WNBA goes ‘bold’ in agree­ment

New CBA gives play­ers sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments in com­pen­sa­tion, benefits

The Washington Post - - SPORTS - BY AVA WAL­LACE

The WNBA and its play­ers’ union an­nounced Tues­day morn­ing that they have reached a ten­ta­tive la­bor agree­ment that rep­re­sents a pro­found shift in com­pen­sa­tion and re­sources avail­able to the play­ers.

Un­der the pro­posed col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment, the aver­age com­pen­sa­tion for WNBA play­ers will ex­ceed six fig­ures for the first time. The new deal also in­cludes dras­tic im­prove­ment in ma­ter­nity and child-care benefits, en­hanced travel stan­dards and an av­enue to equitable rev­enue sharing, all of which po­si­tions the WNBA as a pro­gres­sive leader at a time when fe­male ath­letes around the world are de­mand­ing bet­ter pay and treat­ment from their leagues.

In soc­cer, the women’s na­tional team is su­ing the U.S. Soc­cer Fed­er­a­tion over is­sues of gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion. In hockey, the best play­ers in the world are fight­ing to cre­ate a sus­tain­able league. For the WNBA, Com­mis­sioner Cathy En­gel­bert said the new deal rep­re­sents an in­vest­ment in the play­ers.

“It was im­por­tant to have a pro­gres­sive, ag­gres­sive, bold CBA to drive the value that th­ese ath­letes can pro­vide, to drive that value from our rev­enue sources and ul­ti­mately drive the rev­enue of our fran­chises up,” En­gel­bert, whose term be­gan in July, said on a con­fer­ence call. “We are bet­ting on women, as our play­ers have said, in a big way here. Bet­ting on the WNBA.”

Billie Jean King, who is part of the own­er­ship group of the Los An­ge­les Sparks, said in a tweet that the new CBA “will re­de­fine what it means to be a pro­fes­sional

fe­male ath­lete to­day.”

The WNBA is hop­ing the new deal makes the league a pri­or­ity for its top play­ers. Cur­rently, most WNBA play­ers make up for lim­ited salaries in the do­mes­tic league by go­ing over­seas dur­ing the off­sea­son to play in coun­tries such as Rus­sia, Aus­tralia and South Korea, where their earn­ing po­ten­tial is higher.

Year-round play is an un­avoid­able re­al­ity that also af­fects WNBA com­pe­ti­tion: The league 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.

There is also the ar­gu­ment that if top play­ers stay home dur­ing the off­sea­son, they can de­vote part of their time to pro­mot­ing the league.

“What I’ve come to find out is ev­ery­one is dif­fer­ent in their choices of go­ing over­seas, their pri­or­i­ties, what’s im­por­tant,” Storm guard Sue Bird said. “For me per­son­ally, I think had some­thing like this been avail­able when I first came out of col­lege, I prob­a­bly never would have gone over­seas.”

The new con­tract must still be ap­proved by the league’s board of gov­er­nors. It was over­whelm­ingly ap­proved by the play­ers just hours af­ter the WNBA an­nounced the agree­ment — the text of which has not been made pub­lic — with what Women’s Na­tional Bas­ket­ball Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Nneka Og­wu­mike called “un­prece­dented turnout of player vot­ing.”

If the deal is rat­i­fied, it will be­gin in May ahead of the 2020 sea­son and run through 2027.

A steep in­crease in pay for play­ers through­out the league is per­haps the new agree­ment’s most no­table el­e­ment. It 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 the max­i­mum salary for top play­ers in­creases from just over $100,000 to $215,000, in­creased bonuses and com­pen­sa­tion for mar­ket­ing mean a top player could earn more than $500,000 in a sea­son. Other high­per­form­ing play­ers have the chance to earn be­tween $200,000 and $300,000, and the aver­age cash com­pen­sa­tion across the league will be nearly $130,000. The aver­age salary in 2018 was around $70,000.

Ad­di­tional cash com­pen­sa­tion also in­cludes a min­i­mum of $1.6 mil­lion in off­sea­son mar­ket­ing agree­ments that would al­low for up to $300,000 for se­lect play­ers.

The WNBA will also work to pro­mote play­ers for po­ten­tial coach­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. En­gel­bert said ac­tive play­ers coach­ing in the NBA can be paid at mar­ket rate un­der the new deal, eras­ing an is­sue Wash­ing­ton Mys­tics guard Kristi To­liver un­earthed last sea­son. To­liver was paid just $10,000 as an as­sis­tant coach with the Wash­ing­ton Wiz­ards be­cause of pay re­stric­tions in the ex­pir­ing CBA.

“Per­haps we should call it the ‘ To­liver Pro­vi­sion,’ ” WNBPA Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Terri Jack­son said.

To­liver de­clined to com­ment be­cause the new deal has not yet been rat­i­fied.

The new agree­ment also ad­dresses one of the play­ers’ big­gest is­sues: rev­enue sharing. They cur­rently re­ceive around 20 to 30 per­cent of league rev­enue. The new con­tract pro­poses a 50-50 rev­enue sharing model by 2021 — if the league reaches rev­enue growth tar­gets from broad­cast agree­ments, mar­ket­ing part­ner­ships and li­cens­ing deals.

Asked how the WNBA is pay­ing for the new la­bor deal, En­gel­bert cited a mul­ti­pronged ap­proach that in­cludes in­vest­ment from own­ers and part­ner­ship deals with com­pa­nies in­clud­ing AT&T, Nike and Deloitte.

“This is what I’ ll call a mul­ti­fac­eted strat­egy to trans­form the league,” said En­gel­bert, who was Deloitte’s first fe­male chief ex­ec­u­tive be­fore be­com­ing com­mis­sioner.

The new CBA has en­hanced travel stan­dards that in­clude pre­mium econ­omy class sta­tus for all play­ers dur­ing reg­u­lar sea­son air travel (the league will pro­vide first-class seats for play­ers for the All-star Game) and in­di­vid­ual ho­tel rooms for ev­ery player. WNBA teams gen­er­ally fly com­mer­cial, a cost-sav­ing mea­sure that play­ers say cuts re­cov­ery and preparatio­n time and has on oc­ca­sion led to lengthy travel de­lays.

Bet­ter ma­ter­nity and fam­i­ly­plan­ning 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 costs re­lat­ing to adop­tion, sur­ro­gacy and fer­til­ity treat­ments, in­clud­ing egg freez­ing.

Og­wu­mike said the con­tract’s en­hanced men­tal health benefits were de­signed specif­i­cally, but not ex­clu­sively, with work­ing moth­ers in mind.

“As we the play­ers said at the very be­gin­ning, we want a league that has fair and con­sis­tent work­ing conditions, a league that’s com­mit­ted to in­vest­ing in the fu­ture, and a league com­mit­ted to in­vest­ing in the health and the pros­per­ity of pro­fes­sional work­ing women, work­ing moms,” she said. “I’m pleased to see we achieved that goal.”

KATHER­INE FREY/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Top WNBA play­ers such as Mys­tics guard Kristi To­liver could earn more than $500,000 in a sea­son un­der the deal reached Tues­day.

PATRICK SEMANSKY/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

WNBA Com­mis­sioner Cathy En­gel­bert called the ten­ta­tive la­bor agree­ment be­tween the league and its play­ers’ union “his­toric.”

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