The Seattle Storms of the WNBA just swept the Washington Mystics in the Leagues and few of us even knew it.
Compared to its male counterpart, the WNBA “doesn’t get any respect.” Gaps between the leagues is broad and massive. WNBA players although talented, and dedicated to their sport, are severely underpaid compared to their male counterparts. Along with that, the WNBA’s viewership pales in comparison to the NBA as does the league’s income.
In part, the gaps in the league can be contributed to sheer numbers and longevity. The NBA founded in 1949, has nearly a half century of experience and building compared to the WNBA, founded in 1997. The league is also smaller, with the NBA consisting of 30 teams, compared to the WNBA’s 13 teams.
Those differences are a possible contributor to the difference in league income:
According to Forbes, the NBA generated $7.4 billion in 2017 in comparison to the WNBA’s $25 million. Viewership for the 2018 NBA finals averaged 20 million viewers per game, compared to just 559,000 for the 2017 WNBA finals.
The gap also shows up in the league’s pay. While the starting salary for the women’s league is $50,000, the minimum wage for a professional NBA player is $582,180.
Second Class Citizens
During an August episode of Get Up, the ESPN analyst Jalen Rose made remarks regarding WNBA players’ “second-class citizen” treatment after the Las Vegas Aces were forced to forfeit a canceled game. Aces players decided nor to play the game because of concerns about their “health and safety” after travel more than 25 hours to arrive at a not to play because of concerns about their health and safety after flight delays and cancellations forced them to spend 25 hours traveling to Washington for a game against the Mystics.
By the time the team reached its hotel it was 3:45 p.m. Friday — about four hours before the scheduled tip-off. The Aces players talked things over and spoke by phone with the union Friday. They called the league to say they did not want to play.
Several viewers took offense at Rose’s “second-class” comments, in part because the lives of professional athletes are equated to luxury. While NBA players travel in private charters, WNBA players are forced to fly commercial.
“[My comment] was in relation to the NBA and not necessarily civilian life, per se,” the former Indiana Pacer says to EBONY in an exclusive interview. “I just would like to see [WNBA players] get that same opportunity as [NBA players], and it is head scratching to me that it hasn’t taken place yet.”
Closing the Gap
“My thought process is to build it, and they will come because it’s a terrific product [with] amazing storylines, players and so many accomplished people that are part and affiliated with the league,” Rose says to EBONY. “[The problem is WNBA players’] stories never get built out for public and national consumption. We don’t get a chance to get to know who they are away from the floor, which in most instances in sports and entertainment helps to draw [eyes] toward the product on the floor.”
You don’t have to be an avid basketball fan to see the cultural impact of NBA superstars such as Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Chris Paul or Carmelo Anthony. Rose credits this effect to good marketing. “The NBA is the best at maximizing its digital and social media audience. [The league] allows players to not only have a face but also a voice. [Fans] get a chance to appreciate not only [players’] terrific ability to play basketball, but also who they are away from the floor.”
In contrast, the stories of WNBA All-Stars rarely make it to mainstream media. Dallas Wings player Skylar Diggins discussed the disparity in coverage in an essay for Wealthsimple, a Canadian online investment management service, in which she criticized the pay gap. She revealed that as the highest paid player on her team, she still earns significantly less for the same amount of work as an NBA player.
This may seem “fair” to people who believe women are not entertaining ballplayers, but Rose debunks that idea and touches on how the league can become more enticing in a simple marketing step.
“How many times have you been in the car and a song came on the radio, and you knew the words to the song? Then you said to yourself, ‘I don’t even like that record,’ because what ends up happening is it becomes a part of your consciousness,’” the 45-year-old explains. “It becomes a part of your DNA because that’s what marketing, promotion and advertising entails: having it to where you can’t ignore it.”
There was a time in Rose’s childhood when the NBA didn’t have a “stronghold on the attention of the people globally.” He can remember in the league’s 72-year history when the games were on taped delay and “didn’t have the same level of cache.” He believes that WNBA players including Minnesota Lynx‘s Maya Moore, Phoenix Mercury’s Diana Taurasi and Los Angeles Sparks’ Candace Parker have stories that could add to the appeal of the women’s franchise.
One such example of a woman expanding the public’s interest in a sport is tennis player Serena Williams, who Rose makes sure to call “not one of the best female athletes, but one of the greatest athletes of all time.” He is aware that there is a glass ceiling that women need to shatter and wants the WNBA, which is just a 21-year-old league, to give its players that opportunity to do.
Rose thinks fans will grow to enjoy the league. He feels that will not happen unless the WNBA and NBA work together to create a fiscal influx through marketing, promotion, and advertisers. First, the organizations need to show the players “the TLC they deserve as a league.”