Women have traditionally been paid far less than their male counterparts in professional sports. Former UFC fighter Paige VanZant has complained that she made more money on Instagram than she does fighting in the octagon, and one professional softball player has said she earns less than the bat boy for the New York Yankees.
No one is saying every woman athlete should be making what Serena Williams takes home each year, but something seems off when rookies in the WNBA take home a minimum salary of a tiny fraction of what even the most average NBA player makes. The minimum salary in the WNBA is currently about $62,000, while the minimum annual salary in the NBA is roughly 15 times that number.
With Brittney Griner set to make her return to the WNBA after being detained in Russia, fans will likely wonder how much she makes compared to the rest of the league. According to Spotrac, she's set to earn a base salary of $165,100 this season, which is less than the highest-paid players in the WNBA.
How Much Do WNBA Players Make?
The average WNBA salary was $102,751 in 2022, according to NBC Sports. And that was among 151 players.
Even the WNBA's highest-paid players in 2023 will only make around $250,000 or lower. Stephen Curry, the NBA's top earner, has a player salary of more than $48 million. He takes home more than $600,000 per game, which means he's earning the highest-paid WNBA salary in a single half of a game.
Still, the WNBA recently made strides in this department. In January 2020, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert and WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike announced a new collective bargaining agreement that would increase WNBA salaries to a $130,000 average salary and allow the league's all-stars and superstars to earn a maximum salary of more than $500,000.
The 2020 WNBA Salary Increase
BREAKING: @CathyEngelbert from the @WNBA announces a new landmark deal for female athletes. ?We?re hoping to lift, not just women in sports and women in basketball, but women in society.?@RobinRoberts
@Nnemkadi30 https://t.co/n0zPNGp6Sz pic.twitter.com/V6eBw2wH3S
— Good Morning America (@GMA) January 14, 2020
Landmark day in the WNBA: New collective bargaining agreement that has raised average salaries to six figures for first time ($130,000, up to $500,000 for top players), improved travel and marketing opportunities, and fully paid salary on maternity leave among other changes.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 14, 2020
In addition, the eight-year deal gives WNBA players improved travel conditions, fully paid maternity leave and a potential for higher league revenue sharing. As SBNation explained, players (many of which are taller than six feet) will fly in upgraded seats and will have their own hotel rooms on the road. Prior to the new deal, only veterans received that perk.
"I call it historic," WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told the Associated Press. "The CBA guarantees substantial (financial) increases. The way we are paying these players is different than the past. ... The top couple players are tripling (in pay) where they were. Other players are making $200,000-300,000. The average will be over $130,000. Everyone gets an increase here."
The new CBA was welcomed news by WNBA players. Low salaries in the past meant many of the league's top players had to play overseas in the offseason to earn more money. That's great for exposure, but the year-round grind takes a toll on the body and comes with injury risk.
For example, the 2018 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart tore her Achilles prior to the 2019 WNBA season playing in a Euroleague championship game. Meanwhile, NBA players like Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James and Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard sit out regular season games for "load management" reasons.
National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver said the WNBA lost $12 million in 2018, but attendance is on the incline for many WNBA teams. If the WNBA wants to attract and preserve top talent, that starts with paying its top picks (the top four WNBA Draft picks in 2022 — Rhyne Howard, NaLyssa Smith, Shakira Austin and Emily Sngstler — earned a base salary $72,141). The average salary in 2021 was $120,648—a substantial increase from $75,000 just two years before that—and the salary cap increased from $996,100 in 2019 to $1,339,000.
Women's sports leagues are growing. Few more so than women's professional basketball. Viewership increased by 49% in 2021 thanks to more exposure on ESPN along with new sponsorships and partnerships. Not to mention a unique All-Star Game where the WNBA All-Stars took on the USA Women's National Team and thrilling playoffs. Then in 2022, viewership was up 22% from that mark.
The Dallas Wings, Los Angeles Sparks, Minnesota Lynx and other pro women's basketball teams will never be as big as their NBA team counterparts, which means the average NBA salary will be higher. However, they still play with as much fire and passion. The new CBA is a step in the right direction. Now go out and support your local WNBA team.
Highest-Paid WNBA Players in 2023
1. Jackie Young, Las Vegas Aces: $252,450
2. Arike Ogunbowale, Dallas Wings: $241, 984
3. Jewell Loyd, Seattle Storm: $231,515
T-4. DeWanna Bonner, Connecticut Sun: $224,870
T-4. Skylar Diggins-Smith, Phoenix Mercury: $224,870
T-4. Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics: $224,870
7. Natasha Howard, New York Liberty: $224,675
8. Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun: $209,000
9. Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun: $208,075
10. Kelsey Mitchell, Indiana Fever: $206,000
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