New Year, New Deal in the WNBA
A new and historic agreement has been reached between the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA), which includes higher salaries, improved benefits and better work and travel conditions.
Following the 2018 season, the WNBPA exercised its option to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the WNBA. As discussed previously on Sports Shorts, the CBA is an agreement between the league and the players association. It governs the rules of the league and competition format as well as the revenue splits and benefits conferred onto the players.
The new CBA will run for a term of eight years, and provides a number of improved financial rewards (amongst other things) that will genuinely benefit WNBA athletes.
For reference, the CBA between the NBA and the NBPA (the men’s player association) provides a 50-50 split of ‘Basketball Related Income’ between the players and the league. The previous WNBA CBA, however, allotted roughly 20% of the league’s shared revenue to its players, which limited salaries to between $41,000 and $117,000 per season. The new CBA allows WNBA players to earn as much as $500,000 per season, with average salaries set to reach nearly $130,000.
Teams will also be granted $1,600,000 annually to remunerate players for off-season league and team marketing agreements, whilst players will be rewarded financially for accolades such as All-Star game participation and tournament victories. This is a direct answer to WNBA superstar Liz Cambage’s concerns that the WNBA was not marketed to its full potential. This enables WNBA players to spend the off-season at home (rather than playing overseas to supplement their income) to interact with fans, grow the league’s fan base and feature in a greater number of league marketing and endorsement initiatives.
Other financial benefits include players receiving a full salary whilst on maternity leave in addition to an annual childcare allowance of $5,000.
The new CBA also accommodates players who wish to pursue motherhood by providing up to $60,000 in reimbursement for costs relating to adoption, surrogacy and fertility treatments, including the freezing of player’s eggs. Last year, Sue Bird – a WNBA veteran – decided to freeze her eggs, stating “it’s hard to picture [life with children] when you’re both professional athletes. But… shouldn’t we take the steps to have the option?” These options, especially freezing eggs, can be prohibitively expensive, but this new provision in the CBA opens the door to motherhood for all WNBA athletes, if they so wish.
The travel and accommodation conditions for teams and players will also improve. Under the new agreement, players will fly above economy class and have individual hotel rooms. Previously players were forced to share hotel rooms and flew on basic economy seats, which was particularly challenging for a number of players who – by virtue of their trade – are exceptionally tall.
The new CBA has the potential to change the landscape of women’s basketball in the USA. The WNBA is growing in popularity and recognition: this year’s NBA 2K20 video game now includes WNBA teams and players, the WNBA averaged the same number of viewers for regular season games on ESPN last year as Major League Soccer whilst Becky Hammon, who retired as a 6x WNBA All-Star, is the current assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA and Washington Mystics’ point guard, Kristi Toliver, is an assistant coach for the NBA’s Washington Wizards.
The new CBA has allowed players like Toliver to pursue other opportunities in the off-season and be suitably paid. Previously, the WNBA restricted the amount teams can pay to its players during the off-season to $50,000 in total. When Toliver commenced her new role at the Wizards, the Washington Mystics (which is a part of the same franchise as the Washington Wizards) had already committed most of the off-season funds to one of Toliver’s teammates. This meant that Toliver was only paid $10,000 for her role as assistant coach, compared to the NBA league average of $100,000. But now, Toliver will no longer be impaired by this rule and should be fairly remunerated.
The WNBA Commissioner, Cathy Engelbert, summarised the ground-breaking potential of the new CBA as follows:
“It was important to have a progressive, aggressive, bold CBA to drive the value that these athletes can provide, to drive that value from our revenue sources and ultimately drive the revenue of our franchises up. We are betting on women, as our players have said, in a big way here. Betting on the WNBA.”