WNBA and Players Association Reach ‘Landmark’ Collective Bargaining Agreement

Supermajority Education Fund

January 16, 2020

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) announced a new “landmark” collective bargaining agreement on January 14 that will lead to average player compensation reaching six figures.

The league and union’s announcement of the eight-year agreement stated that top players can now earn more than $500,000, while the average compensation for players will be nearly $130,000. Other updates included increases in performance bonuses (for league MVP and Rookie of the Year), new performance bonuses (for league All-Defensive First Team members), a minimum $1.6 million in off-season league and team marketing, and a 50-50 revenue sharing goal starting in the 2021 season. The agreement also includes “premium economy” airline travel, individual hotel rooms, and a panel to address other travel concerns.

There have been stark differences in how WNBA and NBA players were compensated for years. For example, the average NBA salary is $7.7 million. In terms of revenue-sharing, WNBA players previously received 20 to 30 percent of the league revenue, while NBA players received around 50 percent.

The new agreement also covers motherhood and family planning. Under this CBA, players will receive a full salary while recovering on maternity leave, which will be “as long as the player needs,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told reporters on a recent press call. Previously, a player could expect to “earn as little as half of her base salary,” according to SB Nation. The agreement also includes a $5,000 childcare stipend, private accommodations for nursing mothers, and “up to a $60,000 reimbursement for veteran players for costs directly related to adoption, surrogacy, oocyte cryopreservation or fertility/infertility treatment,” according to a statement by the league.

It’s unsurprising that two women, Engelbert and WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike, helmed these negotiations, according to Alicia Jessop, attorney and sports business writer for The Athletic, who told Supermajority News that they “know that for women to get their fair share, they have to use creative solutions to get that access. Historically, the market isn’t going to respond and give you what you want.” 

The actual contract won’t be public for months; this CBA will begin with the 2020 season, but still needs to be ratified by players and the league’s Board of Governors. But Jessop said the announcement alone is monumental — primarily for the wage increases. “Even though these women are still not going to be making the type of money their NBA brethren are, the WNBA will be making a higher average now,” she told Supermajority News.

But the “sustainable model for revenue growth” is also notable, Jessop said. By creating WNBA Changemakers, the league and the Players Association are “not only going to give money to grow women’s sports but [are] amplifying and elevating women’s sport.” On a call with reporters on January 14, Engelbert described the program as including “leaders in diversity inclusion” who are “a special collective of value-driven organizations and people that believe in our league, in women.”