WHEN WNBA commissioner Lisa Borders addressed the media before Game 1 of the finals on Sept. 7, she reported that regular-season TV viewership had increased by 31%, League Pass digital subscriptions were up 39% and merchandise sales were up 66%. The talk about rising revenues naturally led to the topic that has dominated discussions this season: increasing player compensation. The maximum veteran salary for 2018 was $115,500, not including bonuses, and rookies were paid from $40,000 to $50,000.
So WNBA players are exploring ways to increase their share of revenue. As set by their collective bargaining agreement, NBA players receive 50% of revenue ($7.4 billion); WNBA players receive no more than 20% of their league revenue ($52.4 million) based on their CBA, which is in effect until 2021. "We want to be the best in every aspect of our business," says Borders. "No one doubts we have the best talent. We do not have the revenues to support greater revenue sharing with our players—but it's coming."
It could be coming soon. Either side can opt out of the CBA by Oct. 31, and the contract would end after the 2019 season. On Sept. 11, union representatives Chiney Ogwumike, a forward for the Connecticut Sun, and Las Vegas Aces center Carolyn Swords, along with Terri Jackson, the director of operations for the players' association, met with legislators on Capitol Hill. Later, players and union officials got together to discuss the economics of the league and the risks of opting out of the CBA (a lockout, for example). The parties had all gathered in Washington for the league championship, which was won by the Seattle Storm in three games over the Mystics. Union president Nneka Ogwumike (left) was also in town. (The 6'2" forward scored 22 points in Team USA's 102--87 exhibition win over Japan.) She says, "Participation and engagement have definitely progressed as more players understand how much they can impact not only the WNBA but women's sports as well."