The ABL got off the ground before the WNBA, and at least early on its quality of play was higher than the rival league. This was partly due to the league's signing of a majority of players from the 1996 USA women's national team. Although the WNBA was bankrolled by the NBA, the ABL offered higher salaries. The two leagues didn't compete directly; the ABL played during the winter while the WNBA played during the summer. Despite this, the ABL ultimately found the WNBA's stronger financial resources—augmented by the NBA's marketing muscle—to be too much to overcome.
Some of the ABL's problems were of its own making. The league operated as a single-entity structure, which was intended to control costs until it found its feet. However, it also meant that even the most basic decisions related to team operations had to go through the league office in Palo Alto, California. League officials were so fixated on national sponsorships that they hamstrung the teams' efforts to market themselves locally. The ABL was also underfinanced.