The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) may be losing some of its biggest stars. Take Diana Taurasi, who was the 2004 number-one draft pick by the Phoenix Mercury. She was rated the Naismith Girls’ High School Player of the Year in 2000 and won the Naismith Women’s College Player of the year award twice. Along with being 2014 WNBA Playoff’s Most Valuable Player (an award she has won twice), she also has three Olympic Gold Medals. She has performed phenomenally in her sport yet earns about $107,000 per season — a paltry sum compared to her male counterparts. This coming season she will sit out at the request of her Russian Premier League Team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, which pays her 15 times her WNBA salary ($1.5 million). Her decision to sit out the 2016 season is indicative of what will likely be a trend if the league is not able to pay their players more, i.e., how players are paid in the NBA.
Kobe Bryant, the NBA’s highest paid player, will make $25 million this upcoming season. If he played all 82 regular season games, which he likely will not, he will make an astounding $305,000 per game. For the 2015-2016 season, the NBA salary minimum is set at $525,093. That amount increases for every year a player has been in the NBA. A player who has played for more than 10 years cannot make less than $1,499,187 per season. Under the WNBA collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the WNBA has an average salary of $72,000 with a league minimum salary of $36,570.
It should be taken into account that the WNBA is only 17 years old. The NBA was founded in 1946. It should also be noted that Title 9 — the legislation that requires gender equality for boys and girls in every educational program — was not passed until 1972. Prior to the passing of that legislation, girls were not allowed to compete in many sports. The first NCAA Women’s Division I championship game was in 1982 — 43 years after the first Men’s Division I championship. The WNBA is in its athletic infancy.
The differences between the two leagues are vital to cite: There are 12 WNBA teams. Each team can have an active roster of 11 players giving the WNBA 132 active players. Under the NBA’s CBA, each team must have a minimum of 13 players – 12 active and one inactive. League-wide, each team has an average of 14 players. If you multiply that average by 30 (the number of teams), there are around 420 players in the NBA. WNBA players play a 34-game season while the NBA plays 82 games. While those may seem like benign differences in numbers of players and games, each game and each player are sources of revenue. For the 2013/2014 season, the NBA had a revenue of roughly $4.8 billion. That $4.8 billion is what the NBA uses to justify Kobe Bryant’s salary of $305,00 this year — a similar revenue for the WNBA would allow Diana Taurasi to make much more than $107,000.
That said, it’s still unclear why male basketball players are being paid so much more. There is no single factor that can account for the disparity in salary, but we can look at a few. More people watch the NBA — meaning the NBA can sign enormous TV contracts. The NBA also sells more tickets at each stadium, as well as more merchandise (mainly jerseys), and it has more teams with which to create more revenue. It also has larger stadiums and higher stadium attendance than the WNBA. Taking into account the mind-blowing sums of money that are generated from sneaker contracts, video games and TV commercials, it is easy to see how the NBA has become the economic powerhouse that it is today. It is a model that the WNBA is slowly trying to replicate.
The WNBA may never see revenue equal to the amount that the NBA has achieved. The male league simply had too large of a head start, and American sports fans are more invested in male sports. But gender income disparities in basketball go beyond mere sports; they are emblematic of a male-dominated, and often sexist, U.S. system that places less value on the contributions of women. A paradigm shift is necessary to close the wage gap between men and women. Like many women in America, those in the WNBA are attempting to forge their place in a male-dominated arena. As women reach more prominent roles in business, finance, law, and other markets, the hope is that the WNBA — the longest standing professional women’s sports league — will follow suit.
– Mansour Abdur Rahim, Contributing Editor