Did you know that according to ESPN.com, Roy Hibbert, one of the leading scorers for the Indiana Pacers, will earn $14,283,844 for the upcoming 2013-2014 NBA season?
Did you know that with the WNBA’s current collective bargaining agreement, Tamika Catchings, one of the leading scorers for the Indiana Fever, can have at maximum, a base salary of $107,500 for the 2013 season?
In the WNBA and NBA, a collective bargaining agreement is an agreement between the players’ association and league that determines contracts and salaries, among other regulations.
Although the salary differences between the WNBA and NBA are undeniably large and may ruffle some feathers, there are a number of rational reasons why WNBA players earn significantly less than their male counterparts. Of those reasons, interest from fans is key.
“There is just not nearly as much interest domestically or internationally in the WNBA as the NBA,” said Bill Rieber, an economics professor at Butler University, who has followed professional basketball since childhood. “It’s the fan base that really counts … it goes from the fans to revenues for the teams to revenues for the players.”
Rieber also explained that there are multiple reasons why fan interest in the WNBA, which dictates revenue and in turn, player and team salaries, is lower than interest in the NBA.
“The NBA has been in place since 1946; they have had a 50 year head start over the WNBA and the WNBA is just catching up,” said Rieber.
According to the WNBA, after the concept of a women’s league was approved by the NBA Board of Governors in 1996, the WNBA officially began play in June of 1997.
In addition to the longevity of the NBA compared to the WNBA, Rieber also cited playing an indoor sport during the summer months, a lack of international reach and the more flamboyant playing style of male athletes as reasons why interest levels and salaries differ.
“(The men) dunk and they throw passes behind the back, it’s just a more flamboyant game,” said Rieber. “The women play a sound game, but it doesn’t stand out as much.”
Rieber added that from his perspective, sexism is not a factor in explaining the differences between NBA and WNBA salaries.
“I don’t think that sexism plays a major role here, fans just gravitate to sports that they like,” said Rieber. “It’s just a matter of interest and revenues and finances.”
Showing the extent of the financial differences between the two leagues, the salary cap for an entire NBA team for the upcoming season is $58.679 million whereas the salary cap for an entire WNBA team for the 2013 season is $913,000.
As for the future of the WNBA, Rieber noted that there is room for financial growth but added that it is dependent on fan interest.
Also discussing the growth of the WNBA, Fever coach Lin Dunn, who will be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in June of 2014, was quoted last year as saying that people should focus on the development of women’s basketball instead of dwelling on comparisons between the two leagues.
“You have to look at how we’re growing our game and where we are in the growth of our game and not get caught up in that,” said Dunn.