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Everyone is shocked by Caitlin Clark’s $76,000 WNBA salary. These numbers show there’s more to the story.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert poses with draftees before the 2024 WNBA Draft.WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert poses with future draftees before the 2024 WNBA Draft.

Sarah Stier/Staff/Getty Images

  • The Indiana Fever selected Caitlin Clark as the No. 1 pick in the 2024 WNBA draft.
  • Her four-year rookie contract is worth a base of $338,056 and will pay about $76,000 in year one.
  • WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said there’s a “false narrative” around Clark’s salary.

With just a few weeks remaining until the WNBA’s 28th season tips off on May 14, there’s plenty to be excited about: Caitlin Clark is preparing to make her WNBA debut with the Indiana Fever, the Las Vegas Aces are eyeing their third consecutive championship, and the league is hoping to break viewership and revenue records.

However, the one thing no one seems to be excited about is the players’ pay. WNBA players notoriously make just a fraction of what their NBA counterparts make, and after the rookie contracts of NCAA stars like Caitlin Clark — who will be paid around $76,000 during her first year were released on April 16, critics were quick to comment.

“These ladies deserve so much more … Praying for the day,” Steelers quarterback Russell Wilson wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

President Joe Biden also commented on the issue on X, writing, “Women in sports continue to push new boundaries and inspire us all. But right now we’re seeing that even if you’re the best, women are not paid their fair share. It’s time that we give our daughters the same opportunities as our sons and ensure women are paid what they deserve.”

Amid the criticism, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert pushed back on the narrative when speaking at CNBC’s Changemakers Summit on April 18, CNBC reported.

“Caitlin has the ability to make up to a half of a million dollars just in WNBA wages this year, so they’re actually just looking at a base, which is collectively bargained and actually is low […] But she also has millions and millions of dollars in endorsements,” said Engelbert.

WNBA salaries are negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement by the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA), alongside other topics like benefits and revenue sharing. The league last negotiated its CBA in 2020 and will have a chance to opt out of the agreement in 2025.

Clark’s starting salary, thus, is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding the full story behind WNBA pay. Here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know.

Rookies’ salaries are determined by their draft position. Caitlin Clark’s base salary for her first year in the WNBA is around $76,000.Caitlin Clark celebrates after Iowa's win over LSU in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament in April 2024.Caitlin Clark celebrates after Iowa’s win over LSU in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in April 2024.

Andy Lyons/Staff/Getty Images

In April 2024, CBS reported that Clark’s four-year rookie contract is worth a total of $338,056. She’ll be paid $76,535 in 2024, $78,066 in 2025, $85,873 in 2026, and $97,582 in 2027.

Because they were within the top four first-round draft picks, Cameron Brink, Kamilla Cardoso, and Rickea Jackson will have the same rookie salaries, as determined by the WNBA’s CBA.

Meanwhile, picks five through eight from the first round will earn a first-year base salary of $73,439, and the remaining first-round picks will earn a first-year base salary of $70,344.

In comparison, the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, Victor Wembanyama, signed a four-year rookie contract worth $55.2 million.San Antonio Spurs player Victor Wembanyama during an April 2024 game against the Memphis Grizzlies.San Antonio Spurs player Victor Wembanyama during an April 2024 game against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Justin Ford/Contributor/Getty Images

The 7-foot-4 power forward and center from France is making $12.2 million this season as a rookie, per Sporting News.

One factor to consider when evaluating pay disparities is the WNBA’s youth relative to other professional men’s leagues.Cynthia Cooper of the Houston Comets (#14) dribbles against Vickie Johnson (#55) of the New York Liberty in the first WNBA Championship in 1997.Cynthia Cooper of the Houston Comets (#14) dribbles against Vickie Johnson (#55) of the New York Liberty in the first WNBA Championship in 1997.

Doug Pensinger/Staff/Allsport/Getty Images

“I would say if you look at [the NBA or other professional men’s leagues] 28 seasons in, we’re further ahead, but we realize we still have a lot of work to do, and it’s all about the ecosystem around us that drives revenue,” Engelbert said.

