On Monday, it was announced that the WNBA and WNBPA (Women’s National Basketball Players Association) have reached a new collective bargaining agreement that will start with the 2008 season and run through 2013.
Taking a look at the raw numbers, things seem to be on the upturn for the WNBA. Last season, new attendance records were set for the playoffs, with 216,863 fans drawn for 21 games, and the finals, with 74,178 fans over five games. Regular-season attendance increased by two percent. Television viewership was also up, and last season saw a new, eight-year agreement to air games on widely distributed ESPN. With the completion of that deal, the league’s relationship with the national sports network will reach 20 seasons.
Regardless of those positives, however, the WNBA is still not a profitable enterprise. As Indiana Fever star and Players Association president Tamika Catchings was quoted as saying in USA Today, “The league is not really making money at this point, so for us to go in and say we want million-dollar contracts would make no sense.”
The women of the WNBA, of course, still make a fraction of their NBA counterparts’ salaries. Under the new agreement, the salary cap will increase from $728,000 to $750,000, with owners having an option of spending up to $772,000. The maximum players’ salary will go from $93,000 to $95,000, and anyone deemed a team’s “core” player will receive an additional $2,500 (a “core” player is prevented from exploring free agency). Players will become restricted free agents after four years, and unrestricted after six.
Rookies will also benefit, with minimum salaries increasing from $32,400 per season to $34,500.
What this all comes down to is that we won’t be hearing any more talk of a strike. Labor stoppages have done damage to pro baseball and hockey in recent years, and have driven away many embittered fans, some of whom still haven’t returned. Although the WNBA has a large number of very faithful fans, the league can’t afford to take any kind of financial hit, even though most fans can relate to the players wanting to make more money. When one considers the kind of cash the NBA and other men’s pro leagues throw around, compared to what WNBA rookies make, it’s clear that women’s sports has a long way to go.
Kara Braxton, Detroit Shock
On a related note, that new WNBA Atlanta franchise has made its name official: the Atlanta Dream. That moniker was supposedly chosen from among 40 candidates. What, they couldn’t find something more generic? Why don’t teams want to name themselves things that are area-specific and make them distinctive? The Atlanta Dream doesn’t do it. Dream, maybe, because these boring names are putting us all to sleep …