The Washington Post

WNBA goes ‘bold’ in agreement

New CBA gives players significan­t improvemen­ts in compensati­on, benefits


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.
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.”
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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