Facing the looming October 31st deadline of a new collective bargaining agreement, the WNBA and WNBPA agreed to extend the current CBA 60 more days. The new CBA is expected to be announced this week on the 15th and will carry significant changes, most importantly one that deals with the WNBA’s most contentious issue, player salary. Revenue sharing is one of the principle reasons that the WNBPA chose to opt out of the previous CBA in 2018. The new agreement will go into effect immediately as teams adjust to the new regulations in preparation for the start of free agency which begins on February first. So, what exactly does this new CBA mean for the short-term future of the WNBA?
The central issue revolves around the pay and respect WNBA players rightfully feel is long overdue. Many players, even stars such as Brittney Griner, go overseas to earn fair compensation immediately after the conclusion of the WNBA season. In fact, this very problem caused the Washington Mystics to cancel their championship parade last season because so many players had already committed to play for international clubs.
However, the salary problem is only half the issue as the lack of respect WNBA players are afforded is equally troubling. Last season, the WNBA refused to give first-class plane tickets to those playing in the All Star Game and poor travel conditions were responsible for the forfeiture of a game by the Las Vegas Aces who missed the playoffs by one game. These disappointing WNBA norms have some reminiscing about the glory days of women’s college basketball where they routinely fly private and never face game cancellations.
Of course, both of these problems rely on the WNBA’s revenue which in and of itself is a whole other conversation. According to Forbes, the WNBA and its teams are not required to share their financials and have made no effort to do so. Moreover, they claim that the WNBA loses $10 million each year leaving little flexibility for increases in player salaries and job benefits. However, one study estimated that the WNBA’s revenue has grown to $60 million since the last CBA and figured that the league shares about 20% of its revenue with the players, whereas the NBA splits its revenue 50/50 with its own.
In either event, it is clear that the lack of transparency should be the definitive starting point in navigating this disparity; accordingly the new CBA should redistribute a much more fair percentage of the revenue the league generates. Moreover, the league should also see this as a good thing for a few reasons beyond just ethics.
The first is that several of the leagues best players are unrestricted free agents meaning they can sign with any team when free agency opens in a couple weeks. Among this group are stars such as Elena Delle Donne (2nd in points per game last year with 19.5), Courtney Vandersloot (1st in assists per game with 9.1) and Jonquel Jones (1st in rebounds per game with 9.7). Besides filling up box scores, these players are the faces of the league. In a similar way that NBA players dominate offseason headlines with record contracts, the WNBA and WNBPA can benefit from endorsing and sensationalizing the players with their own record salary agreements.
On top of this free marketing, the NBA and WNBA are teaming up with media networks to step up their WNBA promotion efforts. Similar to the NBA, the WNBA gained another revenue stream with the addition of jersey sponsors, and A’ja Wilson’s 2018 endorsement agreement with Mountain Dew represents a step in the right direction. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and WNBA Commissioner Lisa Borders have been outspoken about improving the marketing of the league, and just last year the WNBA announced a partnership with Sylvain Labs for a long-term growth strategy.
These are both encouraging signs for the WNBA as it prepares to pave the next generation of interest in women’s professional basketball. However, the best opportunity for the WNBA’s big break may not arrive until close to 2030, when Kobe Bryant’s 13 year old daughter, Gigi, becomes eligible to sign a professional contract. Despite the young age of “Mambacita,” as many are already calling her, she receives just as much, if not more, media coverage than any WNBA player does. I mean, just check out her highlights and you can see that she’s on the fast-track to the league. Given her talents and notoriety as Kobe Bryant’s prodigy, it is not hard to imagine that Gigi Bryant’s impact could drive the WNBA’s popularity just as Lebron James did as coming out of high school as the future face of the NBA. However, until that dream becomes a reality, the WNBA would be best served by prioritizing the pay and respect of its players, and hopefully, the announcement of a new CBA this week reflects exactly that.