What's the maximum amount the WNBA could afford to pay its players?

There have been countless complaints about the pay disparity between the WNBA and NBA, but I’m assuming nobody is suggesting that a WNBA player should actually get paid as much as LeBron James (which would probably be impossible given that the league’s revenue is only $70 million a year.) Presumably, what these players are complaining about is that there must be a certain amount of budget space that the WNBA and/or its teams could pay the players, but still so far haven’t - that they haven’t maxed out salaries to the permissible ceiling yet.

But where would that ceiling be? Suppose, for instance, that average WNBA pay were $100,000 per player per season, and the WNBA were theoretically capable of maxing out to a $200,000 a year but no more than that. Is that enough to satisfy the players (even though this would still be, like, less than 1/50 of what an NBA player might be paid,) or are these players demanding something else entirely?

Probably impossible to say, without understanding where the league’s $70 million annual revenue is going. The teams are, AIUI, individually owned, so that answer also likely varies by franchise – there may be some franchises that are currently running a profit (and, thus, could “afford” to pay their players more) while others may only be breaking even, or possibly even operating at a loss.

I see.

I guess what I’m asking is - the WNBA players are really, all said and done, only asking for a moderate increase in pay, right? Because it would be impossible for them to get LeBron James-type $35 million a year, even though people keep complaining about the WNBA/NBA disparity.

This chart might help a little.

Each WNBA team has a salary cap of $1,379,200 (plus a couple of franchise player-type exemptions), and all teams are right around their caps. Given a roster of 11-12 players, that works out to +/- $114,000 per player.

I’m going to make a lot of assumptions and averages here, but you’ll get my point.

Twelve teams and $70 million in revenue works out to $5.83 million per team, so player salaries are roughly 24% of revenue.

NBA salaries are roughly 50% of revenues. However, there’s a tremendous difference between the minimum and top salaries in the NBA (e.g., Steph Curry makes 40 times the NBA minimum) vs. the minimum and top WNBA salaries (about 3X) So WNBA players don’t have the salary differences between top and bottom their NBA counterparts do.

Can the WNBA afford to pay more? Difficult to tell. Sure, the NBA pays a higher percentage in salaries, but the NBA also collects $10 billion in revenues. The WNBA teams have to run their entire franchise on less than $6 million, while the NBA teams get $333 million each.

Can they at least pay their players enough to make it less of a tantalizing choice to play overseas in a hostile nation, like Brittney Griner had to?

What was Griner’s salary in Russia?

Reportedly, $1 million a year, or more than four times her WNBA salary.

Thanks. In that case, no they can’t pay players a million dollars a year. I Googled her team. They were about the best team in Europe and are owned by a billionaire Russian oligarch/mobster who doesn’t care if he makes a profit. A comparison to the WNBA is absurd.

So why can’t we get some American oligarchs to buy WNBA teams? It used to be that WNBA teams were owned by their NBA parents.

And isn’t $200K enough to live on these days? Jeez.

For any athlete, there’s a recognition that they are very likely dealing with a very limited window of time in which they are able to be paid for their athletic abilities. It’s not necessarily just about whether enough $200K is enough to live on; for those who are smart about such things, it’s also about building up a nest egg while they still have earning potential, for the future. Griner is 31 years old; she likely realized that she’s in the latter half of her career as a professional basketball player, and even those days of a $200K WNBA contract are numbered.

That said, there are absolutely some professional athletes who spend their money like water, and wind up broke soon after they are no longer drawing a salary as an athlete. Many of the pro sports leagues now have mandatory training sessions for their players, on how to manage their finances (and avoid scams), but you aren’t going to be able to stop an adult from choosing to live like a rock star while they can.

Some still are (or, at least, owned by the same owner as the NBA team in their city). Griner’s WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, is one of those; the team is owned by businessman Robert Sarver, who also owns the NBA Suns (and a Spanish soccer team).

