Student journalist Zack Long covers how and why the new deal will bring women’s sports closer to equality with men’s sports.
The start of the new year brought about a new agreement between the WNBA and the players union. This new agreement has the potential to make a large impact on both the women of the WNBA and on female athletes in professional sports in general. The push toward the measures outlined in the contract is certainly not a newfound effort, however. Professional female athletes from a multitude of sports and levels have been pushing for a change for years in the areas of compensation, maternity, childcare and more. Such calls for change continue to garner attention today as the lawsuit over equal pay for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, spearheaded by Megan Rapinoe, is scheduled for this May.
Several changes outlined in the proposed contract will be aimed at creating a standard of salary for athletes in the WNBA that better reflects the demands of the job than the current compensation system. This includes a 53 percent increase in cash compensation, a set minimum of $750,000 in prize money for special competitions, higher cash bonuses for performance awards and a new 50-50 revenue sharing system contingent on the league achieving revenue growth partnerships.
Beyond this, the contract will bring about an increase in quality travel elements for players (i.e., better hotel room accommodations and Premium Economy Class flight status for regular season travel) and motherhood provisions that include full salaries for players on maternity leave. The benefits for players don’t stop there as the contract also lifts the free agency restriction to one year earlier than under the prior agreement and aims to help the WNBA facilitate career development workshops and opportunities for players and their post-play careers.
Such a deal would also have the potential to impact players and teams around the world. Under the new agreement, players with more than three years of WNBA experience will be required to play the entire WNBA season. If they are playing for another league and subsequently fail to report to their WNBA team, they can be deemed ineligible. This stipulation has the potential to motivate foreign leagues to restructure their season schedules so that players don’t have to choose one league over the other. The higher earning opportunity for WNBA players is also aimed at keeping top players in the U.S. from having to play in such leagues overseas to earn supplemental income in the off-season, which can actually be quite exhausting and lead to injuries that affect these players’ ability to perform in regular season games.
While this contract would constitute a huge step forward for the female athletes seeking equal pay with their male counterparts, it still would leave the league’s players far from attaining salaries near the male players of the NBA. Nevertheless, it signifies the leagues’ recognition that more must be done to support the hard work these women pour into the sport and would be a massive milestone representing progress towards building a stronger WMBA while providing a more comprehensive collection of resources to meet its player’s needs.