A new business model for WNBA, its players
With its new collective bargaining agreement with its players association, pending approval by the WNBA’s Board of Governors, the league is looking to create a new business model and set the pace for other American women’s team sports.
When the CBA was announced on Tuesday morning on Good Morning America, there was a focus on the agreement prioritizing the issues players care about the most: money, travel, health and well-being.
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The highlights include an increase in pay, better benefits for mothers or those wanting a family, better travel accommodations and career and mental health services.
During a hour-long conference call, WNBA veteran Sue Bird called the CBA a “win-win.”
At first glance, the win for the league is the prioritization of the league with the creation of a new business model, as commissioner Cathy Engelbert emphasized on the call, and for the players better working conditions and to create a better quality of life off the court.
No one has seen the actual CBA yet, since the agreement hasn’t been finalized. Next, the WNBA board of governors will a vote from the board of governors. But from what we can see initially, players get the vast improvements. Ninety percent of them voted on this iteration of the CBA, which will last for 8 years.
“I don’t really feel that there are any negatives or any downsides to this agreement,” said Terri Jackson, Executive Director of the players association.
The players came up with an idea for a Commissioner’s Cup, which will add two games to the 2020 season (the schedule comes out Thursday). Players association president Nneka Ogwumike said the majority of the players were supportive of future fines for players, after their first two years, who have not reported to their teams by the start of training camp. Players have often been allowed time to rest or simply reported late to camp due to overseas commitments.
“Going into these negotiations, we had in mind what we wanted to come out of it, but after discussing it with the league, it occurred to us that in order for the league to grow, we had to do something a little bit different,” Ogwumike said. “We’re still known as the league that has the most talent and so we understand that with the most talent, we have opportunities to grow and we figured out how to phase it in.”
There will be an increase in pay for all players — 83 percent on max salaries, and average compensation will exceed six figures, the league says. Cash compensation includes base salary, performance bonuses, prize pools for competitions (there will be a minimum of $750,000 available as of 2021) and league/team marketing deals. Max players now have the opportunity to earn more than $500,000.
Engelbert said on the call that $215,000 is the high max base salary, but with $1.6 million in off-season league and team marketing agreements, players could earn up to an additional $300,000 in that area. She also said the league has created a financial model in a spreadsheet that allows a player to calculate ahead of time what type of money can be made for the season.
Revenue sharing, 50-50, will exist beginning in 2021. The increase in money will come from a mix of sponsorships, league and team investments and the WNBA Changemakers program, which the league says will provide a “fresh approach to sports marketing.” Currently, the players earn 20 to 30 percent of league revenue, but by 2021, under the new CBA they would earn 50 percent if the league hits its “growth targets,” which are revenue goals that come from broadcast agreements, marketing partnerships and licensing deals.
Improvements for mothers, travel and quality of life across the board
There are a few changes that will allow consistent workplace conditions across the league. The WNBA will now offer paid maternity leave, an annual child care stipend of $5,000, nursing spaces for mothers, two bedroom apartments for players with children and family planning benefits (adoption, surrogacy, fertility/infertility treatments, etc.).
There will also be better mental health benefits and resources, domestic/intimate violence program that includes education and counseling and nutrition council to help with best athletic performance.
Over the last few seasons, lack of league domestic violence counseling (and a consistent policy) and mental health services have become major discussions. Late in 2019, Skylar Diggins-Smith brought awareness to many issues facing expectant and new mothers in the league. Diggins-Smith said she played the entire 2018 season pregnant. She didn’t return in 2019 but the Dallas Wings paid her salary, but there wasn’t a league standard to do so.
Imani McGee-Stafford told the New York Times she’d played with three WNBA teams and only one had a mental health service provider.
When asked how long maternity leave is now in the WNBA, the commissioner said, “for however long the mother needs.”
Also, the league will work with “its affiliated leagues, teams and sponsors” to connect players with off-season job and coaching opportunities. This is critical in a time when there is a lack of both women and black women head coaches in the league. Also, there is no league standard in this area. Not every team has a Rushia Brown, a former player, like the Las Vegas Aces do, focusing on helping players off the court develop their life after basketball.
More offseason movement
The team salary caps will increase to $1.3 million in 2020, and a player can become an unrestricted free agent one year earlier than before. Players can now be only be “cored” four times starting with the 2020 season and it’ll only be two by 2022. That means more offseason player moves, more stories, and more things to talk about outside of the months for April to October.
There is more to be dissected and discussed in terms for the new CBA, especially when the public can read its full contents, but it is an exciting and power-shifting time in the league.
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