Professional men’s leagues are typically much older than their female counterparts. The MLB is 148, the NFL is 104, the PGA Tour is 95, and even the NBA is 78.

The WNBA, meanwhile, is only 28.

That said, interest in the league is accelerating in a major way. The WNBA reported that the 2023 regular season reached its highest levels of unique viewership since 2008, reaching over 36 million unique viewers across all national networks. Attendance also saw a 16 percent increase compared to 2022, marking the highest rates since 2018.

Critics like to point out the leagues’ differences in revenue. The WNBA makes an estimated $200 million compared to the NBA’s $10 billion. NBA Store opening in Berlin, 2022.NBA Store opening in Berlin, 2022.

Franziska Krug/Contributor/Getty Images for NBA

Critics of higher pay for women’s leagues often point to the fact that the WNBA makes significantly less revenue than the NBA — $200 million versus an estimated $10 billion — per MSNBC.

But with a disparity in visibility and accessibility between the leagues, as well as issues of sexism and racism, the reality is more complex.

In 2021, a study conducted by the University of Southern California and Purdue University and published in the journal Communication & Sport found that 80% of the televised sports news and highlights shows authors watched included zero stories about women’s sports.

Study author and professor of American studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies Cheryl Cooky told USC Today in 2021, “On the rare broadcast when a women’s sports story does appear, it is usually a case of ‘one and done’ — a single women’s sports story partially eclipsed by a cluster of men’s stories that precede it, follow it and are longer in length.”

Leagues like the WNBA and NWSL are working to change that, in part by improving their media rights deals.

In April 2024, Front Office Sports reported that the WNBA earns about $60 million annually from its TV and streaming deals, but in a CNBC appearance following the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship, Engelbert said the league hopes to double that figure.

“Women’s sports rights fees have been undervalued for too long, so we have this enormous opportunity at a time where the media landscape is changing so much. We’re really excited to get out in the marketplace,” she said.

Companies are realizing its value, too. In January 2024, the NCAA signed an eight-year rights deal worth $920 million with ESPN for 40 NCAA championships, valuing the women’s basketball tournament at $65 million — three times its value in the previous deal, Just Women’s Sports reported. Meanwhile, on April 5, Prime Video extended its contract with the WNBA, per The Hollywood Reporter.

The key going forward will be to continue advocating for quality coverage for all women in sports, something Paige Bueckers called out three years ago during her 2021 ESPYS acceptance speech.

“With the light that I have now as a white woman who leads a Black-led sport and celebrated here, I want to show a light on Black women. They don’t get the media coverage that they deserve. They’ve given so much to this sport and the community and society as a whole, and their value is undeniable. And the WNBA last season, the postseason awards, 80 percent of the winners were Black, but they got half of the coverage as the white athletes, so I think it’s time for change,” Bueckers said.

One of the main issues is that even for the revenue the league does earn, players don’t benefit from the current revenue-sharing agreement.Kelsey Plum of the Las Vegas Aces shoots a free throw during the 2023 WNBA Playoffs.Kelsey Plum of the Las Vegas Aces shoots a free throw during the 2023 WNBA Playoffs.

Ethan Miller/Staff/Getty Images

In November 2022, two-time Las Vegas Aces champion Kelsey Plum appeared on The Residency Podcast and spoke on some of the misconceptions surrounding pay discrepancies between the WNBA and NBA, Just Women’s Sports reported.

“We’re not asking to get paid what the men get paid. We’re asking to get paid the same percentage of revenue shared,” Plum said.

“In the NBA, they have percentages of revenue shared for the players — so, jersey sales, obviously their TV contracts. But that’s because their CBA negotiates, where the owners are making certain types of money, [the players] get that as well. In the WNBA, that’s not the case,” she added.

According to NBC News, NBA players get about a 50-50 split of league revenue. Meanwhile, the current WNBA CBA states that players would only be paid 50 percent of shared revenue if “Cumulative League Revenue” exceeds the “Cumulative Revenue Target” — which hasn’t happened yet.

“I don’t think I should get paid the same as LeBron. But the percentage of revenue — like, for example, they sell my jersey in Mandalay Bay, I don’t get a dime. So that’s the stuff we’re talking about,” Plum said.

