The average WNBA salary for the 2020-2021 season was $120,658 according to Yahoo Finance. Only 14 women made over $200,000. On the Men's side of basketball in the NBA, during the same season 17 men earned $35,000,000 per year or more. That is 175 times the salary for the top paid players. The WNBA only has 12 teams, each with a maximum roster size of 12 women. At a maximum of 144 athletes on the women's side and the fact some men in the NBA make upwards of $40 million per year it means some men make more money per season than the entire salary of the WNBA athletes combined. What causes such a massive disparity between the two genders?
There are a few factors, one of which is the prime reason. The women only play 36 games, which is a recent increase from the previous 32 game season. Meanwhile, the men play a total of 82 regular season games not including the postseason where the men have more teams and more games per series. The NBA has 30 teams instead of only a dozen that the WNBA has. The big difference is simple. It's a matter of popularity. People care more about the men's side of basketball. When Golden State beat the Celtics this year it further entrenched the dynasty of the Warriors who have had several recent deep playoff runs and championships, having won four of the last eight championships, appearing in six finals during that span. They had missed the finals in 2020 and 2021 but made the finals the previous five years consecutively. It has made household names of players such as Steph Curry, Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant. Meanwhile, the average person has no idea the Chicago Sky won their first championship last year.
So how does the popularity affect the salaries? You have everything from TV viewership, attendance, ticket prices, jersey sales, the video games released for the men's side, and with all of that comes bigger sponsorships and endorsement deals. An average WNBA game might get a few hundred thousand viewers whereas an NBA game has millions of views in addition to the social media presence of platforms such as Instagram or TikTok. According to The Athletic, there were 3.3 billion Instagram Reel views for the NBA this past season. The popularity of the WNBA as it stands right now simply cannot compete with the NBA. It is just on a different level completely. But that begs another question. Despite the difference in money the WNBA brings in relative to the male counterpart, are the women being compensated fairly?
Men bring a lot more money to the organizations, they put more people in the seats at the arenas, they put more viewers in front of the TV etc. They should be paid more. Not because they work harder or are more deserving. But because sports are a source of entertainment. What is popular is what makes money. A band or singer sells concert tickets for an amount based on their popularity. Same for actors and actresses. Dwayne Johnson is the highest paid movie star because he is very popular. I personally think he is a far cry from the best actor. But he sells movie tickets and blurays and movie streaming subscriptions because people want to see his films.
Do I think the salary difference between the men and women in basketball is fair? Absolutely not. For the "entertainment value" they provide the men earn an incomparable salary. At the end of the day it's all about the money. Would I say a top NBA player is worth 200X a top WNBA player? Absolutely not. But that's what the salaries show their value to be. I don't have a great answer for how to lessen the wage gap. They are playing the same sport but it's a different league. You can't just magically add a 0 to every WNBA salary and make things more fair. I'm sure the league and ownership of teams could easily increase the salaries. The women still go through the same training regiment and play just as hard as the men. While there does not seem to be a clear indicator of how to do it, I do believe more effort into garnering interest and viewership would go a long way. This could be as simple as just advertising the WNBA games more. Shining a little more light on them. Just make people aware in general. Maybe people just want to see higher scores and more slam dunks. Men's professional basketball has also been around a lot longer. But the NBA and WNBA aren't in competition with one another. They mutually benefit from each other's popularity. The NBA has a bigger voice in basketball. It could be time to call on them to let that voice be heard more for the sake of the salaries of the female athletes of the WNBA.