The WNBA could be heading to a change.
Athletes already have short lifetimes to make their money. When they are in their physical prime, they make their money off of salaries, endorsements, and more. But when their careers are over? The options quickly shrivel up.
This is what makes the WNBA a curious league to look into. The athletes are working incredibly hard to make money for themselves and their families’ future, but the league is not doing a good enough job ensuring this future will be a bright one.
The ratings and revenue in the WNBA are nowhere near the NBA, but that doesn’t mean the WNBA can’t take lessons from its counterpart. It also doesn’t mean the WNBA hasn’t achieved significant growth over the last decade.
The rookie minimum in the WNBA is $41,965. That is hardly enough for one person to live on, much less for someone trying to provide for their family and putting their body on the line each and every night. The veteran minimum is $117,500.
Breanna Stewart, one of the WNBA’s best young stars, recently got injured playing overseas during the WNBA offseason. This is the reality for these female athletes: play year-round so you can make enough money to support you and your family later in life. And in doing so, you risk your body and your entire career.
It is very bad for the WNBA that Stewart got injured. The first overall pick in 2016 was a marketable star, and by paying her so little, they forced her hand to go play overseas and now it’s hurting them. Hopefully, this will be a lesson.
Diana Taurasi, probably the biggest star of the WNBA, recently spoke out against the league, saying,
“We have the NBA as the best model ever. But the WNBA always finds a way to mess it up.”
The NBA markets its stars, and it does it so well that average NBA players are making tens of millions of dollars.
One cannot fully compare the NBA with the WNBA because the level of play is evidently different, but the WNBA still has star athletes. The WNBA has women dunking and most importantly, the WNBA has people watching, more than ever before.
When asked about the pay disparity in the WNBA, Taurasi said,
“It’s just so sad to me. You know, 15 years in, it’s just a sad thing to talk about. We had to go to a communist country to get paid like capitalists, which is so backward to everything that was in the history books in the sixth grade.”
Taurasi is not advocating for her and her peers to make millions off base salaries, but an uptick in their wages is certainly warranted. In the last 11 years, WNBA players have only had a 1.5% increase in their salary.
If the WNBA fails in comparison to the NBA in terms of talent and athleticism, it also fails in regards to how it is run. As Taurasi notes, the NBA “has made rock stars out of their best players… and we just have not been able to capitalize on any of that.”
The USWNT recently won the Women’s World Cup and called for equal pay from FIFA. They get far better results than the Men’s National Team, so they deserve to be paid more than them, but for now, we’ll have to settle with equality… Or nah.
Retired women’s basketball star and BIG3 league coach Lisa Leslie recently suggested a boycott of companies who won’t support equal pay for women. Leslie told the crowd at the Women of the BIG3 Power Luncheon this month in New York:
“I think we the people have to enforce and get behind the companies that support you. Figure out what companies support your communities, what companies are supporting the idea of inclusion of all people.”
“It’s all about money, right. And if we stop supporting the companies that don’t support us, we will get their attention,”
The WNBA is producing higher-quality, and more entertaining basketball than it has possibly in its entire history since 1996. Take the Las Vegas Aces for example. They are a legit superteam that the rest of the league can rally behind defeating. The athlete’s wages should be increasing.
Stewart’s injury and Taurasi’s comments could be the rallying points behind a full-scale change in the way WNBA players are treated. With more and more basketball fans tuning in to games, especially with the NBA in its offseason, WNBA players will get more recognition and spotlight.
The money is there, the blueprint for marketing its stars is there, and the talent is definitely there. Pay these women.