Players won’t be able to opt out of current agreements until 2025.

WNBA players supplement their salaries with endorsements and by playing in leagues overseas.Breanna Stewart wearing her signature shoe, the Stewie 2, made with Puma.Breanna Stewart wearing her signature shoe, the Stewie 2, made with Puma.

Katharine Lotze/Contributor/Getty Images

“[Clark] has millions and millions of dollars in endorsements, and actually, because she’s declared to become pro, her endorsements are higher in dollar value — she has a global platform now, not just a US platform, so she’s going to do just fine as well,” said Engelbert.

Clark already had numerous NIL deals during her collegiate career at the University of Iowa with major brands like Gatorade, Nike, and State Farm — and these deals aren’t going anywhere.

Per The Wall Street Journal, Clark is prepared to sign an eight-year deal with Nike worth $28 million that also includes a signature shoe. Only three current players in the WNBA — Breanna Stewart, Sabrina Ionescu, and Elena Delle Donne — have a signature shoe, USA Today reported, highlighting an example of a racial divide that’s also present in some of the current endorsement deals.

Players also are known to play abroad during the offseason to support their pay.

“A lot of us go [abroad] to make an income, to support our families, to support ourselves,” said WNBA player Brittney Griner in a 2023 news conference.

CNN reported that the conference was Griner’s first since returning to the US after being held in Russian custody for nearly 300 days after authorities at a Moscow airport found cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner had played for a Russian women’s basketball team in the WNBA offseason for years before the incident.

“I’m hoping that our league continues to grow and with as many people in here now covering this, I hope you continue to cover our league and bring exposure to us,” she said.

The 2024 WNBA league minimum salary is $64,154.Indiana Fever player Maya Caldwell dribbles during a 2023 WNBA game against the Connecticut Sun.Indiana Fever player Maya Caldwell dribbles during a 2023 WNBA game against the Connecticut Sun.

Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Clark’s new Indiana Fever teammate, Maya Caldwell, signed a one-year deal for the league minimum of $64,154 for her third season, Spotrac.com and HerHoopsStats.com reported.

According to the current CBA, minimum base salaries are determined by years of service to the WNBA and scale upwards yearly.

For players with zero to two years of service, the base salary increases from $64,154 in 2024 to $66,079 in 2025 to $68,061 in 2026 and $70,103 in 2027.

For players with three-plus years of service to the league, the base salary increases from $76,535 in 2024 to $78,831 in 2025 to $81,196 in 2026 and $83,631 in 2027.

The highest-paid player in the WNBA is Las Vegas Aces guard Jackie Young, with a salary of $252,450.Jackie Young of the Las Vegas Aces dribbles during game two of the 2023 WNBA Playoffs.Jackie Young of the Las Vegas Aces dribbles during game two of the 2023 WNBA Playoffs.

Ethan Miller/Staff/Getty Images

Young was the No. 1 pick in the 2019 WNBA draft and is a two-time WNBA champion with the Las Vegas Aces, having won the trophy in 2022 and 2023. She was also a 2023 WNBA All-Star starter and named to the 2023 All-WNBA Second Team.

She is among the 21 players to receive a salary of at least $200,000, Spotrac.com reported.

Other top-earning players include Jewell Loud (Seattle Storm, $245,508), Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury, $234,936), Skylar Diggins-Smith (Seattle Storm, $211,343), Sabrina Ionescu (New York Liberty, $205,030), A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas Aces, $200,000), and Kelsey Plum (Las Vegas Aces, $200,000).

Compare that to the highest-paid player in the NBA, Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry who is earning $51,915,615 this season.Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors dribbles during an April 2024 game against the Dallas Mavericks.Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors dribbles during an April 2024 game against the Dallas Mavericks.

Thearon W. Henderson/Contributor/Getty Images

Stephen Curry is the league’s highest-paid player this season, earning $51,915,615 as part of a four-year $215.3 million contract with the Golden State Warriors, per USA Today.

Other top earners in the league include Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid, LeBron James, Nikola Jokić, Bradley Beal, and Giannis Antetokounmpo — all of whom earned upwards of $45 million this season on multi-year contracts.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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