Media is the Way to Pay
Women are blatantly ignored in the sports world because of the apparent lack of respect provided by local and national services. While all sports are affected by this level of disrespect, we tend to focus on the WNBA and the NBA, as basketball is one of the most televised sports in our society. Despite the game being so popular, women in the sport are given almost nothing for perfecting their craft, primarily because of streaming. Through various studies, the limited media time provided by different streaming services becomes clear. However, it is also proven that when the WNBA is well represented in the media, the brand grows as a whole. Thus proving that if the WNBA received as much media time as the NBA, and if the WNBA players’ CBA were as generous as the NBA’s, then, women would be paid equally.
Tyrese Martin, one of the lowest paid NBA players in the 2022-2023 season, earns $1,017,781 a year, 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 they 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 the WNBA earned as much revenue as the NBA, and if the WNBA players’ CBA were as generous as the NBA’s, then, women would be paid equally.
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. Equality is when all factors are equal, whether it is in opportunities, status, or in this case, salary. If we follow this definition closely, both NBA and WNBA players would receive the same salary. The money would be divided up evenly among each player, therefore each player would receive the same salary. 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 recognition that every person does not have the same circumstance but that everyone involved can receive whatever is needed to succeed, not necessarily the same thing that is given to everyone. The struggle with equity goes beyond pay in sports, as even female 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 roughly 50% of the revenue shared, while owners receive the other 50%. In the WNBA’s CBA, about 21% of the revenue gets distributed to the players. The WNBA does not have the same CBA, but 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 and 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 A. 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 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.
When looking at each leagues airtime per schedule it was noted that there were 216 regular season WNBA games played in the 2022 season, 25 in which were aired by ESPN’s family of networks. This amounts to just short of 12% of games, whereas the NBA receives national television time on ESPN for roughly 20% of their games, with an even larger percentage of games being streamed on other networks that fall under the ESPN umbrella. While ESPN is not the only sports streaming service, it is the most prominent. Without the support for women in general from ESPN and similar services, an increase in viewership would practically be impossible, thus decreasing the chances of an increase in remuneration for WNBA players.
In the previously mentioned study conducted by Cooky, Messner, and Musto, the lack of media coverage for women in sports is proven. Not only does the study prove that there is a lack of coverage, it provides the audience with instances where segments on women in sports have been delivered in a sense that belittles them. On KABC’s July 24, 2014 show, a commentator joked to fellow anchors, “Mark and Michelle, the Sparks: 3 and 9, their worst start in quite some time. They keep that up, we might not show ‘em again! This is a town of winners!” While the comment was meant as a harmless joke, the company did neglect to cover the Sparks (16-18, with a win percentage of .471) throughout the rest of the season. However, KABC continued to cover the Los Angeles Lakers, despite finishing their season as 21-61 (.256). The comments serve as a premise that leads fans to believe that in order for women’s sports to be worthy of coverage, they must be winners. However, even when the women do succeed, they are not given the same credit as men.
The same study found that when women’s and men’s college basketball teams were covered, there was insufficient coverage of women’s teams because “everyone knows UConn is going to win.” Statements such as this present the idea that women’s sports in general are less interesting to watch or cover due to predictability. If media outlets covered women, especially the WNBA, with even a fraction of the excitement they do with the NBA, audiences would be more likely to engage in the sport. As iterated previously, the increase in engagement would also increase the revenue that the league and teams receive, ultimately leading to an elevation in pay for athletes.
When looking at how the media delivers women’s sports, it is just as important to look at who is delivering women’s sports and in what manner. In the 2014 study, researchers found that over 95% of the anchors covering sports on the analyzed stations were male. The overwhelming majority of anchors and co-anchors being male likely correlates with heightened enthusiasm men bring to the table when discussing men’s sports. Using verbose language has been proven to spark interest in the sports world when attempting to appeal to audiences. While bringing excitement to the table is important, it is not always prevalent when discussing women’s sports.
Researchers found that when commentators talk about women in the sports industry, they present the information in a more “matter-of-fact” manner. Cooky, Messner, and Musto have given a name to the phenomenon that is heightened interactions with men’s sports and the bore of women’s sports: “mediated man cave.” The man cave reference was birthed by the idea that sports news shows are “a place set up by men for men to celebrate men’s sensational athletic accomplishments.” Women have often been denied the opportunity to enter this “man cave,” conveying the message that there is no place for women in the sports world, which is belligerent.
