Photo: David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images.
LeBron James has become infamous in the NBA for being outspoken about player pay. The Cleveland Cavs star is a known proponent for not
placing salary caps on players' earnings. Earlier this summer, he tweeted his support for even higher pay
after Warriors shooter Steph Curry signed a landmark $201 million contract over five years.
His remark came in response to a tweet from sports columnist Ann Killion, who noted
that the Warriors' team worth had more than doubled to $2.6 billion since 2010, when owner Joe Lacob purchased it for $450 million. (Steph Curry sells tickets.) All this talk of NBA ticket sales and earnings in the tens of millions seems out of this world when compared to sales and pay in the WNBA, where the maximum salary
for a professional female basketball player is currently capped at $113,500. Some estimates say that top players in the WNBA are being underpaid by as much as $800,000 a year
Last year, the WNBA issued a press release
revealing several areas of growth on and offline. Game attendance was the highest it had been in five years, television viewership was up 11% over the previous season, and merchandise sales had also increased over the season before by 30%. Plus, for the first time in WNBA history, the franchise is getting its own video game series
, NBA Live 18 through EA Games. (The NBA got its first NBA Live nod in 1995.)
However, overall progress of the WNBA lags in most respects. The league was created in 1997, and 20 years later, half of its 12 teams lose money
and attendance is still shaky.
Adam Silver, the current NBA commissioner, admitted to the Times
that he and others in the league had failed to adequately promote it. "As much as we've done in lending the league our name, the people who have been in the sports business for a long time, and I'm one of them, historically underestimated the marketing it takes to launch a new property," he said.
Nearly any discussion about financial gaps between women's and men's sports devolves into an argument about the skill of women players, their stamina, and how fun they are to watch. But a counter to that argument is, if a basketball game happens in a stadium and no marketing is done to ensure anyone knows it exists, turnout will naturally be low.
WNBA president Lisa Borders has said
that it is her job to secure "economic viability" for the league, but that "people have to know there's a team in their market." Whether she'll be successful in the short- or long-term remains to be seen, especially amid other challenges. As espnW reported, some players, like former Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi, might continue to go overseas instead of receiving a pittance compared to male players. Considering that players like her earn more money sitting out games
in international leagues than they do off the bench in the U.S., the choice to continue playing in the WNBA can be a difficult one.