The U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) won the Women’s World Cup yet again on Sunday. Amidst competing against their toughest opponents at the highest level of competition, the team has also stayed focused on a different battle.
It began in 2016 when the USWNT filed a lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the U.S. Soccer Federation. Considering their dominance on the pitch and status as one of the greatest teams in women’s soccer, they want to be paid equally to their male counterparts, the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Media coverage throughout this Women’s World Cup cut deeper than statistics and game scores. These women raised their voices in favor of equal pay and in defiance of gender bias using the tournament as their platform. The biggest buzz has been surrounding Megan Rapinoe, who won the Golden Boot for scoring the most goals in the tournament, all while engaging in a heated discourse, which involved President Donald Trump.
As these women continue their quest to achieve gender parity, their movement is spreading beyond the United States, and even beyond their own sport: the WNBA is also considering how to deal with gender inequality.
Since its inception in 1997, the WNBA has struggled to be taken seriously. Now, the product itself is the best it has been thanks to seasoned veterans leading the league plus increasingly talented players entering each year.
NBA free agency is in full swing, and as male players sign massive contracts, WNBA athletes are taking notice. The top female basketball players are not making anywhere close to the NBA’s worst benchwarmers, many of whom do not ever see court time. At the minimum, NBA players make $582,180, while the WNBA maximum salary stands at $117,500.
WNBA players feel forced to head overseas and play during the offseason, where they can earn a much more substantial salary. To put things in perspective, salaries start at $50,000 in the U.S. In the Euro League, starting salaries are double that number at $100,000.
People who argue against higher pay for women throw around the excuse that the WNBA does not make enough revenue to warrant larger salaries. Granted, the league earns significantly less revenue than the NBA, a mere $51.5 million versus the NBA’s $7.4 billion. The issue players have is that the WNBA pays its athletes approximately 25 percent of its revenue. Comparatively, that figure in the NBA is 50 percent.
Many of these facts and figures have been covered before. But something unique is happening in women’s soccer with what the USWNT is doing. They are forcing the media, and consequently, the world, to pay attention to them. It is no coincidence that the USWNT home jerseys are Nike’s No. 1 soccer jersey for 2019, beating single-year sales records for both men’s or women’s soccer jerseys. After another World Cup victory, it is hard to fathom anyone continuing to turn a blind eye to their demands. Soon, the U.S. Soccer Federation will have no choice but to pay them what they are asking.
The WNBA has the right idea. They just reached a new TV deal with CBS, which allocates 40 more nationally televised games to the league. Accompanied by a rebranding campaign and a new partnership with AT&T, the league is making moves that will hopefully see increased exposure and thus, more revenue. In fact, this season’s opener increased ratings by 25 percent as compared to last season. Generally, TV ratings have already increased by 64 percent year-over-year, proving that coverage can drive interest.
The league is getting creative to make more money by adding jersey sponsorships, promoting marketing campaigns such as the highly successful 2014 Pride Campaign and connecting with fans digitally through social media, video games, and fantasy leagues.
The WNBA should go even further by making efforts to expand season length. WNBA seasons are only 34 games long, whereas NBA seasons are 82 games long and G-League seasons are 50 games long. This contributes to the deficiency in exposure, the need for players to go overseas and a lack of respect in the public eye.
Even though they only participate in 34 games for the WNBA, most female basketball players end up working almost all year round, without a break, because they decide to play international ball. Yet, they do not earn nearly the same as male basketball players, in regards to both salary and respect.
Their travel accommodations are subpar: WNBA teams travel commercially, something NBA teams would never have to do. This results in forfeits and game cancelations because of delayed or canceled flights.
Even more insulting, the NBA is developing a G League program offering “select contracts” to 18-year-olds– fresh out of high school with no professional experience. These contracts are worth $125,000, which is four times the G League’s base salary of $35,000. It is also $10,000 more than the maximum WNBA salary. It is pretty disheartening for female athletes to see that the NBA is willing to invest more in their minor league than the top professionals in the WNBA.
With consideration to increasing ratings and attendance, WNBA players are realizing their worth. For these reasons and more, they have decided to opt out of their collective bargaining agreement, expiring at the end of 2019.
If the WNBA wants to be a firmly established presence in everyday sports viewership, it needs to be getting constant coverage and exposure. Players should be getting paid enough so they are not forced to juggle the responsibilities of participating in multiple leagues.
WNBA players should continue taking notes from the USWNT. This moment in women’s soccer is bolstering a wave through all women’s sports for equality. So far, the WNBA seems to be riding that wave. Hopefully, it continues to do so.