This Is the WNBA’s Moment

As the 23rd WNBA season winds down, it’s the perfect time to examine how the league can build off its success and better itself for the future.

Bela Kirpalani, Sports Editor

As we approach Game 4 of the WNBA Finals, I want to take a look back at this historic and exciting season. The whole season, it felt like the league was on the precipice of something great — like this was finally the moment when the league would blow up and take the world by storm.

And that happened, to an extent. The talent was on full display, the trash talk was spicy and the players’ stories made us fall in love with the game again.

But there is still so much more to be done. 

The highest salary for a WNBA player, according to High Post Hoops, is $127,500. For comparison, the lowest NBA player’s salary was $838,464 last year. The issue, though, isn’t pay equality. It’s pay equity. The NBA pays its players 50% of its revenue, whereas the WNBA pays less than 25% to its players.

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The WNBA is so important, as Bleacher Report’s Arielle Chambers always says. The league opens new possibilities to girls everywhere. It features some of the greatest basketball in the world. 

Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal said it best in a piece on Oct. 6 for The Players Tribune: “When we force WNBA players to treat the league like it’s a part-time job, what we’re actually doing is we’re telling young girls, ‘Becoming great at basketball isn’t worth your time.’ And that’s a terrible message to send. It’s wrong.”

We need to treat the players like the first-class stars they are. It’s great that the league chartered planes for the teams that made it to the semifinals this year. But what about the 17 away games each team plays during the regular season? What about how the WNBA forced its All-Stars to fly economy? Speaking of All-Star Weekend, why was the 2019 All-Star Game played at 3:30 p.m. on a Saturday, the day after hosting a late-night party for the players?

Travel conditions have been a consistent spot of discontent among the players. Travel delays, forced forfeits — WNBA players have been through it all.

Because of poor pay, the league’s top players are forced to play abroad. If this weren’t the case, perhaps players would have more time to rest and not have to miss the entire WNBA season due to injury. If more money were invested into the league, the season could be adjusted and made longer and then the game could actually be played during basketball season instead of during the shortened summer.

In terms of promoting its players and capitalizing upon their stardom, the league has started to do a better job telling their stories, highlighting players on its social media accounts and rolling out smart ad campaigns. But there are still places where it could improve. Maybe it’s not the greatest idea to randomly announce the winner of Rookie of the Year at 8:16 a.m. on a Monday. 

New WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has made some strides since taking over the job in July. She’ll have a lot more to do once the league and the players’ union meet to negotiate the new collective bargaining agreement.

What I don’t want to hear is that there isn’t an audience for the WNBA. This year, the league saw a 64% increase in viewership over the first four games of the season. WNBA LeaguePass subscriptions increased by 11%. For the first time, NBA2K20 included WNBA players in its game. Tickets for Game 3 of the WNBA Finals sold out in days.

The hunger for the product is clearly there. The NBA now needs to treat the WNBA like an investment, not just a side project.

The Sports Girl is a weekly sports column that will feature a girl’s take on sports. Yes, a girl. Yes, sports.

A version of this article appears in the Monday, Oct. 7, 2019, print edition. Email Bela Kirpalani at [email protected]

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