The state of the WNBA CBA

By Adrienne Goodson

Billy Hunter is the Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association. He served as chief negotiator during the high profile labor negotiations in the 1999 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the National Basketball Association and its players.

The Women’s National Basketball Players Association is the union that represents all WNBA players, and was officially formed on November 6, 1998. The Association is comprised of all WNBA players and is governed by an Executive Committee and Player Representatives from each WNBA team. Pamela Wheeler was appointed to the newly created position of Director of Operations for the Women’s National Basketball Players Association in April of 1999. Her first project was coordinating negotiations between the WNBPA and the WNBA, which became the first ever collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in women’s professional sports in June 1999. I was a part of that Executive Committee along with Coquese Washington, Sonja Henning, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, among others, but we were the ones at every meeting in New York.

Two Penn Plaza had a fire blazin’ on the top floor. Everyday back and forth with David Stern, Val Ackerman, and who could ever forget Jamin Dershowitz. The place was hot like fire from words of displeasure to people acting out in anger but all for the purpose of women’s basketball and its survival. The details that took place in that room will forever be in my memory bank especially seeing how it has all played out. Some things good and some things bad. Some things changed and others put on the back burner until this January of 2008 when it all begins again. I just hope that a lot more thought goes into the fight.

The Executive Committee now consists of:

Tamika Catchings

First Vice President
Ruth Riley

Secretary & Treasurer
Charlotte Smith

Vice President
Tamika Williams

Vice President
Kara Lawson

The player representatives change on a yearly basis due to the player movement around the league. This is necessary in order to get good representation throughout the league. The more voices that are heard the better. Numbers produce change in the sports arena. Whether its scoring points or selling tickets, it’s all about the numbers. More than one person speaking and agreeing on the same subject is power.

There are a few things that concern me as far as the league goes and I am sure they will come to an agreement with these issues after this season. The concerns that stand out in my mind in regards to equality are minimal and can be resolved with the flip of the switch. Well, I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

In the commencement year of the CBA (2003), the Salary Cap was $622,000 and is now $728,000 for the year 2007. Keep in mind the maximum salary is $93,000 (the team can designate two players as core), the veteran minimum is $49,134, the rookie scale ranges from $43,200 to $32,400 depending on the draft selection, and the free agents salary is based upon how many years of service starting at $31,800 up to $49K.

Here’s where it gets sketchy. Say you’re a General Manager of a star-studded team with this salary cap of $728,000. You have two core players off the top, two more all-stars that expect at least $70,000, three other vets, and everyone else slumped around a thirty-thousand dollar salary for fear of running out of money. What kind of way is that to construct a team. Fill your roster up with affordable price players. This always leads to a long season. You get what you pay for. It doesn’t seem fair when we are governed by one of the largest sport enterprises in the world.

We tried to fight for a million per team because it seemed more logical and would make for smoother negotiations. Then I started to think about the clause in regards to the minimum team salary that states, in the event that, by the conclusion of a season, if a team has excess cap money the WNBA shall cause such team to disperse equal payments to the players with a formula reasonably determined by the Players Association. Oh well! we tried. On to the next thing.

The next few issues have to deal with marketing. An area that has to change or will create havoc especially when superstar Candace Parker comes on the scene. With Candace Parker comes a million possibilities and more sponsors but if the rules don’t change some noise will be made. She may not be affected because of who she is but there will be some hoola hoops to jump through because this kid will be Americas most sort after female athlete as far as endorsements are concerned and I bet a few of them will be direct competitors. Hmm…. kinda makes me wonder about the Adidas deal this year.

WNBA Enterprises have the worldwide right to use a players attributes in any form of trade, consumer promotion, marketing, or advertising purposes intended to foster and develop the league. The player may not permit any other entity that directly competes in a designated sponsor category to use her likeness. Let me break it down. The WNBA currently has ABC, Adidas, AOL, Discover Card, ESPN 2, Hannspree, Kohler, Meridian, NBA TV, Nike, Gatorade, Ocean Spray, Russell, Spalding, Southwest, T-Mobile and Toyota. So as a player, you cannot negotiate a contract with television, a credit card company, sports drinks, an airline company, telephone company, or the nearest car dealership. Basically, you cannot enter into agreement with any product or service that would interfere with the WNBA Enterprise. Any sponsorship, endorsement or licensing agreement entered into by a player during the term of her contract, including footwear must be provided to the league. This contract must be a Bona Fide Endorsement Agreement. The value of that contract must be no less than $5,000 dollars and approved by the WNBA.

If a player has a qualifying shoe deal with a manufacturer that is not an authorized WNBA footwear supplier, she may wear the shoes during games, practice and press conferences but without any visible manufacturer’s logo or identification. Those players without a shoe deal have to wear the shoes provided by the WNBA. Now you tell me what shoe company will agree to sponsor somebody but receive minimal exposure due to this crazy apparel rule in section six of the collective bargaining agreement. Yeah the league’s point of view is of course in the favor of Nike and Adidas whose complaint is valid. They invest 15 million dollars in the league. If an XYZ company offers a $5,000 contract and gets exposure then blah, blah, blah.

Once again the league gets richer and you can read between the lines.

Most players are locked into their salary and have no other way to create income due to the stipulations. if you are not one of the marquee players that the league chooses to promote you are once again lumped around a certain salary potential. The players need to share in the wealth right about now. As the league grows, the pay increase continues to be minimal and the players will become disgruntled. The men went through it and now the women. The men had to settle it by locking out. All of which, is not an issue for the women. We will resolve this over time as did our counterparts. Our brothers who fought the good fight and won.

Although Val Ackerman is gone and the crew has a new face, the re-opening of the CBA will come into play. How will David Stern handle this one? Will he open up his hand and pour out the goodness that is due to those in the league and to those who have left? Will the WNBA do what has been needed to be done for a long time? Can those players who have sacrificed themselves to make this league work now be rewarded? I think so. I think he will do the right thing by all parties concerned. The reason why I only address Mr. Stern is because he ultimately makes all of the decisions. All of the decisions with some help from Billy Hunter.

I’d like to thank the WNBPA and its staff for taking time out in the Bahamas to discuss this issue and to make sure that this story is legitimate as well as fact worthy. The end of the season will be the beginning of long debates, long discussions, agreements and disagreements but most of all it will be a time well spent.

This is what the men fought for. We are nowhere near this.