How much do WNBA players actually make?

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On April 15, 2024, Caitlin Clark, the former Iowa Hawkeyes point guard, realized her lifelong dream of joining the WNBA when she was selected as the No. 1 overall pick by the Indiana Fever. However, amidst the celebrations, discussions surrounding pay disparities between male and female athletes were reignited. Clark’s reported rookie salary of $76,535, part of a four-year deal totaling around $338,000, was starkly contrasted with the eye-popping $12.2 million salary of French basketball prodigy Victor “Wemby” Wembanyama in his rookie year. This disparity caught the attention of President Joe Biden, who took to Twitter to advocate for gender pay equality in sports, emphasizing the need to provide women with the same opportunities and compensation as their male counterparts.

 

So, how much do WNBA players actually make?

The discrepancies between the WNBA and NBA extend beyond pay disparities, as highlighted by Phoenix Mercury guard Natasha “Tasha” Cloud in an August 2019 interview with CBS News. Cloud shed light on the stark differences in travel accommodations between the two leagues, with NBA players enjoying the luxury of private jets while WNBA players often contend with the hassles of commercial flights and airport delays. These differences are further underscored by the vast gap in revenue between the two leagues, with the NBA raking in a staggering $10 billion compared to the WNBA’s $200 million in sales for the 2022-23 season.

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However, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert refutes the notion that reported salaries tell the full story of players’ earnings. In an interview with CNBC, Engelbert emphasized the importance of considering additional sources of income such as bonuses and stock options. She revealed that Caitlin Clark’s reported earnings represent only a fraction of her potential income, with the rookie guard having the opportunity to earn up to $500,000 through bonuses and other avenues during her first year in the league.

Historically, WNBA players have faced challenges in negotiating fair compensation, as evidenced by the terms of the 2014 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which imposed fines for various infractions and offered relatively modest bonuses. Players voiced their dissatisfaction with the terms of the agreement, with veterans like Diana Taurasi and Kayla McBride advocating for better salaries and working conditions. Despite these challenges, WNBA players have found opportunities to supplement their income by playing overseas, where lucrative contracts offer substantially higher pay than their WNBA salaries.

Recognizing the importance of supporting players’ well-being, the WNBA has made strides in improving benefits for its athletes, particularly those who are mothers or mothers-to-be. The 2020 CBA introduced provisions for full maternity leave compensation, childcare stipends, and assistance with fertility-related expenses, signaling a commitment to prioritizing the needs of players both on and off the court.

In addition to enhanced benefits, WNBA players now enjoy increased salaries and access to perks such as medical and dental insurance, retirement plans with matching contributions, and opportunities for endorsement deals through the Player Marketing Agreement (PMA). The league’s top earners, including players like Jackie Young and Jewell Loyd, command six-figure salaries, reflecting a growing recognition of their value and contributions to the sport.

Beyond their on-court achievements, WNBA players have diversified their income streams through ventures such as publishing books, launching businesses, and securing endorsement deals. Players like A’ja Wilson and Brittney Griner have found success off the court with endeavors ranging from authoring books to partnering with major brands like Nike and Adidas. These off-court pursuits not only contribute to players’ financial stability but also allow them to leverage their platform to inspire and empower others.

In an era marked by increased awareness of gender equality issues in sports, the WNBA continues to champion the rights and interests of its players, striving to create a more equitable and inclusive environment for women athletes. As the league continues to grow and evolve, so too do the opportunities for WNBA players to thrive both on and off the court, paving the way for future generations of female athletes.