reach a broad audience with the schedule release, she said Hot Ones just “popped into my head.” Sean Evans, the show’s host, had been to Liberty games before, and the show’s executive producer is also a fan, Stephenson said. Hot Ones had also previously worked with the Los Angeles Chargers. But there was one issue: Evans’ wasn’t able to film in person on the Liberty’s timeline.

To solve the scheduling snag, Evans remotely recorded videos of himself to be edited into the episode, according to Stephenson, and the Liberty recruited sports journalist Arielle Chambers to host in his stead. To make sure viewers knew the Liberty’s partnership with Hot Ones was legit, Evans did the intro before tossing to Chambers, and the show’s staff helped the Liberty production team recreate the set and prep the wings just right.

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Besides the change of host, there was one more difference in the Liberty episode of Hot Ones: Stewart’s chicken-wing gauntlet consisted of 12 sauces as opposed to the usual 10 (and not just because athletes are better than the rest of us). Stephenson had the idea to add in two more sauces to represent the 12 teams in the WNBA. The first 11 represented each of the Liberty’s opponents, and the 12th and hottest sauce represented the Liberty itself.

The resulting video, which was posted to the Liberty’s YouTube channel, reached 32,000 views in about a month, considerably higher than most other content on the channel. Men account for 75% of the audience for the Hot Ones schedule release video, according to Stephenson, and 70% of the views are from people in the 18–44 age demographic, a “sweet spot for every brand,” she said.

Everybody eats

Using a schedule release to promote every team in the league isn’t a first for the Liberty. For its 2022 schedule release, the team partnered with a nail tech who created custom nail designs based on every team in the league, Stephenson said.

“The league has done a great job of starting to build narratives and storytelling around rivals,” she said. “There are a lot of anticipated matchups, especially with the Liberty coming off of the finals, so we see some of these rivalry stories develop through the interview portion between Stewie and Ari.”

The 2024 WNBA season doesn’t kick off until May, but free agents can begin signing contracts on Feb. 1, “so hopefully, there’ll be some buzz generating around the Liberty around that time,” Stephenson said. There’s also the draft in April, which is highly anticipated considering the potential for college stars like Cailtin Clark, Angel Reese, and Paige Bueckers to declare.

“Coming off of the success and the historic season that we had in 2023, I think a lot of that momentum has certainly carried over into the offseason,” Stephenson said.

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