By Rich Levine
The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) finally made things right. Last month, after 23 years of business and questionable treatment of its athletes, the league and its players came to terms on a historic Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), marking a big win for female professional athletes around the world.
Among the highlights, new CBA increases WNBA salaries across the board, with max player contracts jumping nearly six figures, from $117,500 to $215,000. In another monumental amendment, players are now guaranteed 100% of their salary if they miss time due to pregnancy. That’s up from 50 percent in the previous deal, an example of the league’s archaic existence over the last 20-plus years.
“Closed mouths don’t get fed,” Skyler Diggins-Smith told reporters this week about the players’ fight for more modern working conditions. The five-time WNBA All Star, who played the entire 2018 season while pregnant, was a powerful voice in negotiations. “Obviously the taste that was in my mouth last year was wanting to improve the conditions as a mother,” she said. “Not being a mom, you don’t understand what moms need.”
The new CBA also includes reimbursement for childcare, and costs of up to $20,000 related to adoption, fertility or infertility treatment. Players scored more comfortable travel arrangements - extra leg room, individual hotel rooms on the road – and a larger slice of the revenue (which was reportedly around $60M in 2018).
Of course, nothing is perfect. In this case, some benefits don’t kick in until a player’s eighth season. That seems high. The minimum rookie salary is only $57,000. That seems low. For all the growth, there’s room for more, but make no mistake: The WNBA is growing. And fast. The league’s new deal comes after a season in which TV ratings jumped 62 percent. The WNBA is more accessible than ever and well-suited for the digital age, with an affordable streaming package and games broadcast live on Twitter. When the league started in 1997, all eight teams were owned by the NBA. Today, now the longest running women’s professional league in the country, the WNBA has 12 teams, and six are independently owned. In other words, the league is no longer a side-project, or a charity case. The WNBA is a business, a blossoming one at that, and with this new deal, players are finally getting a bigger, better, more fair cut. No doubt they'll be ready and fighting for more of the same when negotiations re-open in 2027.