If you want to understand why WNBA players make a fraction of what NBA players earn, look at the Las Vegas Aces’ championship parade route.
The Aces this month won Las Vegas’ first major professional sports championship. Congratulations to them and their fans. It’s a great accomplishment and worthy of celebration. County officials shut down part of the Strip for a parade.
If you zoomed out, however, you’d understand why WNBA players make so much less than their NBA counterparts. And the pay disparity is vast.
The Aces’ A’ja Wilson appears to be the league’s best player. She earned both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards this year. Her salary is under $200,000. According to SportTrac, the WNBA’s entire payroll is under $16 million.
This season, more than 90 NBA players will earn more than $16 million. Stephen Curry alone will earn $48 million.
WNBA players have been critical of this vast pay difference. In 2018, Wilson, commenting on Lebron James’ $154 million contract, tweeted, “Must be nice. We are here looking for a (million) but Lord, let me get back in my lane.” The WNBA’s new collective bargaining agreement in 2020 did increase top salaries, but not that much.
WNBA players can make more money overseas. That’s why WNBA star Brittney Griner was in Russia, where she is imprisoned on drug charges.
“The reality is she’s over there because of a gender issue, pay inequity,” said Nneka Ogwumike, president of the WNBA Players Association.
These arguments may sound familiar. Democrats and the national mainstream media frequently claim there’s a significant gender pay gap. The assumption, stated or not, is that sexism is to blame. But you could argue that such claims fail to consider many factors, including job type, hours worked, danger and location.
Or you could look at the Aces’ championship parade route. It went from Caesars Palace to the Bellagio. In other words, they crossed the street. They started on the north side of Flamingo and ended on the south side. The crowd was in the thousands. That’s a fraction of the sea of people who turned out to celebrate recent teams that won the NBA championship.
That’s part of a pattern. The last game of this year’s NBA Finals drew almost 14 million viewers. The WNBA finals averaged 534,000 viewers. Tickets cost less in the WNBA. Crowd sizes are smaller. With less public interest, advertising revenues are lower. This all translates into a vast disparity in revenue.
Last season, the NBA generated more than $10 billion in revenue. In 2018, the WNBA brought in around $60 million of revenue. As of 2018, the WNBA had lost an average of $10 million annually. If revenue had vastly improved, one suspects it’d be easier to find more recent statistics.
This is reflected in team value. Mark Davis bought the Aces for just more than $2 million. Buying an NBA team can cost more than $2 billion.
Curry and James aren’t paid tens of millions of dollars because they’re good at basketball. They earn that much because millions of people want to watch them be good at basketball.
If WNBA players want to earn more, they need more people to care about their league. Once that improves, their pay will, too.
Contact Victor Joecks at email@example.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.