Closing the WNBA’s Pay Gap

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The WNBA is in the early stages of its development. With strategy, the best is yet to come.

There’s debate about the pay gap between the NBA and the WNBA. According to Cody Carmichael (article published in the Gazette Review), the average NBA salary is $6,517,428 compared to the WNBA average of $51,000. Although harsh to the eyes, it’s probably a realistic pay gap based on revenues generated by the two leagues, especially money generated through television and other media rights.

Courtesy: SlideShare

But there’s an argument to be made about reducing the pay gap. Why? Both leagues play the same sport, but women make considerably less than men.

Historically, it’s important to remember that the NBA went through a rough patch. The league today is the result of renewed public interest in pro ball that started in the early 1980s when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird entered the league. Consider, too, that the WNBA is a relatively new operation. It was founded less than 25 years ago (1996).

The WNBA needs to grow its fan base and that’s difficult to do with only twelve franchises. A good share of the country doesn’t live near one of those teams. It’s difficult to generate fan interest when teams aren’t nearby.

While the reality is that the leagues are quite different, I do think it’s possible to reduce pay gap. How? Here are three ideas.

First, there’s marketing. The WNBA needs to target fans–those who can be drawn into following players, teams, and the league. That’s a tricky proposition because it’s unlikely that a large number of current NBA fans will automatically become WNBA fans. I’m an example. I grew up watching the Los Angeles Lakers. Following the LA Sparks isn’t for me, even though it may be for others.

Second, focus on attracting kids to the game. Cultivating an interest in youth is especially important for generating the next generation of WNBA fans. The league needs to figure out ways to make the game attractive to kids.

Third, find a way to attract UConn’s Gino Auriemma to the WNBA. Auriemma is about winning and he knows how to build and sustain a high-quality product. I’d follow a local team immediately if Auriemma was the coach.

What’s it all mean? The WNBA is in the early stages of its development. The best is yet to come. My message to WNBA players is to be patient. Your time will come. Eventually, the pay gap will close. It’s all basketball, after all.


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