Commissioner of the W.N.B.A Cathy Engelbert told The New York Times the tentative contract agreement includes plans to increase salaries and provide generous maternal benefits to players.
“What we have here is a multidimensional pay structure as well as benefit structure,” she said. “We’ve really gone all out here. We’re making a big bet on this league, a big bet on women, and that in professional sports, that the W.N.B.A. can lead the way.”
The contract would also would open up top players to an annual salary of $500,000, about triple last season’s highest salary.
The new deal additionally plans to offer maternity leave with full salary, a purpose-only space in sporting arenas for mothers who are nursing and a $5,000 child care stipend. Furthermore, veteran players can seek up to $60,000 in reimbursement for in costs directly related to adoption, surrogacy, egg freezing and fertility treatment.
The commissioner of the N.B.A., Adam Silver, said in a statement that the agreement “will be a roadmap for the future of the W.N.B.A. and reinforces the N.B.A.’s belief in the league’s strong potential for growth.”
For context, in 2018 starting basketball players in the WNBA were paid about $41,000 while, starting players in the NBA made about $560,000.
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The official maximum W.N.B.A salary for veteran players was $113,500, where mid-level NBA players made anywhere between $5 million and $10 million a year. Meanwhile, top ranking players stood to earn between $26 million and $30 million.
Last year, DeWanna Bonner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury was the highest-paid female player. She made $127,500. The highest paid male basketball player last year was LeBron James, who made $134.9 million.
While this new contract would be groundbreaking, it’s still a long way from set in stone. The league’s board of governors and the union’s membership needs to provide final approval.
Nneka Ogwumike, the 29-year old star of the Los Angeles Sparks, who also serves as W.N.B.A. players’ union president, told The New York Times that negotiating this deal was vital given the number of mothers in the league.
“We had to be incredibly innovative with this,” Ogwumike said. “We understood that it would take some novel change to get the league where we want it to go. We wanted to ensure that it is still allowing players the opportunity to get the salaries that we are used to getting in both markets while also phasing in a system that will hold the league as a certain priority.”
Currently, teams in the W.N.B.A are provided housing. Under this new agreement, players will be guaranteed two-bedroom apartments for players with children.
“We wanted to create a league in which it is clearly a viable option to play in the W.N.B.A.,” Ogwumike said. “So we’re providing a new starting line for those who come after us.”
“We believe this is the best deal to drive a return on investment during the term of this agreement,” Commissioner Engelbert told The New York Times. “No doubt, a lot of these elements are setting up the future for the next generation of players to be in a great place, for the current stars to leave behind a legacy for the next generation.”