Though it can be fairly easy to look into prospective pay rates for quite a few different career paths, professional athletics has always been an amorphous, unpredictable ever-changing thing. Take the basketball players of the WNBA for example–how much do you think that they’re making per year? If you’ve been using NBA players’ salaries as a baseline to strike a likely comparison, I’m sorry to say that you’d be way off. In fact, it’s hard to find an apt comparison anywhere else in the world of athletics, unless you’ look to other women-specific sports leagues.
We’ll avoid the always-tempting soapbox for the moment, but it suffices to say that there’s a stark contrast between what women and men are paid at the top end of professional athletics. Let’s take a look at some of the salaries that WNBA players are receiving, and see if we can’t suss out the reason that pay might not be as high as you’d expect. We’ll also be taking a look at some WNBA history–it’s a relatively young sports league, by comparison!
Our brief analysis is also going to involve looking at women’s basketball outside of the United States, which will shed further light on the salaries that the WNBA is offerings its players.
For starters, it’s important to note that we’re going to avoid any debate about whether athletes are being paid too much. Just as it’s difficult to lock down an athlete’s average salary, so too is it futile to argue against specific salary rates without devoting an entire topic to it. Since that’s not our purpose here today, we’ll be objective in our consideration that athletes are either getting paid what they should be or aren’t getting paid as much as they should be.
As with any sport that pays a sizeable salary to the participating athletes, there are quite a few factors that go into deciding how much those salaries are going to be. If you’ve always assumed that it’s determined purely by the athlete’s performance, which team they’re playing on, or their trading value, you’ll have been on the right trail…but quite a distance from the actual truth, still. In reality, it’s an extremely complicated system to navigate, such that it requires some intense study to suss out all of the variables that contribute to a salary number.
Turnovers? Points scored? Fouls? Points-per-game? Sponsorships? How does it all tie together? The average person is right to be confused, and that’s frequently why salary numbers are taken for granted, accepted without question, and only scrutinized after a specific athlete does something to call that salary into question. If they have a particularly bad game (but are still paid millions of dollars), some fans will take up arms against the salary amount. The same goes for an athlete that makes an embarrassing, public social blunder–the first thing that’s often called into question is how much they’re being paid…if they’re being paid a significant amount, at all.
What’s often forgotten by many people is that the popularity of professional athletics isn’t determined by the athletes. In the same way, their salaries aren’t dependent entirely on their own performance–though their actions during a game are certainly some of the largest contributing factors. It’s the people who drive up the popularity of athletics. The people watching the games at home, buying premium, pay-per-view access, buying box seats and courtside tickets.
Before you stop to question any player’s salary, first look at the sport they’re playing. Then, examine its relative popularity in our culture. Check out the viewership. The attendance. If you’re balking at a single player making millions of dollars per year, you really only need to look at the number of people that their performance is bringing to the games. The athletes and teams are certainly the targets of public popularity, but it’s the popularity that contributes to the massive pools of money that salaries are paid out of.
Before we get into the semantics of individual salaries, we can look at some specific numbers to help in determining the prospective pay rates of WNBA athletes. Even though the salary pools are vastly different between the professional sports played across the world, the methods used to calculate player salaries aren’t hugely different. Standout players who perform exceptionally (and drive exceptionally more people to games and sporting events) are going to receive proportionately higher salaries.
What metrics and algorithms go into calculating these? That is something that’s more difficult to answer, and probably the target for another guide altogether. There has been significant research put into learning those particular metrics, however, so it’s definitely a subject of interest.
Collated data on recent WNBA salary amounts (and total amounts paid out over the course of a season) are somewhat difficult to come by, but information from within the past several years is telling. The average salary for a WNBA player in 2012 was $72,000, while the median for rookie players was somewhere around $35,000. That number may have climbed since, but the overall salary pool for the WNBA is still based upon the overall revenue of the league’s games. If they’ve been raising more money, then more is available to pay its athletes.
We can take a look at some of the player salaries that fall within the median range, as well as some that exceed it. For example, Tina Charles, the WNBA’s 2012 MVP, was paid $105,000. At the time, it was the highest salary given to an athlete in the WNBA by a large margin, and she’s still regarded as one of the league’s top players of all time.
Brittney Griner, the first pick in the 2013 WNBA draft, was only paid a salary of $49,440. Interestingly, after the season wrapped, Griner went to play basketball in China for several months in the WCBA. Her salary overseas? $600,000.
In 2012, Sheryl Swoops–sometimes referred to as the “female Michael Jordan”–earned just over $99,000 from the WNBA season. As you can tell by comparing it with the information above, that’s pretty close to the salary cap for all WNBA players.
Why Aren’t WNBA Players Paid More?
The easiest answer–and certainly the most telling–is that the revenue pools responsible for paying WNBA athletes are comparatively smaller when you stack them up to the NBA. Much smaller. For this reason, the argument that the women athletes of the WNBA should be paid more is considerably more difficult than most people give it credit for.
We’ll keep things simple, here. The metrics and algorithms used to calculate players’ salaries from the pool of available funding from the WNBA are probably very similar to that of other professional sporting leagues; the numbers are simply smaller because less money is available. The WNBA is also much younger than the NBA. As of 2016, the league is 17 years young.
Is this fair? An arguable point, and there’s quite a lot of active discourse on the subject. Do WNBA athletes play just as hard as those in the NBA? Without a damn doubt, but as much as that contributes to the arguments that women athletes should be paid more, it also adds to the fact that more people should be watching WNBA games because they’re that good! The sport has great personalities in it, on and off the court, and those who do contribute significant time and attention to WNBA events are thoroughly dedicated to the teams and athletes that it’s comprised off.
In the 2013-2014 season, NBA star Kobe Bryant had a $30,4533,805 salary. According to compiled statistics, his salary alone was three times that of the entire, combined WNBA; the equivalent of 423 paid WNBA players.
If you follow the provided link, you’ll find a list of 52 NBA players who each make more than the entire WNBA salary pool combined. Readers can make of this information what they will. In an ideal world, all athlete salaries would be equal to the effort that they expend in the sport that they love, but the reality is that professional athletics in the United States is a labor-driven business, and the money is always going to follow the revenue.
Using the information we’ve provided, you can say that you know considerably more about the salary rates of WNBA athletes. Could they change in the near future? Absolutely, by any sizeable increases are going to be dependent on growing the league’s popularity. More viewers at home and on the courts will certainly result in athletes being paid more, simply for the fact that more people will be paying attention to the games. Additionally, as the WNBA grows in popularity, sporting companies with sponsorship money will let that money follow the trail of popularity (and prosperity.) The more popular a sport or league, the more money that companies like Nike and Adidas are willing to give to individual players and teams for sponsorships.
Have any further questions about how much WNBA players make? Have some statistics that we missed out on? Let’s hear it in the comments below, and please consider sharing this article on Facebook and Twitter!