Perennial favorites getting knocked off their pedestal, hard-fought semifinals that came down to the final seconds of regulation and a team ending their near decade-long championship drought. These upsides of the 2018 WNBA season have not been the league’s biggest talking points. The players union recently announced that they will opt out of their collective bargaining agreement, setting the stage for another round of negotiations to secure better treatment for their players.
This is because WNBA players are woefully underpaid, and there is an alarming lack of transparency from league ownership about the financial situation of the WNBA. These players are worthy of greater investment from league ownership and attention from potential fans.
Over the past six months, concerns over player salaries have taken the spotlight. As it stands, the WNBA only shares 20 percent of its revenue with players. Rookie salaries start at $40,000 while seasoned veterans cap off their pay at $115,000. This is in comparison to the NBA, a league where first-year rookies start their contracts at about $6 million while high-profile players make about $35 million a year.
Unlike the WNBA, the NBA splits league revenue 50-50 with its players. With their current collective bargaining agreement expiring at the end of the 2019 season, WNBA players can start negotiating a greater cut of revenue with the league. Though, that probably isn’t what you’ve heard if you’ve been following the topic on social media.
Fake quotes attributed to WNBA players have spread across Twitter and Instagram. Brittney Griner, a player for the Phoenix Mercury, was cited as saying that the NBA has “mediocre players like Tyler Johnson making $20 million a year,” and that the league “deserves more respect.”
Internet trolls fabricated the aforementioned quote in an effort to make the WNBA’s fight for better pay come off as a smear campaign against the NBA. Griner refuted the statement on Instagram by telling her followers, “no disrespect but I don’t even know who [Tyler Johnson] is.”
Griner was not the only player to be targeted by trolls. Skylar Diggins-Smith, a member of the Dallas Wings, has been very vocal about wanting to increase wages for women across the league. In an alleged interview with Bleacher Report, Diggins-Smith supposedly stated, “75 percent of the WNBA is more skilled than [Lebron James],” but that players “just don’t have his size and strength.” Diggins-Smith quoted a tweet featuring the doctored image and dismissed the story as false before urging people to stop feeding into these lies.
Contrary to all this misinformation being spread by malicious actors, WNBA players aren’t asking to get paid like the NBA. The women have never said they wanted Lebron James’ salary. (On second thought, though, who among us wouldn’t mind $154 million?) The WNBA is aware of the differences between themselves and the NBA.
A 50-50 split of revenue between the WNBA and its players is unrealistic, largely due to the fact that the WNBA is nowhere near bringing in as much money as the $7 billion NBA.
There is reason to argue that players deserve to be rewarded for their talent. However, we cannot make that argument until the WNBA generates more money. This past season saw television ratings and ticket sales go up for the WNBA — there is public interest in the league.
WNBA franchises must capitalize on this interest and invest in their product. Commercials, endorsements and any other avenues that makes both the league and its players known to the public would make this possible. Once more people start giving their money to the product, then the league can increase revenue shares for its players.
The WNBA’s growth will not happen solely due to the work of owners. As prospective consumers, we must continue to pay attention to the league. I urge every basketball fan to take the time to watch a few games. If you’re a fan of fundamentals, this is the league for you. Every draft class continues to get better, so there will be no shortage of talent.
The WNBA has spent 22 years paying their dues. It’s time to compensate these athletes for all their hard work.