Liz Cambage is right the WNBA has a player-coach pay disparity problem with a solution years away

In many ways the WNBA is my favorite sports league. By far the most progressive entity in sports. It features the most selfless athletes the world has to offer. Oh and the talent combined with the competitive balance makes for great entertainment each night.

With that said the W fails immensely when it comes to financially empowering the players and growing their own game.

Any tweet that resembles a WNBA player’s struggle, will almost always correlate with that of their salary. Whether it is huge pay disparities between the WNBA and over seas women’s leagues. Or teams flying commercial and having to pay out of pocket for a seat upgrade, the common denominator is the league’s lack of economical growth.

Liz Cambage, one of the sports premier talents took offense when news broke about Becky Hammon’s record setting head coaching contract. Cambage let her frustrations out on twitter and it did numbers. The tweet garnered over 3600 retweets and 10K likes, in part because it is so true.

Becky Hammon, the new Las Vegas Aces head coach, will make $1 million this upcoming season, her first in the role.

The supermax salary cap for a WNBA player in 2022 is $228,094, a number to which Cambage refers in her tweet to derive Hammon’s salary as nearly four times as much.  Cambage made a little more than $221,000 last season. Some of the league’s top players have the potential to make $500,000 in a season if they earn one of the league’s player marketing agreements.

Cambage’s frustration is well-placed. Not only is the stark difference easy to see, it also reflects a large gap in the WNBA’s salary model for coaches and players, and perhaps speaks to the way in which players are undervalued by the league’s economics.

That a coach would make more than four times the highest-paid player in the WNBA is completely out of line with any other major professional sport in North America. That a coach would make more, at all, than the highest-paid player in the WNBA is completely out of line with any other major professional sport in North America.

Patrick Mahomes ($45mil)
Bill Belichick ($18 mil)
$27 mil
Steph Curry ($45.8m)
Gregg Popovich ($11.5m)
Max Scherzer ($43.3m)
Terry Francona ($4.2m)
Erik Karlsson ($14.5m)
Mike Babcock ($6.25m)
Lorenzo Insigne ($15m)
Matías Almeyda ($1.5m)
Trinity Rodman ($281k)
Breanna Stewart/Jewell Lloyd/Diana Taurasi ($228,094)
Becky Hammon ($1m)

The highest-paid WNBA player makes 22.8 percent of what Hammon does. It’s a large turn from Major League Baseball, where its top player, Max Scherzer makes roughly 10 times more than the top manager.

Even in the NBA, which has a soft cap and maximum salaries, Steph Curry makes roughly four times Gregg Popovich’s salary.

So Cambage’s grievance is not only understandable, it is unique. No other league’s players have the salary issues relative to itself that the WNBA seems to have.

Her criticism struck a chord with Mark Davis, the Aces owner.

“I agree 100 percent with what she says,” Davis said. “That the players do deserve more money.”

But he also offered qualifiers to Hammon’s salary and the situation he and the league are in. The Aces’ ability to pay Cambage, or any other player, is limited by the constraints of the league’s collective bargaining agreement — as it is for every team. There is a cap for how high any team can go, but not for coaches.

“We have to be paying these women commensurate to what their abilities are and what they’re doing,” Davis said. “But on the front office side and the coaching side there is no salary cap. Becky Hammon didn’t want to be a million-dollar coach, but I wanted her to be a million-dollar coach. …  I felt that giving Becky Hammon the million-dollar coach, or whatever you want to call it, would then show everybody that there is value here.”

The whole situation is absurd and yet easily solvable: rework the CBA as the influx of cash flows in. The problem, that influx of cash is years down the line from being used.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the league’s recent $75 million capital raise could help increase those salaries in the future. She noted the league has included opportunities to make money beyond their base salaries through prize pools and bonuses, but also offered caution that the revenue generated by the capital the league just brought in won’t create larger revenue streams for another three to five years.

“This is how we tried to frame it when we came out of the CBA, for players to earn additional money if they want to market our game,” Engelbert said. “We’ll continue to work on this. But I think this is something where you look at what we’re trying to do to raise the profile of the players, to build them into household names, to build rivalries so more people watch — more people watch, the better media rights fee deals we get. And that will all come ultimately back to player compensation longer term. I know it’s frustrating we can’t move quicker, but as we deploy capital, it takes a couple years. I think hopefully we’ll see the fruits of all of our hard labor at the league level to advance that in the next round of negotiations.”

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