New TV deal, injury to one of its biggest stars brings more attention to WNBA in its fight for better pay
On April 22, the WNBA and CBS Sports agreed to a multiyear TV deal that will almost double the exposure of the league compared to last season. CBS Sports Network will air 40 WNBA games this season, and ESPN will air another 16. This new deal appears to be a big step in the right direction for a league that is constantly battling to achieve equal pay — and will help make this deal about more than just the games.
“It’s going to be beyond highlights,” Senior Vice President, Global Media Distribution and Business Affairs for NBA Entertainment David Denenberg told the Star Tribune. “Whether it’s features we develop or CBS develops, we want to do more.”
The new deal adds another layer to the fight for better pay for the WNBA players, who make just a fraction of what their NBA counterparts make. While there are a number of economic factors as to why NBA players earn more money, like jersey sales, tickets and a higher TV ratings share, WNBA player salaries on their own are still astonishingly small for professional ball players.
For example, a player on a maximum contract in the NBA makes about $40 million annually, and this figure is continuing to increase by the millions every year. A max player in the WNBA, however, makes just $115,000, and the max contract only goes up $2,000 every season.
A’ja Wilson was drafted number one overall in the 2018 WNBA draft but has a salary of $53,000, whereas number one overall pick in the NBA that same year, Deandre Ayton, plays on an average salary of $8.8 million a year.
The list of disparities goes on, and last season all throughout the WNBA, players began to speak up. Players like All-Star and WNBA legend Sue Bird began to bring up the notion that this was unjust.
“Look, we’re not over here saying we should be paid the same as the men. We’re realistic,” Bird told ESPN. “We understand that this is a business and that their revenue is insane compared to ours. But there is a bias that exists.”
What players do want is a bigger share of the revenue.
“I’m tired of people thinking that us players are asking for the same type of money as NBA players,” said Las Vegas Aces’ star Kelsey Plum in a tweet. “We are asking for the same percentage of revenue shared within our CBA.”
While the WNBA collective bargaining agreement is not public, there are estimates that suggest the players make only 20% of the league revenue. On the other hand, NBA players make 50% of their league revenue. Because of this, in November of 2018, the WNBA Players Association announced that they voted to opt-out of the CBA, which now expires after the 2019 season. The players association also plans to market around the league’s stars, market the teams more effectively, space out the schedule and improve the travel conditions.
Because players do not earn enough over the course of a regular season, many play in other leagues overseas in the offseason. Abroad, WNBA stars can make around 10 to 15 times more money than they do in the states. But the downside is that doing so taxes the players’ bodies year round and leaves no offseason to recover.
Because of this, injuries and fatigue are common. Breanna Stewart, the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player and Finals MVP in 2019, entered this Spring coming off a dominant season that culminated in a championship for her team, the Seattle Storm. Even she, like many other WNBA players, competed overseas right after the season ended. In last month’s Euroleague championship game, Stewart ruptured her achilles, ending her 2019 WNBA season before it began.
This was a big blow for the WNBA, as Stewart is one of its bigger stars. The injury made waves throughout the basketball world, and NBA players like Lebron James and others showed their support for the MVP.
The NBA is no stranger to showing its support for WNBA players, as it is one of the biggest supporters in the WNBA’s quest for better pay. The NBA has long supported the WNBA, even releasing commercials featuring players such as Steph Curry, Paul George and Isaiah Thomas, among others, expressing their excitement for the WNBA and its players. Other superstars across the NBA commonly voice their enjoyment of the league and share some of their favorite players. Even with WNBA players opting out of the CBA, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver expressed his understanding.
“I wasn’t disappointed at all,” Silver told ESPNW. “My sense from talking to players and listening to what they’re saying publicly is that we seem to be missing a connection, a real engagement between the players and the league.”
With the new WNBA season now just weeks away, there is new excitement to look forward to and a chance to garner more publicity that could surely help the league as it continues to grow. Even offering a league pass for only $16.99 that gives fans access to every game, the WBNA continues to look forward to expanding and ultimately reaching its goal of better pay, which they plan to achieve following the end of the season in the negotiations for a new CBA.
Written by: Omar Navarro — firstname.lastname@example.org