The WNBA has a significant problem. It's not the NBA itself, it's not the men of the NBA, it's not even discrimination. The WNBA’s problem is something much more tangible, much more basic and it's related to collective bargaining agreements. The NBA has to deal with the NBAPA and the revenues earned, by the NBA, as related to the men’s game has to be accounted for, money in money out, profit earned profit lost.
The collective bargaining agreement with the NBAPA means revenues are shared between the league and the players. The rules of said agreement are implemented every year based on revenue earned and the salary cap rises or falls based on revenue. The NBA has been around for 72 years and it has taken the NBAPA until now to see its members potentially be worthy of 5-year $200 million dollar contracts. The WNBAPA is wrong to think this is simply men being paid more for the same work.
First, the men of the NBA play 82 regular season games and teams good enough to make it to the NBA Finals could play another 28 games. Each game in the NBA is four quarters 12 minutes each. It’s a grueling grind from mid-October to the following June.
The NBA competes in season with hockey (the NHL), American Football (the NFL), and MLB’s baseball playoffs are in progress when the NBA season starts and MLB starts it's spring training in February and March when the NBA regular season is winding down. MLS soccer is also a hot ticket in North America these days running February through December every year.
In contrast, the WNBA is played between May to September, the offseason of most North American sports. The women play 34 regular season games, each game consisting of four quarters 10 minutes long. MLB baseball and MLS soccer are the two major sports leagues in full swing during the WNBA’s season.
The reality is that the WNBA draws 7,000 fans per game while an NBA game draws 17,000 plus. The NBA is the top league and top paying league for men’s basketball. It has tentacles worldwide and thanks to the inclusion of players like Andrei Kirilenko and Yao Ming and Andrew Bogut the NBA is seen in Russia, China and Australia to name a few of the many parts of the world the game is seen.
Currently, the NBAPA has 108 international players representing 42 different countries. The NBA signed a monster broadcasting deal in October of 2014, with ABC, TNT and ESPN giving the NBA $2.6 billion annually from TV deals until the 2024-25 season. The WNBA similarly has a deal with ABC and ESPN/ESPN 2 through 2022 worth $12 million annually. We are comparing apples to oranges.
Further complicating a cry for higher pay in the WNBA is what the men amass has to be accounted for under their collective bargaining agreement with the NBA and shared 50-50. In 2016-17 that number was listed at $7.4 billion dollars.
The WNBA does not come close to this type of revenue generation. The NBA cannot combine the revenues of the two leagues and divvy them up more evenly. So unless the NBA wants to toss more money at the WNBA, from its share of revenue, to keep the players happy, the women will have to find other avenues to earn extra revenue or grow the game somehow.
Half of the 12 WNBA franchises, as of two years ago were losing money and fan interest has been plummeting in the WNBA. Currently, the women claim to be tired of going overseas to get higher salaries in international leagues than they do in the WNBA.
As of last year, the average salary in the WNBA was $71,635. In 2018, it was closer to $75,000. Diana Taurasi earned $1.5 million playing for a Russian squad during the 2015-16 season. In contrast, we know top NBA players receive salaries like $37 million going to Stephen Curry
A large bump in salary for the players of the WNBA now could be the difference between long-term survival of the WNBA or extinction. The women should focus their energy on growing their game. They need to up attendance, increase merchandising sales, perhaps extend their season to add more games and when appropriate add more franchises. All of this takes time and sound business decisions. It is profitability that is holding back the value of the women of the WNBA, not traditional gender prejudice.
With low attendance and low ticket sales, the cost of operating a WNBA franchise is too high. “It’s not even close to feasible.” This was a quote, from WNBA Indiana Fever, general manager Kelly Krauskopf regarding the franchise’s prospects of chartering team flights. But, the players are adamant they want more money.
Diana Taurasi earlier this year stated: “Last time I checked, the NBA has had a strike, the NHL has had a strike and they have millions to lose. So if we’re not willing to lose everything as players, we really don’t have much to gain.” The problem is this demand now could sink the WNBA.
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There is a recent commercial, in which, a young boy and girl dream of making it to the pros playing basketball. The young girl, eventually makes the WNBA wondering why the men get paid so much more? While I can’t argue, with equal pay for equal work, the WNBA and WNBAPA has to bring in more revenue, much more revenue to compete on equal terms with their male counterparts.