In 2020 DeWanna Bonner of the Connecticut Sun made $215,000, making her the highest paid WNBA player. Stephen Curry of Golden State Warriors was the highest paid NBA player sitting at $43 million. This discrepancy doesn’t only stop there with the average salary of a WNBA player being $100,658.10, a huge decrease from the NBA’s $7.7 million. Historically women have made less than men for doing the same jobs, but what if I told you there is more going on here than sexism. This has been a hot topic recently, but most people do not know how we got here.
The WNBA was founded in April 1996 and began playing games on June 21st, 1997. This wasn’t the first women’s basketball league with that honor going to the Women’s Basketball League. The difference between the WNBA and the defunct WBL is one had the NBA backing them. The WNBA is owned by the NBA and in turn gets a portion of their sponsors and in some cases money directly from the league. You can look at the WNBA as stock and the NBA is investing in it. In many ways this has helped the league tremendously. Back in the late 90’s most WNBA players made less than $42,000 and had second jobs. This isn’t something that should end the conversation, but it is good to see an improvement through the years.
Currently the league is experiencing record breaking highs in views and revenue over the past 4 years. The WNBA started streaming games on twitter with its players being featured in the billion-dollar NBA 2K series. Even with these highs the league still hasn’t generated a profit. Since its inception the league has lost more than $10 million yearly. How can a league doing the best it ever has still be losing large amounts of money? First, it isn’t given as much sponsor money as the NBA. If we take ESPN alone, they pay NBA about $930 million a year to broadcast game. While they pay the WNBA $25 million a year. This is because of two factors being number of games and viewership. The WNBA play considerately less games compared to the NBA. A WNBA regular season consists of 36 games, while their playoffs last for 12 games at most. This means the most games a team can play a year is 48. This number is 34 games less than the NBA’s regular season and that is not to mention playoffs. They do not get as many opportunities for companies to sponsor them. If the NBA played half their games today, they would lose more than half of the money they are slated to make through sponsors, so games make a big difference. But in contrast it takes money to play more games and people aren’t watching as is. The average views for any WNBA game are 205,000 while the average of the NBA is 3.4 million. With discrepancies like this you can understand why the NBA will have significantly more games. This doesn’t just apply to tv numbers as ticket sales are lopsided. This is something you don’t need numbers to see as WNBA games be empty and NBA games be packed from the floor to the ceiling.
Who is at fault? With all this information is there anything that can be done? Most people think it is the NBA’s responsibility to pay the women equally to the men but that just isn’t the case. The NBA supports the league as much as they can, but they can’t just give out money. I hold the general public who does nothing but complain about the wage gap. Most of the problems listed above would be fixed if many just tuned into the product and attended games. If the WNBA had high viewership, then most companies would sponsor them and circulate more money into their organization. You don’t get billion dollars of sponsors for a couple hundred thousand eyes. If more people were tuning in, the league would probably extend its season. This isn’t to account for the amount of money to be made by live attendance. Will this be a quick fix? No, everything takes time. The league is under numerous contracts and they evaluate prices when they are coming to an end. If people really wanted to make a change you would support the league as much, they do the NBA. Watch their product, buy their merchandise, support their players past and present. Is this the only fix no but it’s a start.