It’s no grand secret that NBA players have more stardom, greater salaries and better perks than their female counterparts. In recent years, the inequality has made for some pretty striking headlines: “WNBA superstars make less than an entry-level NBA referee,” “WNBA All-Star makes 12x her salary playing a season overseas,” “NBA player salaries make up approximately 50% of the league revenue, whereas WNBA players are less than 25%.”
But change could be coming soon.
Twenty-two years after its first game was played, the WNBA is stepping out of the NBA’s shadow. It’s with the help of a few key media outlets and some business savvy product marketers that this season has become a tipping point—the most important time in the history of the league.
From a consumer perspective, the WNBA is more accessible now than ever before. Starting in 2019, the average person will have far more platforms to easily engage with the league. Fans of SLAM probably remember the iconic issue with Chamique Holdsclaw—the first woman to grace the cover—from 1998. Now SLAM followers will be able to track women’s basketball on all levels (high school, college, professional) with the launch of the new WSLAM platform. Coverage will expand to include interesting off-court stories as well.
The video game NBA Live just came out with WNBA functionality, meaning players can dress in WNBA gear, make female avatars and play with superstars from the league. Sports.WS is debuting a season-long WNBA fantasy league. Hashtag Basketball and Swish Appeal published WNBA draft guides, fantasy rankings tools, and team previews before the 2019 season kicked off. There are a growing number of dedicated WNBA blogs and social media personalities to help keep fans in the know.
On the business side, Cathy Engelbert recently took over as the first-ever WNBA commissioner. She will be diving headfirst into negotiations for the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement this fall—meaning big changes are coming.
Asked about the direction of the league, Atlanta dream center and Secretary of the WNBA Players Association Elizabeth Williams told SLAM: “I think as players we’re actually feeling like the league is serious about rebranding and wanting us to be sustainable. We’re just hoping as the negotiations and other business stuff goes on that it will continue, but I think that we’re in a good place.”
After a newly agreed to deal, CBS Sports Network is broadcasting 40 WNBA games live during the 2019 season, providing a significant promotional and financial boost to the league. Forbes reported that the WNBA’s television revenue increased 108.3 percent from 2014-2018 (prior to the deal), and that total is expected to continue to rise.
With that bump, the league may have the opportunity to start paying greater salaries. At present, players can often make more money competing overseas but choose to stay stateside for other reasons.
“You grew up playing here, your whole family is here—your friends—and you want to set an example for the young kids who are here and show them that this league exists,” explains Williams. “The reason people play year-round is because we know this is bigger than just us making money overseas or else people would want to play overseas. We want the W to grow.”
Now the big question: Why now?
Is the WNBA being noticed because women have never been louder in demanding recognition, or perhaps because the next generation is growing up with the league and views these powerful women as role models? In either case, the WNBA isn’t a novelty anymore—it’s a part of our landscape.
Now more than ever, the average person can engage with the league more effortlessly. This is the tipping point for the WNBA.
Change is coming, and it’s time to tune in.