The issue of female athletes receiving lesser pay than their male counterparts has not only been predominant in basketball but in the world of sports generally. This gender pay gap led the United States women’s national soccer team to sue the United States Soccer Federation in 2019.
Since the WNBA’s establishment in 1996, the wide salary disparity between the female basketball players and their counterparts in the NBA has caused heated debates on several occasions. As such, there has been a slight increment in the average WNBA salary over the years, nonetheless, the pay is still a far cry from what the players in the National Basketball Association are earning. Although the WNBA players are not eyeing equal wage with the male counterparts, knowing fully well that they generate lesser revenue compared with what the NBA teams generate, they have been asking for better pay befitting their talent.
The Women’s National Basketball Association has since made headway in getting better salaries by negotiating a better payment structure that will be in effect from 2020 through 2027. This was made possible through the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) signed in January 2020. The new payment structure now covers maternity leave payment, as well as the annual child care stipend among other things.
How The New CBA Upped The Average WNBA Salary By Over 30%
With the WNBA being created in 1996, it serves as the longest-lasting pro-women sports league in the United States. However, since its existence, players in the league have continuously fought for a higher base salary which should be decent for a professional athlete. In 2018, the average WNBA salary was around $71,635. Following a 3% annual increment in their salaries, the average salary in the league in 2019 was raised to $74,349.14 and that of core players was set at $117,500 annually.
Many players who are dissatisfied with the payment structure normally opt to play overseas during the offseason where they gain more recognition and higher pay as well, earning over $100,000. About two-thirds of the WNBA players play for foreign basketball franchises and this year-round play often affects their physical and mental health, as many players return to the States after the offseason with injuries. This sometimes costs the WNBA team owners a whole season whenever their talent gets hurt. As a result, a new eight-year collective bargaining agreement was signed on January 14th, 2020.
Led by Nneka Ogwumike, the president of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA), WNBA players were able to negotiate a more satisfactory wage that was unveiled by the WNBPA, WNBA Board of Governors, and WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert in January 2020. In this new CBA, the average WNBA salary for the year 2020 was raised to $100,658.51 from $74,349.14. Also, core players in the league now earn an annual salary of $215,000 rather than the $117,500 they pocketed in 2019.
A WNBA player with two years of service also earns a minimum salary of $57,000 instead of the annual salary of $42,728 they were previously paid. Interestingly, the new WNBA players’ salaries will see a 3% raise annually through 2027. With this substantial financial bump established by the 2020 CBA, the average salary of players in the Women’s National Basketball Association has gained an annual increment of 35 percent.
In addition to the significant salary improvements, there were also other benefits in the form of bonuses for the players that were put in place in 2020 in an effort to cover the egregious gender wage gap.
The Additional Bonuses and Prize Pools In The New CBA
With the signing of the WNBA CBA comes multiple new earning opportunities for all players from rookies to veterans. Previously in the league, players don’t get paid while on maternity leave but now they are paid a full salary during maternity leave. That’s not all, mothers are also provided with a new childcare stipend of $5,000 annually, as well as a two-bedroom workplace accommodation. There are additional progressive family planning benefits for the veterans as they can seek reimbursement for up to $60,000 to cover costs related to surrogacy, fertility/infertility treatment, adoption, and egg freezing.
More so, the new CBA acknowledges the issue of travel concerns that had plagued the league. As a result, a new quality travel arrangement was put in place. For regular season air travel, all players would fly the Premium Economy Class and are also provided with individual hotel room accommodations rather than the previous travel condition of flying coach and sharing of a hotel room with other players. Aside from the aforementioned benefits, there are other cash compensations that are meant to motivate the players, prompting them to stay home and not jet off to other countries during the offseason. They include;
1. Revenue Sharing
The new salary structure and benefits package marks a historic turning point for the WNBA, as the players now have more opportunity to participate in the success of the league. The players were initially designated to earn about 15% to 20% of the revenue generated from ticket sales if certain targets were hit but in this new collective bargaining agreement, they are now entitled to 50-50 revenue sharing, provided the league’s revenue targets are hit. Unlike the specified goals for revenue sharing under the old contract that wasn’t met because they were unrealistic, this new revenue sharing target is believed to be more realistic and has high chances of benefiting the players.
