How Brittney Griner’s conviction highlights the difficulty of pay fairness

Katie Lou Samuelson had the right sneakers to rejoice the title IX anniversary. Earlier than the Sparks residence sport in opposition to the Chicago Sky on June 23, Samuelson unwrapped white tissue paper in a black shoebox to disclose his custom-decorated pair of Puma sneakers.

“Pay the athletes,” Samuelson’s sneakers proclaimed in a daring white font on a black background.

The trainers included a Title IX anniversary mark on the again of the left shoe and the initials and shirt No. 42 by Brittney Griner on the fitting.

The detention and conviction of the Phoenix Mercury middle in Russia for possession of hashish has turn into an emblem of the wage fairness challenge that plagues the WNBA, the place even stars akin to Griner – a WNBA champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist and eight-time All-Star – Journey abroad throughout the WNBA low season for salaries which can be value greater than 4 or 5 occasions what they earn at residence.

The worldwide leagues, established many years earlier than the WNBA, 26, have lengthy been a monetary lifeline for American gamers who spend 5 months in entrance of the nation’s audiences after which fly seven-month seasons to Turkey, Spain, Russia. , China or Australia.

Unique areas and big paydays come on the expense of attending main occasions like weddings and birthdays or spending time with family members, to not point out the extra put on and tear of a participant’s physique.

A have a look at Sparks ahead Katie Lou Samuelson’s basketball sneakers with “Pay Girls Athletes” lettering.

(Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire through Getty Pictures)

Samuelson, who additionally performs in Spain, can envision a future for the WNBA when gamers will not be so compelled to play abroad, but it surely’s a good distance off. The common season of the WNBA ought to most likely final greater than 4 or 5 months. Rosters are anticipated to broaden from 12 gamers. Salaries are anticipated to rise.

The steps to scale back the pay hole start with the expansion of the WNBA, a accountability shared by the league, gamers and brokers.

“As ladies in sport, we have now to play the lengthy sport,” mentioned Allison Galer, an agent representing Sparks’ Chiney Ogwumike, Washington ahead Elizabeth Williams and reigning rookie of the 12 months Michaela Onyenwere.

The rise in TV scores and merchandising gross sales signifies that the WNBA is rising in recognition. It is a current increase, originating in Bradenton, Florida, the place the WNBA held its pandemic bubble season in 2020. The disastrous 12 months had a constructive spin for the WNBA. The viewers for the WNBA Finals grew 15% from the earlier 12 months, when nearly all different leagues had been seeing a big drop in spectators. Off the pitch, the unrepentant protection of Breonna Taylor gamers, Black Lives Matter and voting rights has strengthened the WNBA’s picture as a frontrunner in social justice.

Many corporations are advocating range, equity and inclusion within the wake of 2020, which ought to make the WNBA and its gamers prime targets for endorsement offers from manufacturers seeking to join with youthful, extra skilled shoppers. of digital and primarily ladies.

“We’re the league that [says] put your cash the place your mouth is, ”mentioned WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert addresses the media.

Cathy Engelbert, addressing the media throughout the 2020 WNBA Finals, turned the league commissioner in 2019 with the goal of constructing the league a thriving enterprise.

(Related Press)

A generally repeated statistic from Girls in Sport states that solely 0.4% of whole sports activities sponsorship between 2011 and 2013 went to ladies. That little sliver is usually dominated by athletes performing in particular person sports activities.

Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams had been the one athletes within the Forbes high 50 this 12 months with 24-year-old Osaka ranked because the highest-paid feminine athlete on this planet. Her estimated whole earnings of $ 59.2 million had been ranked nineteenth general, and $ 58 million got here from off-pitch offers. Williams earned $ 45 million of her $ 45.3 million off the pitch and was ranked thirty first.

The very best incomes feminine athlete has been a tennis participant yearly since Forbes started monitoring knowledge in 1990, strengthening an ecosystem that undervalues ​​ladies in group sports activities, Engelbert mentioned.

“Earlier than we end,” he added, “we are going to modify the damaged valuation mannequin.”

The WNBA is value over $ 1 billion, a peak because of a current $ 75 million capital improve. The cash of two dozen buyers was the biggest capital improve ever made for a ladies’s sports activities property.

The cash will likely be distributed in three to 5 years, Engelbert mentioned. It’s meant for branding and advertising and marketing; globalization of the WNBA; innovation and development of factors of contact with shoppers; and human capital and operational optimization, in accordance with a league assertion saying the transaction.

The place it will not go is for the wages of the gamers.

