As it turns the page on a new chapter, PWRFWD seeks to create a new path to sparking WNBA expansion. Boardroom takes a look at what’s next.
Luke Bonner grew up in basketball gyms, trailing his older sister and soaking up the game he loved. He spent his summers in the back of his family’s car, driving with her across the country as she attended camps with the nation’s top talent.
He learned early and often about the power and the impact of the women’s game. Those cross-country tours of his youth would serve as the foundation of what would become his life’s work.
As he began to carve what would later become PWRFWD out of his home in New Hampshire, he continued to return to women’s hoops. “I realized that most of the trends that emerge in other sports start in women’s basketball a couple of years earlier,” Bonner told Boardroom. “That’s where we started and kept coming back to.”
When you listen to him speak, it’s difficult not be affected by his passion for women’s sports. After launching PWRFWD in 2020, he looked to its next iteration as an opportunity to unlock the impact of the vibrant community in a new and more impactful way, with an eye towards WNBA expansion.
Cue PWRFWD 2.0.
Going Back to the Beginning
PWRFWD started as a marketplace rooted in empowerment. Bonner had identified a hole in the market, as he struggled to find merch for some of his favorite hoopers. He created a one-stop-shop where individual athletes could design, produce, and sell custom goods — and reap the lion’s share of the benefits.
Since it started, PWRFWD has collaborated with a long list of athletes and entrepreneurs, including Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, and more. It also launched a powerful line with women’s sports advocate Kelsey Trainor: “Invest in women. Pay women. Hire women.”
Over time, Bonner refined his business model to work with nearly exclusively female athletes and entrepreneurs. As he thinks back to this decision, Bonner pauses before explaining: “There’s a variety of reasons. There’s personal, there’s passion. And then, there’s just, like, straight-up business. … We realized, ‘Let’s focus on the best pieces of this.’
“From a business standpoint, women’s athletes, women’s basketball players, performed better than everyone else within the context of our business,” he adds.
Plus, he observed as the women of the W emerged repeatedly as changemakers, inspiring real and meaningful impact. Never was that more clear that in the Summer of 2020 and the rise of the Wubble.
From standing up for the Black Lives Matter movement to spearheading massive voter registration, the WNBA set a standard that elevated the game.
As Bonner worked with athletes, he became personally inspired by the stories that came through during the design process. He wanted to find more opportunities to develop a shared platform through which people could share themselves with their fans, and where fans could connect with each other.
As he built his team, he tapped Ghanaian Olympic triple jumper Nadia Eke to serve as its first head of community. It was her job to help translate these connections that were happening organically into something more intentional.
“[PWRFWD] has always been about community,” Eke told Boardroom. She highlights how the marketplace enabled fans to connect with their favorite athletes in a new way. However, as she looks to the future, she sees a whole different scope of potential.
“We really leaned into the opportunity, and we wanted to do something new,” she says. “It was no longer just about empowering athletes; it was about empowering fans as well.”
In order to do this, she identified three essential pillars:
- Creating presence: To Eke, this means establishing a shared reality and experience. It means sharing information and creating opportunities for connection around the game, which allows people to be “here in the now, supporting the thing that they love.”
- Fostering empowerment: Eke is quick to note that empowerment is a word that is frequently thrown around, but rarely defined. PWRFWD seeks to create opportunities — for athletes and fans alike — that enable them to work towards commonly held goals and to create measurable impact.
- Enhancing value: Simply put, Eke says, “We’ll be spreading the good word.”
She can’t hide her excitement for what she’s seen come together in a reasonably short amount of time. “No one else had created a space for people to engage. Now, we have a place that is dedicated to us. There is a power in the collective, and we are here to maximize that.”
As it looks to its next chapter, PWRFWD has a dynamic set of plans to usher in the future.
The Path to a W
PWRFWD 2.0 is only the beginning. As the company looks down the line, there is one central goal: to help fuel the expansion of the WNBA.
How that may happen? Well, Bonner sees a number of potential paths.
First, they’re buying two courtside season tickets in each WNBA market. As members of the PWRFWD community, people can unlock the exclusive opportunity to sit at eye-level with their favorite players. As Bonner explains, this infuses money directly into the league, while generating exciting opportunities for fans.
Plus, he says with a chuckle, “That’s something I will be proud of forever, no matter what happens.”
For Bonner, as conversations about Web3 and creative ownership took root, he began to understand how he might unlock the space.
It was only natural that their next step would be to mint a custom NFT — the first of an ongoing series of drops. Ownership unlocks a suite of benefits such as access to their exclusive Discord channel or a WNBA league pass.
First up in the digital collection: the Club Jacket NFT, which drops on April 29 at 3 p.m. EST. The design resembles throwback varsity jackets of days gone by and features a foundational motto: “We’re gonna get us a W.”
There will only be 1,000 available in the initial release, which were designed by Xavier Walker with brand direction from Alyssa Barnes.
NFTs are a vessel for what they’re seeking to build, Eke explains. She anticipates that the NFTs — what they offer, and how they expand — will grow alongside the evolving interests of the PWRFWD collective.
For the team, the next chapter is the beginning of something they have been building toward since day one; however, they acknowledge the path ahead will be a long one. They’re ready for the challenge and they see critical ways they’ll contribute to the larger promotion of the W.
“Expansion is long-term,” Bonner says. “There are a number of ways we can help drive that. We can show the business case for expansion ourselves. We can amplify messaging of expansion. We can maybe eventually invest in expansion — either via a new franchise or even by helping create a farm system for expanded rosters.”
In its next phase, PWRFWD will use its unique position between fans, athletes, and the league in order to be a catalyst for change. They’ve seen the proof in increments to this point, now they’re ready to make waves.