Last week, the WNBA and WNBPA announced a new CBA
Always the skeptic and understanding that both sides have a legitimate reason to promote the positives (neither side wants to look like they took a loss on a particular issue), I’ve been anxiously awaiting the full release of the WNBA CBA, a 350 page document full of legal jargon, to examine what it actually says, and what that means for the league and players (it’s the lawyer in me).
Now that the CBA is finally out and I spent my Friday night laboring over the behemoth of a document, I’ve highlighted the good, the interesting, what can still be done, and what the CBA means for the future of the WNBA as a whole.
It was clear when the deal was announced that the players were behind this. Not only were they behind it, but they were excited about it. I’ll get into the gritty details in a bit, but this brings to me to the biggest takeaway from the new CBA from a legal and business perspective. The league listened to the players and took an idea learned in Business 101: When it costs little to nothing to show someone you value them, you do it.
Pride and ego aside, an employee that feels valued will lead to a better product.
That’s exactly what Cathy Engelbert and the WNBA did with this new CBA. They invested more in the value of the product (the players).
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It’s already known that the minimum and maximum base player salaries increased under the new CBA. For players with 0-2 years experience, the 2020 minimum base salary is $57,000 and for any player with 3 or more years in the league, it’s $68,000. What we learned by reading the document, is that any existing contract for the 2020 season and any after will automatically be adjusted up to the 2020 minimum base salary number.
The maximum player salary for veteran players also increased from $117,500 to $215,000 for 2020. While these numbers are nowhere close to men’s leagues (we’ll get to revenue share in a bit), it’s still an 82% increase. In 2021, players will also have the ability to sign maximum contracts after five years of service, instead of six under the prior CBA.
It’s been no secret that the last CBA was archaic in its language. It listed “pregnancy” as a condition (this CBA toes that line but we’ll get to that later) and players who became pregnant during the season were only guaranteed 50% of their salary for their pregnancy leave. This is one of the areas that the new CBA focused on: the modern woman. This is one of the first major sports collective bargaining agreements to do so in this fashion.
Players are now guaranteed 100% of their base salary if they are unable to play due to pregnancy, and new sections of the CBA provide additional benefits. They include: team reimbursement for childcare up to $750 per month, costs of up to $20,000 directly related to adoption, surrogacy, oocyte cryopreservation, or fertility or infertility treatment for players with eight or more years in the league, and accommodations for nursing mothers that includes a safe space and access to refrigeration for breastmilk.
Lodging and Travel
In terms of lodging, the new CBA provides that a player with a child under of the age of 13 shall have a two bedroom unit (also confirms just how expensive it is to live in New York City as the New York Liberty are the team with the highest monthly stipend for lodging at $2,340 a month). When traveling, players will get their own hotel rooms and premium economy (or similar enhanced coach fare) on flights. Something new added to this CBA is that teams are required to reimburse players for the application cost of obtaining Global Entry membership. While a minor expense at about $100 for an application, this makes commercial air travel easier for the players and shows the league listened to their concerns on travel and lodging.
Under the last CBA, the WNBA provided player programs for such things as graduate school tuition reimbursement, career apprenticeship programs, a substance abuse education program, and financial education programs. The league was to contribute at least $75,000 a year to these programs. While that number remains the same, the programs available have expanded to include undergraduate programs for players who did not finish school, career apprenticeship programs, and vocational/trade school programs.
Core Player Designation
The Core Player designation, a tag on a player that prevents them from entering free agency and negotiating with a different team, is now further limited. Under the old CBA, a player could be cored up to four times, restricting movement in the league. For 2021, a player may only receive the Core designation three times and in 2022, that number goes down to two. This certainly will open up movement within the league and a competitive market for players to move about and it’s something the players took issue with, especially talented superstars unhappy with their team or management.
While the new CBA states that the parties “agree on the importance of providing players with robust mental health resources,” it’s relatively unclear what those resources will actually be. Still, a gain for the players to have a clause in there that provides a base for continued mental health advocacy.
Marketing and Promotion
In a likely effort to expand brand partnerships, the WNBA committed to spending an aggregate of at least $1,000,000 on WNBA Marketing and Promotional Agreements. However, the new CBA says that in exchange for a player performing marketing and promotional services for the WNBA, that the player is restricted of her ability to play in another professional basketball league during the off-season.
This is clearly an effort to lead players away from overseas play, in spite of the fact that it’s still more financially lucrative to play in some places in Europe and Asia. During a conference call with the league, players, and various reporters, when asked whether she would have played overseas right out of college had the new CBA existed, Seattle Storm’s Sue Bird stated,
“I think had something like this been available when I first came out of college, I probably never would have gone overseas. I never would have even tested the waters out there. Because I did, I know how much money was there, it makes it tricky for me to answer that question.”
Still, Bird noted, “Everything that is in this deal, it’s pointing towards the WNBA being extremely successful and being the prominent league in the world.”
In the new “mic’d up” provision, players will be obligated to wear microphones for practices, games, and more, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their ability to perform. None of the audio may be used to discipline a player for any reason. There is also a “Wearables” clause, which allows the use of wearables and in-game technology to enhance broadcasts, fan experience, and player health. Interestingly enough, given the growth of the sports-tech space, this could be a great opportunity for partnerships and sponsorships.
Content creation is all the rage these days. Now the WNBA is on board and the players will need to be as well. They will be required to comply with reasonable content creation and social media distribution requests (e.g., by using their social media accounts to provide behind-the scenes access to, and images of, WNBA events) of the WNBA or their Teams. From a legal standpoint, it’s unclear what level of control a player will have to refuse this, especially those interested in living a more private life. Imagine Kawhi Leonard being obligated to give a behind-the scenes rundown on the regular (insert Kawhi laugh here).
Still More Work to Do
While the new CBA provides for family planning and the specific needs of women, it still lists pregnancy next to the word “condition.” To be fair, the language of the old CBA and the new CBA do not differ in this regard, both having clauses that start with, “A player who knows or reasonably should have known that she has a physical disability or other condition (including pregnancy)…”
In 2020, it is perplexing why we cannot simply list pregnancy for what it is, pregnancy. Not a condition, not a disability. By including pregnancy next to “other condition,” we’re still stuck in the archaic way of thinking that considers a woman having a baby as something that is limiting. Still, as discussed above, this current CBA went further to emphasize that the WNBA is a league for women and everything that goes along with it.
The mental and dental benefits provided are similar to what you’d find in a mid-level job in business or finance, nowhere near world-class like the types of athletes in the WNBA. However, this is likely related to the complexities surrounding the entire insurance industry as is. Still, it can be improved upon, especially if some of the mental health initiatives that the players have in mind are not covered under their insurance programs.
When the announcement was made regarding the new CBA, it was boasted that there would be a 50/50 revenue share between the league and players. However, there was a caveat in that press release that conditioned the split revenue share on the league achieving revenue growth targets and we needed the full CBA to determine what that exactly meant. Turns out, it doesn’t exactly hold the same shine as it did in the press release.
Should the league achieve the revenue growth targets, revenue shared with the players will be split, with 25% distributed to the players and the other 25% to increasing league marketing and promotional agreements. While certainly a better model than the prior revenue share, which was estimated to only give the players around a 20% share of the revenue, it still remains to be seen what this percentage will actually look like.
As the CBA is about 350 pages of legalese and I’ve read it in less than 24 hours, there is sure to be more analysis to come. In spite of some shortcomings and parts that remain unclear, the new CBA is still a win for both the players and the league. The players were listened to and their opinions valued. The league invested in their concerns in a way that made financial sense. Stay tuned for more.
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