There’s also the league and team marketing agreements which have been stipulated a minimum of $1.6 million. This marketing avenue highlights the diversity of the league and sets aside additional cash compensation of about $250,000 that would be given to selected players with top performances. Furthermore, starting from the 2021 season, WNBA players will be earning at least $750,000 in prize money for special competitions.
2. Trade Bonus
Trade bonuses are made available to players that have stayed six or more years in the WNBA. They earn 10 percent of the remaining base salary on their contracts as they are being traded from one team to another. These additional payments can only be negotiated before a player signs a contract and cannot be added after the contract has been accepted (except in the case of contract extension). Also, the payment can only be carried out once for the duration of the contract.
3. Time-off Bonus
To refrain players in the WNBA from engaging in basketball activities with other foreign franchises during the WNBA offseason, players are paid time-off bonuses which are set at $50,000 for the first offseason of the contract. It also specifies the number of days a player is allowed to play professionally outside the Women’s National Basketball Association. This bonus does not only help to motivate players but to equally protect them from fatigue and injuries which might cause the league to lose a talent, shortchanging its earning potential in the process.
With the women’s basketball activities in some countries outside the United States bringing in higher salaries than what they earn in the WNBA, some of the players in the league juggle two or three teams in order to earn a satisfactory income annually. In 2016, female basketball players in Russia were earning $325,000 per season while those in China earned $600,000. Consequently, many WNBA stars including Mystic Kristi, Seimone Augustus, Alyssa Thomas, Breanna Stewart, and Diana Taurasi were playing for teams overseas. The situation got so bad that Taurasi was paid over $1 million by Russian club, UMMC Ekaterinburg to rest for a whole season, missing out on the 2015 WNBA season.
Breanna, who was the 2018 WNBA MVP, also missed an entire year in the league after she ruptured her Achilles while playing for Dynamo Kursk in the Euroleague championship game held in 2019. Thankfully, the league won’t be pushing its brightest stars away as it has set new benefits that intend to make players stay home.
Another such benefit besides the time-off bonus is the plan created by the USA Basketball governing body with the help of Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi to be paying US Olympic team members $100,000 to be training in the country.
4. Merit Bonus
The merit bonus recognizes an individual or team’s success throughout the season. Depending on how far a team progresses in the playoffs, they will be awarded merit bonuses which are not inclusive of the total salary. Team bonuses are given per player, hence, players who are eligible to receive the bonus are those that make the roster for the last day of the regular season.
Below is a list of some bonuses for team achievements.
- WNBA Champion earns $11,356
- Championship runner-up earns $5,678
- Defeated in the third round earns $2,839
- Defeated in the second round earns $1,803
- Defeated in the first round earns $1,136
Then players who win various league awards or gets selected to the All-Star or All-WNBA teams are awarded the individual merit bonuses. Depending on their achievements, a player can earn multiple merit bonuses in a season, pocketing tons of dollars. Some of the individual achievements and its bonuses include;
- Most Valuable Player earns $15,450
- All-WNBA First Team Selection earns $10,300
- All-WNBA Second Team Selection earns $5,150
- All-Star Game Most Valuable Player earns $5,150
- Sixth Woman of the Year earns $5,150
- Defensive Player of the Year earns $5,150
- Rookie of the Year earns $5,150
- All-WNBA Defensive Team Selection earns $1,500
- All-WNBA Rookie Team Selection earns $1,500
Who Earns The Highest Base Salary In The WNBA?
In 2019, Connecticut Sun player DeWanna Bonner was paid the highest base salary, having earned $127,500. But in this new CBA, seven players emerged as WNBA’s top earners in the year 2020 and were paid a base salary of $215,000. They included DeWanna Bonner, Brittney Griner, Emma Meesseman, Sue Bird, Elena Delle Donne, Liz Cambage, and Skylar-Diggins Smith. In addition, these WNBA stars dubbed “supermax” and “max” players will receive a salary bump of 3 percent annually, and by 2027, they will be earning close to $300,000 in base salary.