Whereas the 2020 collective bargaining settlement has secured quite a few advantages akin to six-figure common salaries, greater pay for star gamers, and absolutely paid maternity depart, gamers nonetheless have to safe equal income sharing.

WNBA gamers are solely assured a 50-50 cut up of income if the league meets prescribed however undisclosed targets. The WNBA had an estimated income of $ 60 million in 2018, in accordance with Forbes. The NBA, 50 years older, grossed $ 7.4 billion that 12 months and boasted $ 10 billion in income this 12 months.

The twin job of accelerating income and modifying the CBA, which runs by 2027, makes it unlikely that elevating participant salaries would be the subsequent domino to fall within the WNBA’s pay equity battle.

“Everybody needs to go straight to the wage,” mentioned Samuelson, a former No. 4 general who performed in 4 groups in his 4 years within the WNBA. “However there are such a lot of various things that must be a stepping stone earlier than that occurs too.”

Along with the rise in pay, gamers level out issues akin to an absence of constitution flights, particularly throughout this compressed season the place groups typically play each different day, or coaching amenities. The Sparks have cut up their coaching time between three venues this season: a rented health club in Torrance, the USC’s Galen Middle, and the Enviornment, the place additionally they play.

Sparks striker Katie Lou Samuelson follows a three-point shot.

Sparks striker Katie Lou Samuelson follows a three-point shot throughout a sport in opposition to Phoenix Mercury.

(Courtesy of LA Sparks)

The very best abroad leagues meet these calls for off the pitch. Not solely do gamers receives a commission effectively, however they play in elite competitors as they hone their abilities. The event alternative is particularly essential for youthful gamers who’ve restricted enjoying time within the WNBA, which has no coaching groups or improvement league. The wealthiest groups, together with Griner’s UMMC Ekaterinburg, which is managed by a pair of Russian oligarchs, are recognized for arranging gamers with their very own residences, non-public automotive providers, and luxurious journey lodging.

However alternatives to play abroad are dwindling, Galer mentioned. He doesn’t assume that any agent will ship an American participant to Russia in gentle of the arrest of Griner, the battle in Ukraine and the suspension of the Euroleague of the highest Russian groups UMMC Ekaterinburg, Dynamo Kursk and MBA Moscow. COVID-19 has additionally paralyzed the international market.

With WNBA salaries stagnating, “there’s much more weight on sponsorships and model partnerships,” Sparks striker Nneka Ogwumike mentioned.

Recreating the WNBA participant sponsorship mission requires intentional brand-building dedication and efforts on the a part of particular person participant and league brokers. From his first day as commissioner in 2019, Engelbert mentioned the WNBA had a “advertising and marketing drawback”. To assist remedy it, he tried to encourage gamers to remain in the US throughout the low season in trade for league advertising and marketing offers that present compensation for taking part in promoting campaigns with WNBA companions.

The hope is to show gamers like reigning league’s most dear participant Jonquel Jones and WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper into family names. However these stars performed abroad final 12 months, with Jones enjoying for Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg, the identical membership as Griner. Copper has been named MVP of the Spanish high league and the Euroleague.

The advertising and marketing cash supplied by the WNBA can’t but make up for the distinction in an abroad contract that pays between $ 10,000 and $ 15,000 monthly.

“Is it higher for the gamers to be right here for marketability causes? In fact, “mentioned Galer.” However the pot does not essentially improve for all gamers in the event that they keep right here. “

Engelbert mentioned he would by no means cease abroad alternatives for gamers, however he wished them to prioritize the WNBA and for the league to make it financially worthwhile to take action. Standing behind a podium on the All-Star weekend, Engelbert celebrated the progress made within the latter.

Throughout a press convention in Chicago on the league’s mid-season occasion, the commissioner introduced that a further $ 1.5 million could be out there to gamers from the league’s advertising and marketing deal pool. Constitution flights had been arriving for the WNBA Finals. The playoff bonus pool has elevated by roughly 50% to $ 500,000.

“We’re simply attempting to crumble,” he mentioned on the occasion.

Engelbert repeated the sentence describing the WNBA’s journey to pay fairness. Nobody can merely repair the issue with a sweeping assertion, however current advances have the commissioner, gamers and brokers wanting ahead to a shiny future

Nneka Ogwumike mentioned she hoped it “will not take for much longer to see the six-figure minimal wages.”

Ed Engelbert is already scouting cities for potential enlargement groups that can launch in 2024 or 2025.

“We solely go up from right here,” mentioned Galer. “We simply should construct it.”

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