Why Do WNBA Players Have To Play Year Round?

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Elena Delle Donne, small forward/shooting guard, of the Washington Mystics in 2019

Alexis Pierce, Contributing Writer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — One word. Money.

The 2020 WNBA season ended October 11th after the Seattle Storm won the series 3-0 in the WNBA Championship. While you would think players could go home and relax after a long drawn out season, they aren’t. Many WNBA players are most likely booking their flights to play more ball, but this time in another country.

The WNBA started in 1996 with only eight teams at the time. Since then, the league has grown tremendously now with 12 teams, and much more recognition than ever before. While the WNBA has grown since its first debut 24 years ago, the league still has a lot more it needs to improve upon. One being the amount of salary dollars for players. On average, a WNBA player makes about $100,658 a year, that’s without sponsors and endorsements. Players like Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, and Angel McCoughtry, who’s been in the league a little longer, salaries are a little more, but still not enough to provide the necessary financial security that a player needs.

Playing overseas is the best and only option WNBA players have in order to be able to provide for their families even after they stop playing. I know you remember when the Phoenix Mercury’s best player and star Diana Taurasi sat out all of the 2015-16 WNBA season to take up a 1 million dollar contract in Russia. Diana was very cautious about her decision to opt out that year but in an open letter to Mercury fans, she felt that was the best decision for herself as well as her family.

“The year-round nature of women’s basketball takes its toll and the financial opportunity with my team in Russia would have been irresponsible to turn down. They offered to pay me to rest and I’ve decided to take them up on it. I want to be able to take care of myself and my family when I am done playing.”

I was able to catch up with rookie, Joyner Holmes, from the New York Liberty and ask about her thoughts on veteran players such as Taurasi or Sue Bird not receiving nearly as much as they are actually worth and here’s what she had to say…

Is it a gender issue or an economic issue?

The WNBA, and quite frankly many positions where women perform the same tasks as men, do not receive the same amount of compensation as their counterparts. It’s been proven time and time again. The financial disparities between men and women sports has been a pinnacle issue for centuries.

As trade agreements in the NBA are currently taking place, NBA players are getting offered these major trade deals with beaucoup money attached to them. Houston Rockets, James Harden, recently turned down a two-year $103 million extension to his already $132.9 million remaining on his current contract. If he were to accept the deal, this would have made him the first NBA player to make $50 million per-season. While WNBA players don’t even see that kind of money in a lifetime, let alone in one season. NBA players have the luxury of playing with their respective teams each season without having to pack up and go play overseas.

Atlanta Dream’s Courtney Williams had her own opinion of whether she believed it to be gender issue or an economic issue.

Courtney Williams in the 2019 WNBA Finals against the Washington Mystics. Photo Courtesy of Google Images

 

Recording of Courtney Williams thoughts about the wage gap.

It’s become a ritual for WNBA players to play overseas after a WNBA season. For players like Courtney Williams, who has been in the league for five years, she has become accustomed to the two season lifestyle. However, she does state that playing two seasons back to back can definitely be mentally exhausting. When asked, “what do you think needs to be done to help the WNBA financially support their players better?” She states that she believes the WNBA does a good job, and that as the WNBA continues to expand, and with more viewership from fans, the more money will come. But for the vet, Williams wouldn’t rather have it any other way.

“I’ve never considered just playing overseas”, Williams said. “I like to play in front of my family and friends, I think it’s a different kind of vibe when you can play in a familiar environment.”

Of all the players I spoke with many of them discussed the idea of viewership and marketing the league better in order to receive the financial compensation that they are lacking. You go to a WNBA game and there are only about 4,000 people there, or you go to turn on the television and not one WNBA game is on.

It wasn’t until this year that the WNBA broadcasted most, if not all of their games this season. This was the first time ever that you could turn on the television and watch multiple WNBA games being broadcasted at a time. WNBA games would only be broadcasted through online access for a fee. This limited the amount of viewers that watched the WNBA, as opposed to other sports where games are accessible through standard television stations. Viewership is one of the most critical elements of revenue that sports leagues can profit from. In prior years, the WNBA didn’t provide that viewership to the public, essentially limiting the amount of money they received.

I spoke with Alaina Coates from the Washington Mystics and she stated that for the most part she understood the financial disparity.

On the flip side of things, NBA players are huge advocates of the WNBA. They constantly support them every way that they can. By showing up to WNBA games, wearing WNBA apparel, and just discussing their game, they bring a high amount awareness to the sport. The late Kobe Bryant was one person who specifically dedicated himself to the women’s game. He coached his daughter’s, Gigi, AAU travel team, he trained Sabrina Ionescu, and he showed up to many of their games after he retired from the NBA.

For two decades, the WNBA has been filled with the best, most elite basketball players from all over the country. The composition of players is the most high caliber players in the world, and there’s no doubt about that. Tina Charles, Candace Parker, Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, the list can go on and on. As the WNBA continues to grow and expand, hopefully there won’t be a second season that WNBA players have to play. Hopefully talented college players don’t have to choose the overseas route and can go straight to the WNBA because there are enough teams to go around. The future for the WNBA is so promising for many young athletes.

Overseas Nigerian National Team Star, Ezzine Kalu talks about her goals and aspirations of one day playing in the WNBA, as well as her experience of playing overseas.

There’s no doubt that the WNBA will continue to grow and expand over the course of the decade. With new collective bargaining agreements, and new sponsorships with organizations such as Twitter, the WNBA will be able to pay players more than what they are currently receiving. While the horizon for the WNBA is far of reach, it is surely promising.