How Much is Enough?
Rocky the Mountain Lion, Denver Nuggets’ mascot, has an annual salary of $625,000, while the highest paid WNBA player, Breanna Stewart, earns $228,094 a year. Many people, especially women in sports, tend to look at the numbers and think that these numbers are completely unfair because the women spend years of their lives dedicated to their sport to receive little to no money compared to other professional athletes. However, the problem does not surround hours spent in the gym. The problem starts with how accessible the WNBA is to consumers. If audiences had access to the WNBA games as much as NBA games, generating more advertising revenue, then women in professional basketball would get paid the same percentage of revenue as men in professional basketball.
The most common misconception in the argument between salary in mens and womens sports, especially the NBA and WNBA, is the difference between equality and equity. As words that sound similar, they are often confused. According to Oxford Languages, equality is defined as “the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities,” or “a symbolic expression of the fact that two quantities are equal; an equation.” If we follow these definitions closely, both NBA and WNBA players would receive the same salary. The money would be divided up evenly among each player. The idea of equal pay in sports, especially through two leagues that host different levels of competition, is not plausible. What is needed is equity.
Equity, by definition, is the quality of being fair and impartial. Although equity and equality may sound similar, equity is the act of providing what is needed to each person, not necessarily the same thing that is given to everyone. The struggle with equity goes beyond pay in sports, as even women professional athletes are denied the opportunity to compete at the same capacity as men. There are many movements, including the Equity Project, that focus on promoting equitable play and pay for women all over. In order to achieve equitable pay, the focus should be on revenue and accessibility for the audiences.
One of the largest influences on salary in athletics is revenue. Revenue is the money that a sport organization brings in as a result of selling products and services. In the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) it is noted that the players receive a percentage of revenue shared. In an article provided by cbabreakdown.com, it is noted that the NBA receives a Salary Cap, which is affected by basketball-related income (BRI) and the current number of NBA teams. The WNBA does not have the same CBA, but has the opportunity to renegotiate or opt out of their ludicrous agreement that restricts them from receiving compensation from their own name will be coming in just a few short years.
When diving into the differences between the NBA and the WNBA’s BRI, one of the biggest holes seen is the variety of factors that fuel what percentage of revenue the women get. Kelsey Plum, 5’8” guard for the Las Vegas Aces, recently sparked interest in the conversation on The Residency Podcast. In Plum’s interview, she shines a spotlight on the CBAs that both the WNBA and NBA have. Plum shocks listeners by informing them that she does not receive a dime off of her own jersey sales or when her name is used in an ad, while players like LeBron James receive compensation for jersey sales or television contracts.
Any form of media, especially television, are the driving force behind salary in sports. Whether athletes are seen in 30 second commercials or their games are displayed on television, it is a way to promote themselves and their brand. Coverage is crucial. In a roughly 25-year study, researchers from the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles (now LA84) and the University of Southern California’s Center for Feminist Research combined for five larger reports, four of which came from LA84 (1990, 1994, 2000, 2005) and the most recent from USC (2010). The study focused on the “coverage of live televised sports events, print, online, social, and televised news media coverage of sports as well as the implications of media coverage for women’s sports.”
In an unrelated study, Andrew Billings and Brittany Young found that SportsCenter and Fox Sports Live featured women’s sports coverage less than 1% of the time. The lack of coverage on some of the most watched media conveys the message that “women’s sport is less important, less exciting, and, therefore, less valued than men’s sports.”
Cheryl Cooky, Michael Messner, and Michela Musto decided to do a 5-year update to the previous 25-year study. In 2014, they decided to reiterate the study. Cooky, Messner, and Musto found that none of the news and highlights shows (primarily KNBC, KCBS, KABC, ESPN, and Fox Sports) that they studied lead with a story about women’s sports. Researchers also discovered that “even with broadcast time constraints, networks do find time to include frequent “human interest” stories on men’s sports.” One example of where this appeared was found that:
KNBC’s March 18, 6 p.m. sports news included a 30-s segment about a swarm of bees invading a Red Sox versus Yankees game and a 20-s segment about an 18-in. corn dog available for purchase for US$25 at the Arizona Diamondbacks stadium
On the same broadcast, there was no mention of women’s sports. As previously iterated, coverage is crucial.
In order for these women to get their name out to the world, they need to be seen. In order for these women to promote their salary, the world needs to be exposed to them. While equal pay is not plausible, equitable compensation is. Women in professional basketball, and sports in general, need to be represented to a larger extent in order to receive preferable remuneration.
Cooky, C., Messner, M. A., & Musto, M. (2015, June 5). “it’s dude time!”: A quarter century of excluding women’s sports in … “It’s Dude Time!”: A Quarter Century of Excluding Women’s Sports in Televised News and Highlight Shows. Retrieved October 18, 2022, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2167479515588761
Salary Cap Overview, CBA Breakdown, 2022, https://cbabreakdown.com/salary-cap-overview.
The Equity Project, Women’s Sports Foundation, 2022, https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/the-equity-project/
Tomastik, J., Raven, L., & Belcher, D. (Hosts). (2022, November 23). Kelsey Plum Exposes How Underpaid WNBA Players Really Are!! (No. 122) [Audio podcast episode]. In The Residency Podcast. PodBean. https://theresidencypod.podbean.com/e/ep-122-kelsey-plum-exposes-how-underpaid-wnba-players-really-are/