Previous Ball State University Undergraduate, Alyssa Bridge, formulated a thesis titled WNBA: A League Where Players Will Always Lose. Throughout her thesis, Bridge dives into the history of basketball and more specifically the WNBA, as well as the constant challenges the league faces. On page 17, Bridge points out that, while there is an agreement between the NBA, WNBA, and ESPN that states that “ESPN is supposed to offer 30 games annually, along with a Memorial Day doubleheader,” it is highlight that “most of these games are on ESPN2 which isn’t available in most general cable packages.” Even as these games are available, they are not as easily accessible as they could, or should, be.
Bridge goes even further to reference NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, as he believes that the issue between media coverage stems from targeting the wrong audience. According to Silver, the targeted audience is younger females who would likely look up to the athletes in the WNBA, when in reality the bulk of the support comes from older men, which is a “result of the leagues focus on basketball fundamentals.” Targeting the wrong demographic would cause a less response than anticipated, thus creating results that do not fulfill marketing needs.
While media coverage is one way to promote players and the league, there are a variety of other ways that are often overlooked throughout the ongoing debate between the WNBA and the NBA. Bridge accentuates that endorsements are a promising way to expand an audience. By mentioning major product endorsements, such as an individual’s own shoe line, Bridge suggests that the league struggles to draw a younger crowd due to a lack of materialistic items branded by a specific player. Essentially, if a multitude of athletes such as Brittney Griner, who holds a contract with Nike, had their own shoe line, then younger generations would be more inclined to look into the WNBA. However, according to The Washington Post, there have only been 11 women in league history with their own shoe lines. Adding to this exclusive list could only benefit the league as a whole.
The same 2014 study found that “ESPN’s SportsCenter…[devoted] a paltry 2% of its hour-long highlight show to women’s sports.” Roughly one minute and two seconds of a 60 minute show dedicated to highlighting local and national sporting events is used to represent women. With little to no media time, audiences are taught that mentioning women in sports is simply not as worthy as mentioning men. In 2022, it is time to grow away from this laughable scheme.
The lack of coverage of women’s sports in the media directly flows into a decrease in revenue. Revenue is increased when organizations can bring in more money, but without adequate representation it is practically impossible to bring in an increase in funds. The WNBA as a whole recently experienced a record breaking season, as they shattered records previously held in areas that involve viewership, social media engagement, web traffic, and merchandise. While there was an increase in these aspects, we have yet to see a sufficient amount of evidence that suggests the records will impact both the teams and the players.
In comparison to the 2021 season, viewership increased by over 16% in the regular season, with an average of 379,000 viewers. Social media engagements saw a 36% jump, with 186 million video views. Web traffic to WNBA.com went up in a variety of categories, including “unique visitors (5.4 million, up 99%), total visits (9.2 million, up 79%), and page views (23.8 million, up 83%).” Chicago’s 2022 All-Star merchandise sales saw a 50% increase over previous bestselling All-Star events held in Minneapolis in 2018.
The jump in the previously stated categories provides audiences with the question: When and how will this affect the player’s pay?
Critics would argue that the increase in attention from consumers in the media will not benefit the salary of the players, primarily because the numbers are so low. A commentary writer for the Washington Examiner, Zackary Faria, released an article titled The ‘pay gap’ debate between the NBA and WNBA is a joke on December 8, 2022, as a reaction to WNBA star, Brittney Griner’s release from drug charges in Russia and her previous comments about the pay gap between the WNBA and the NBA. My worthy opponent, Faria, uses demanding language that clearly demonstrates how passionate he is about the topic. Faria scolds:
MSNBC decided that Griner’s release was the perfect occasion to remind everyone that economic literacy is not a requirement to work at the outlet, re-upping a piece from March written by columnist Dave Zirin, who correctly noted that several WNBA players play overseas to supplement their league salaries. MSNBC calls this a “maddening pay disparity,” and Zirin wrote that WNBA players “made a microcosmic fraction of what the men make.”
Faria follows up by crediting the “pay disparity” to the generosity of the NBA for allowing the WNBA to exist. He essentially argues that the $60 million in revenue generated by the WNBA is useless compared to the $8 billion that the NBA generates. With the NBA producing 1.4 to 3.03 million of viewers consistently on a game-to-game basis and the WNBA averaging around 379,000 viewers per game, Faria alludes that the WNBA is futile, as closing the viewership gap would be equivalent to “burning millions (or billions) of dollars.”
