The WNBA and its players union have tentatively reached a collective bargaining agreement that would bring sizable pay increases and substantial familial, maternal and medical benefits to players. The proposed eight-year deal will become official once the league's board of governors and the union's membership approve it.
"It was collaborative effort," WNBA players union president Nneka Ogwumike told the Associated Press. "I think that we really all had the same things in mind and had different way of getting there. We really put our heads together and came with some ideas."
Some of those ideas include 31% increase to the salary cap, making it $1.3 million, and an increased maximum salary of $215,000, up from $117,500, which puts the average league salary at $130,000. Players could also now earn up to $250,000 in league marketing agreements, allowing some top players to earn as much as $500,000 a year. Rookies who are selected in the top-four of the draft will get a $15,000 bump in pay from previous years ($68,000 max), and will be able to enter unrestricted free agency one season sooner than before (from six years to five).
Here are some of the other changes that players will be getting under this new deal:
- The contract will last for eight years, until 2027
- Players allowed maternity with full salary, a $5,000 child care stipend and arenas will add designated areas for nursing mothers
- Veteran players can receive up to $60,000 for adoption, surrogacy, egg freezing and fertility treatment costs
- Teams improve housing options for players, upgrading them to two-bedroom apartments that can accommodate children
- Traveling teams will provide hotel rooms for individual players instead of forcing them to share
But perhaps the most significant of the changes has to do with revenue sharing. In this new CBA, the league and its players could be splitting the revenue evenly by 2021, provided certain growth targets are met in broadcasting rights, licensing and marketing.
"I was adamant on the 50-50 target," WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told the AP. "The league and players work together to market this league so we can share revenue with the players. We have to hit some targets."
Of course, no contract comes without concessions from both sides of the table. The agreement is trying to incentivize players to have a stronger commitment to the WNBA. Usually, players would make the choice to play on teams overseas during the league's offseason to earn additional income, at rates that are often better than what the WNBA has to offer. Sometimes that came at the cost of their season here. For example, 2018's MVP Breanna Stewart ruptured her right Achilles' tendon while playing in the EuroLeague Women championship game in Hungary, and it caused her to miss the entire 2019 WNBA season.
In this new agreement, the league has asked players to decrease their overseas playing commitments. Players are no longer allowed to miss the early games of the season, or even training camp, for overseas duties -- unless it's for national team play, or the player is in their first three seasons.
Another concession: The WNBA will have to serve as the NBA's test lab for the that was floated in December. In order for this to work, the WNBA's season will go from 34 to 36 games, with some of those match ups no longer counting toward an in-season record, but a "Commissioner's Cup" record. The two teams with the best cup records at the end of the season will play for the Commissioner's Cup title, with an expected purse of $750,000 starting in 2021.
An important requirement for any sports league in this country is a dedication to investing in it. With this new agreement, it appears that those at the top of the WNBA are moving to strengthen the league, as it moves toward its 25th anniversary season in 2021.