Breanna Stewart’s injury prompts another convo about WNBA salaries. Is it realistic to expect change?

STEWIE’S INJURY

WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart tore her achilles last weekend during a EuroLeague championship game. A few days after news of the injury, Stewart announced she’ll have to sit out the 2019-20 WNBA season to recover.

Stewart, who plays for the Seattle Storm in the U.S., plays for the Dynamo Kursk in Russia during the WNBA off-season. Since the dawn of the league in 1996, WNBA players have played abroad during the off-season to make more money.

This results in little rest for players, leading to both physical and mental strain.

The idea that WNBA players deserve higher pay is not new; it was an especially hot topic last season, when players took to social media and news conferences to call for bigger salaries.

Stewart’s WNBA season-ending injury is just the latest example of how low salaries are hurting the league.

SHOW ME THE MONEY!

Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, the maximum player salary for the 2019 season is $117,500. Salaries for first-year players are as low as $41,200.

NBA salaries are much, much higher — the average salary for the 2018-19 season was $592,244.07.

Late last year, the players association opted out of the CBA, which will still be in effect through this season. Understanding how players make money is especially important for upcoming seasons.

WHERE DO THESE NUMBERS COME FROM?

It’s unreasonable to expect WNBA players to earn the same amount as NBA players.In a press conference before the All-Star game last August, Sue Bird said as much:

“Look, we’re not over here saying we should be paid the same as the men. We’re realistic. We understand that this is a business and that their revenue is insane compared to ours. But there is a bias that exists.”

So how do the men make such a vast amount of money compared to the women? It starts with the league revenue split.

David Berri, a sports and economics researcher, author and professor, broke down the numbers for Forbes.

The NBA pays about 50% of its revenue to its players. According to Berri’s calculations, the WNBA pays players less than 25% of league revenue.

“If the WNBA paid its players like the NBA, the players would be receiving about $30 million in revenue,” he wrote. “This would increase the average WNBA salary to about $191,083.”

SO WHY DOESN’T THE WNBA JUST SPLIT THE REVENUE LIKE THE NBA?

ESPN writer Mechelle Voepel wrote it best:

“Directly comparing revenue-sharing percentage, though, is problematic. The NBA as a business is 50 years older and substantially more profitable than the WNBA. Also “revenue” is not the same as “profit.” A smaller pool makes equal revenue-sharing less likely, as owners’ financial needs for running their teams (along with any debt from past seasons) must be taken into account.”

This statement is especially true considering many franchises aren’t bringing in the big bucks. Voepel wrote that it’s estimated only about half of the franchises make a profit every year, and some have lost millions over the years.

OKAY, NOW WHAT?

The WNBA has a vested interest in keeping all 144 players well-rested and happy. A few players have taken jobs as NBA coaches or in the front offices during the off-season, which doesn’t provide a ton of money under the current CBA cap, but does provide rest.

The simplest path to making players more successful is helping franchises become more successful.

“As a women’s league, we need to go to the heads of major companies, and even just the casual fans who won’t support us, and really ask them why,” Bird said in that press conference last August. “The fact that our viewership is up. Clearly, it’s a good product, and interest is there. What makes some people feel like they need to put this league down on a regular basis?”

Read more about the toll of the never-ending grind in The New York Times.