While my opponent makes very aggressive points, he neglects to take into account that the viewership gap may be affected by the age gap between the leagues or the longevity of each season. The WNBA, being only 26 years old, sits at a 36-game regular season schedule. The season for these women typically runs from early May to August, with playoffs typically lasting through mid-September. The NBA, recently reaching 76 years of age, has been sitting at an 82-game regular season schedule since the 1967-1968 season, where mid-October to early April is the common length of a regular season. However, playoffs roll into the month of June.
A worthy opponent may grasp onto the dates of each season, noticing that the “off-season” of the NBA falls during the bulk of the WNBA season. While the observation is accurate, this does not necessarily mean that the WNBA would be given airtime on large broadcasting and sports highlighting networks. The problem extends beyond just the WNBA and women’s sports, and overlaps into men’s sports as well. The 2014 study mentioned previously found that “most of these stories focus only on certain men’s sports. Put another way, it is not just women’s sports that are ignored on these shows. There is inequitable coverage across different men’s sports as well.” Much of the airtime is given to what is known as the big three: men’s basketball (professional and collegiate), men’s football (professional and collegiate), and men’s baseball (primarily professional). Many times, commentators use the phrasing “it’s never too early,” “too soon,” or “too late” when discussing the big three. Instances of the anticipation for the big three can be captured at any point throughout the year, but the authors highlighted KABC’s July 15, 6 pm broadcast, where:
The main news anchor introduced the sports anchor by saying, “And yep, it is a bit early in the year, but it’s never too soon to think about the NBA.” The sports anchor replied, “That’s right, it’s just around the corner.” Although it was still midsummer, he acknowledged, “it’s never too early to talk about opening night,” which is “161 more shopping days” from now.
The big three is so prominent in the sports world that researchers found that 74.5% of media time was devoted to the big three, while less than 5% was devoted to women’s sports or neutral. When looking at the data collected, it is understood that media coverage must appeal to the masses, which in the sports industry typically falls into the male category, but a slight increase in promotion may spark interest in women’s sports.
Women in the sports industry are the minority, and will continue to sit at the bottom of the barrel until action is taken. While speaking out about what fuels the fire burning through the sports world will continue to occur, nothing will change until those behind the production of media take a risk in promoting women’s sports. With the WNBA being the face of women’s sports, it is easiest to start representing them. As the representation continues, the league will notice an increase in revenue, thus promoting the opportunity for equitable pay and play in the league.
Bridge, A. (2019, May). Alyssa Bridge – Ball State University. WNBA: A League Where the Players Always Lose. Retrieved December 12, 2022, from https://cardinalscholar.bsu.edu/bitstream/handle/123456789/202689/2020BridgeAlyssa-combined.pdf?sequence=1
Cooky, Cheryl; Messner, Michael A.; and Musto, Michela. (n.d.) “It’s Dude Time!”: A Quarter Century of Excluding Women’s Sports in Televised News and Highlight Shows. Sage Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2167479515588761
Copeland, K. (2022, July 9). Why the WNBA’s first signature sneakers in 11 years mean so much. The Washington Post. Retrieved December 12, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2022/07/09/elena-delle-done-breanna-stewart-shoes-wnba/
Faria, Z. (2022, December 8). The ‘pay gap’ debate between the NBA and WNBA is a joke. Washington Examiner. Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/the-pay-gap-debate-between-the-nba-and-wnba-is-a-joke
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/Zirin, D. (2022, December 8). Brittney Griner exposes one of the WNBA’s biggest problems. MSNBC. Retrieved December 10, 2022, from https://www.msnbc.com/opinion/msnbc-opinion/brittney-griner-exposes-one-wnba-s-biggest-problems-n1292325?cid=sm_npd_ms_tw_ma
I am aware that the title is poor and that the paper needs to be updated before final grading is complete. Although it is sloppy, this just proof that the research has all be compiled into one paper.
Thanks, HollyP. I hope you’ll find time to incorporate improvements to your short arguments into the final paper.
One thing I may not have noted before but which occurred to me now as I was reading through this paper for the first time all the way through:
How do you explain the surge in numbers DESPITE the lack of professional media coverage for the league?
If you can’t explain WHY it happens, do you want to slam it on the desk of an ESPN producer and shout out: “This is what we’re doing WITHOUT your support! The public wants us; why can’t you give them what they want!?”
Is there a place in your paper for that point of view?