It’s worth noting that there are other elite players in the league such as Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi, Nneka Ogwumike, and Candice Dupree who are earning below the new maximum base salary of $215,000 because they are held under the terms of their old contracts. Once they sign a new supermax deal, they’ll instantly be included among the league’s top earners.
Which Team Pays The Most In The League?
As it stands now in the Women’s National Basketball Association, star players in the league are enjoying the new lucrative contract irrespective of their clubs. Once the players are currently signed to a supermax deal, they are entitled to a maximum WNBA salary of $215,000 as the team salary cap has been raised from $996,100 it was set in 2019 to $1.3 million. Following the cash compensations awarded to players in the 2020-2027 CBA, elite players in the WNBA can now earn over $500,000 annually which is triple the maximum compensation earned in the previous deal.
Also, other talented players dubbed by their teams as core players will be pocketing from $200,000 to $300,000 per year once they sign a new contract while the average cash compensation for all players in the league whether experienced or rookie will be around $130,000.
How WNBA Average Salary Compares To That of The NBA
With the gender wage gap being in existence for many decades now, the salary disparity between the NBA and WNBA is nothing new, though the women basketball players are constantly fighting to bridge the gap. Previously, the WNBA players were designated to be earning 20% of the league’s revenue if certain targets were hit while the NBA players have been entitled to 50-50 revenue sharing. Thankfully, the women have been able to negotiate a 50 percent revenue sharing, though not in the same range as what their male counterparts earn, as the NBA generates revenue running in billions of dollars annually while that of the WNBA has been in millions.
For instance, the WNBA raked in almost $70 million in revenue for the 2019 season while the NBA brought in revenue of $8.3 billion. That same season, the twelve teams in the Women’s National Basketball Association reportedly gathered an average of 6,500 fans per game while the NBA top teams gathered a reported average of 20,400 per game, with the bottom teams drawing 14,900 devoted supporters per game. With this, there surely exists a huge gap between the two basketball leagues which points to the disparity in their base salaries.
The average NBA salary in 2020 is $7.7 million and that of the rookie is $820,000 on average while the WNBA players are paid an average salary of $100,658. Also, the men’s minimum starting salary is designated at $582,186 which is a far cry from the $57,000 the women are earning. Now coming to the maximum salary, an elite player in the NBA earns over $30 million annually with the league’s highest-paid player, Stephen Curry, making about $40.2 million for the 2019/2020 season. While in the WNBA, the highest-paid player for that season, DeWanna Bonner, just pocketed $127,000.
Even though there’s a striking contrast between the payment structure of the two leagues, the new CBA unveiled in the WNBA paves way for more lucrative contracts and cash compensations in the future as it charts a new course for women’s professional basketball.
Other Revenue Streams WNBA Players Have Aside From Salaries
Beyond earning salaries, many WNBA players augment their annual earnings by working second jobs during the offseason, with a few venturing into entrepreneurship. This is not surprising as only a small number of players in the WNBA earn massively from endorsement deals.
Angel McCoughtry started an ice cream business when she settled in Atlanta after playing abroad in Turkey. In like manner, Rebekkah Brunson is fully engaged in a waffle food truck venture called Sweet Gypsy Waffle while Marissa Coleman launched a Mellow Mushroom Pizza franchise in the year 2016. Those working second jobs are also making strides in their new career paths.
For instance, Chiney Ogwumike who plays for Los Angeles Sparks emerged as the first black woman to host a national radio show for ESPN in 2020, having signed a multi-year contract with the media company to be working as a full-time basketball analyst. Similarly, Sue Bird works as the Basketball Operations Associate for NBA’s Denver Nuggets while Candace Parker works as CBS Sports studio analyst covering the NCAA men’s tournament, as well as the NBA for TNT.