Yeah, the European funding models are very, very different. Aside from mobster oligarchs in Russia, many European teams are functionally civic investments designed around the concept of the public good. State/municipal/city money pays the salaries, as cities compete to produce entertainment for their citizens and foster civic pride. So cities compete with each other to hire the biggest WNBA stars purely to get bragging rights when their teams win.

They are generally not capitalist investments designed to earn profits.

Brittney Griner is the 4th highest paid player in the NBA at ~$227k/year. Starting with the 15th highest paid player (out of 144) that salary drops below $200k. Average WNBA salary is ~$120k. Minimum is ~$60k for an undrafted rookie, while a #1 pick their rookie year starts at ~$72k. Average WNBA career length is 3.5 years.

I’m a bit confused, why would people complain about that? It’s not like the WNBA brings in more than a fraction of the NBA’s revenue. Or for that matter, of a NBA team’s revenue. And a fraction of MLS revenues, FWIW.

The WNBA is the lowest earning league of all professional sports leagues in the US. And in the world for that matter- they’re roughly comparable to the UK/French rugby “Super League” or the Australian/New Zealand A-League soccer league.

Meanwhile the NBA is one of the top three in the world, right there with the NFL and Major League Baseball.

Not surprisingly, the WNBA salaries track the Super League and A-League salaries pretty closely. I think the WNBA players are getting a bit big for their britches; if they want to make more money, then they and the league need to up their game and make their product more watchable, not bitch about how they make less than NBA players.

List of professional sports leagues by revenue - Wikipedia

Super League and NRL salary cap gulf laid bare as clubs face bleak overseas recruitment prospects - Manchester Evening News

How much do A-League Players Earn? (footballwhispers.com)

I made about $13K working at Blockbuster and was really struggling, but is six times that amount really all that bad?

Was this in 1992?

No, it’s not all that bad, but it’s not enormous, either; $72K is a bit above the median U.S. household income in 2020, which was $67,521 (cite).

WNBA players don’t play year-round (meaning that it’s possible that they could work another job during the off-season, which is exactly what Griner was doing), though it’s in their best interest to spend a significant amount of their off-season on training, which would probably preclude some types of jobs, which would require the majority of said player’s time.

The issue, as I already noted, is that a professional sports career is short – most of them will only be playing, and making that kind of money, for a couple of years.

Were you an elite athlete, one of the best 144 in the world in your field, who had dedicated decades of training and conditioning to reach that peak and who was looking to be forced out of that job in just a few years due to intense competition and/or injury? There isn’t currently a WNBA team in San Francisco but Warriors owner Joe Lacob is on record as wanting one, so it is a very likely spot for any future expansion or team sale. A single income below ~$82k was considered “low income” as defined by the HUD in SF in 2018.

I mean we can get into all sorts of arguments over whether professional athletes deserve the sort money they make. An undrafted NBA rookie this year will start at a minimum of ~$1,017,000/year. The average NBA career is about 4.5 years, a little longer than the WNBA (there are 450+ NBA players any given year, a lot more than the WNBA). Is that reasonable? Heck if I know.

I’m also not saying it is necessarily wrong that the WNBA pays what it does. There is an argument to be made, and many have, that if you treat the disparity as merely dollars and cents capitalism, maybe that is what their labor is worth from a utilitarian POV. As I noted other countries have a different view of such things, but in the U.S. maybe it is what it is. All I know is that I make more than the majority of WNBA players and I’m not in the top 144 in the world at anything. Heck, I might not even be in the top 1.4 billion at anything.

So I’m definitely going to temper criticism of players like Griner who are trying to maximize their fairly limited career window by making what they can, when they can and where they can.

According to the article below, some players make many times their salary in endorsements. A small few over a million dollars per year.

Would that make a difference? I imagine there would be implications, taxes at the very least, if funds were transferred between different corporations owned by the same person. And if piercing the corporate veil is one of those implications then moving money around will never happen.