The new collective bargaining agreement also aims to improve the overall player experience in the WNBA and targets the core issues that have dominated conversation in the league for the last few years. The contract includes enhanced travel standards, improvements in maternity and child-care benefits, changes to free agency and an avenue to more equitable revenue sharing.
“We approached these negotiations with a player-first agenda, and I am pleased that this agreement guarantees substantial increases in compensation and progressive benefits for the women of the WNBA,” Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a joint statement with the Women’s National Basketball Players Association.
If the new collective bargaining agreement is approved by the league’s board of governors and the union’s membership, the contract will begin in May ahead of the 2020 season and will run through 2027.
The new CBA proposes what the league said is a 53 percent increase in total cash compensation, which consists of salary, additional performance bonuses, prize pools for newly created in-season competitions and league and team marketing deals. While maximum compensation for top players could exceed $500,000, other top players have the chance to earn between $200,000 and $300,000. The average cash compensation will be nearly $130,000.
Additional cash compensation also includes a minimum of $1.6 million in offseason marketing agreements that would allow for up to $300,000 in additional cash compensation for select players.
Nowadays, most of the league’s players opt to play overseas during the WNBA offseason in countries such as Russia, Australia and South Korea, where their earning potential is higher, to make up for lacking salaries in the domestic league. The WNBA lost one of its biggest stars for all of last season when Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm, the 2018 league MVP, suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon while playing in Europe.
“Cathy Engelbert, the first WNBA Commissioner, brought her perspective as a former women’s basketball student-athlete, her experience as a business professional and her passion for the game to these negotiations,” Nneka Ogwumike, the players’ union president, said in the joint statement. “We found common ground in areas that confirmed the league’s and the players’ intentions to not only make meaningful improvements in working conditions and overall professional experience, but also to improve the business with strategic planning and intentional marketing that will keep the WNBA front and center year-round.”
Regarding player experience, the new CBA includes enhanced travel standards that will include premium economy class status for all players for regular season air travel and individual hotel rooms for every player. Engelbert said the league will provide first-class air travel for all-stars during the WNBA All-Star Game. WNBA teams generally fly commercial between games, a cost-saving measure that players say cuts recovery and preparation time and has on occasion led to lengthy travel delays.
Better maternity and family-planning elements feature a new annual child-care stipend of $5,000, and players on maternity leave will receive a full salary. Family planning benefits offer up to $60,000 in reimbursement for veteran players for costs relating to adoption, surrogacy, and fertility treatments including egg freezing.
Changes to the CBA should also allow for more freedom for player movement beginning in the free agency period ahead of the 2021 season.
The 2021 season will also bring opportunity for a new revenue sharing model. The contract proposes a 50-50 split between players and the WNBA based on the achievement of revenue growth targets from broadcast agreements, marketing partnerships and licensing deals. Previous revenue sharing provided only about 20 percent option for revenue sharing.