WNBA Players Are Actually Being OVERpaid

The WNBA has existed for nearly 30 years and it has never once turned a profit.

simonkr. Getty Images. Female basketball player dribbling while playing basketball alone on sports court during practice.
simonkr. Getty Images.

The WNBA draft happened last month. According to the latest numbers I read, the event usually averages about 14 total viewers. 

This year, however, the WNBA draft won record ratings, nearly doubling its normal viewership. That added audience is largely thanks to Caitlin Clark, who went number one overall to something called the Indiana Fever. Which sounds like a disease you might contract from a hooker in Fort Wayne, but is apparently the name of a women’s basketball team. Clark, for her part, is easily the most famous women’s basketball star of all time. She’s so famous that I know her name —though I don’t know anything else about her.

If you are in the very small fraternity of people who qualify as WNBA fans, this sudden increased interest in the league — even if it still amounts to basically no interest— should be cause for celebration and gratitude. But we don’t do celebration very well in this culture, and we don’t do gratitude at all, really. So instead people found reasons to whine. And that whining led to what is, surely, the dumbest discourse of the year 2024 so far. I don’t expect it to retain that title until January, but for now it easily lays claim to it. Since the draft, the Left has been complaining bitterly that WNBA salaries are too low. 

It started on social media, with posts like this one from someone named Alyssa Leader, who identifies herself as a public defender. She also has, needless to say, pronouns in her bio. She tweeted this:

The salaries that have apparently zapped her will to live are $76,000 a year for the top four picks in the draft and $70,000 for the rest of the round one selections. 

In subsequent tweets, Alyssa tells us that the average starting salary for first round NBA draft picks is $10 million by comparison. She says this contrast is “honestly devastating.” There were many other tweets like this from similarly outraged, devastated, and apparently suicidal feminists. Soon the media jumped onto the bandwagon. NBC News had this headline: “Gap between Caitlin Clark’s WNBA salary and her male counterparts’ draws outrage.” Today.com added this: “Caitlin Clark went No. 1 in the WNBA draft. Some fans are outraged at her salary.”

The outrage made its way up to the White House, where Joe Biden tweeted at 5:00 p.m., right before bed, that:

Now, we’ll get back to that “fair share” idea in a moment. First, let’s go to the ABC News report on this controversy, which inadvertently revealed the fundamental confusion at work here:

The talking head can’t seem to make up her mind. On the one hand she says it’s capitalism. People aren’t watching or supporting the games, so the women don’t get paid much. On the other hand, she says that the women are “underpaid.” Which is it? Well, if this needs to be explained, I will. It’s very much the former. In fact, WNBA players are not underpaid at all. They are, if anything, vastly overpaid. By all rights, as a simple economic matter, they shouldn’t be getting paid anything at all. Here are some basic facts to flesh this out.

First of all, the WNBA has existed for nearly 30 years and it has never once turned a profit. According to WSN.com, a sports betting site, the WNBA generates about $60 million in revenue. For the record, an article in Vox claims that WNBA revenue is in the $100 to $200 million range, which I find dubious. Either way, the NBA, by contrast, brings in $10 billion of revenue with something like $3 billion in profits. That means the NBA generates considerably more than 150 times the revenue of the WNBA. If you’re going with the I think quite generous $100 million estimate for the WNBA, then the NBA makes only 100 times that amount.

Do the math here, by the way, and you’ll see that pound for pound WNBA rookies actually make about the same as NBA rookies. 70 thousand times 150 is 10.5 million. But even then, they’re still overpaid because although the WNBA generates $60 million in revenue — or even if it’s $100 million, let’s say — it makes no profit at all. These women are getting paid salaries to play for a league that, economically speaking, shouldn’t even exist. You don’t have to be a financial whiz to understand that losing money for 30 years is a recipe for bankruptcy. The only reason the women’s league stays open is that the NBA subsidizes it. Every year, the men’s league hands millions of dollars to the women. The NBA is the WNBA’s sugar daddy. The men keep the women’s league afloat, so that everyone can feel good about the fact that a women’s league exists.

You are probably familiar with those charities where you can metaphorically “Adopt” a child from the third world by sending money to the charity that supposedly goes to the child’s family. Well, that’s what the NBA is to the WNBA. They have adopted it like a third world child.

What does this mean? It means that, again, nobody watches the WNBA. The leftists on Twitter and in the media complaining about WNBA salaries have never watched a game in their lives. They’ve never sat down to watch a women’s game on TV, much less have they purchased tickets to watch at the arena. They’ll support the league by whining on its behalf on social media, but they won’t support it by actually supporting it.

Last year the WNBA had its most watched regular season in 20 years. The average audience for each game was 500,000 viewers.

To put that into perspective, 500,000 is about the viewership of CNN’s weekly 10:00 p.m. show with Charles Barkley and Gayle King. And that show was just canceled after 6 months because the audience was so low that it wasn’t sustainable. 500,000 for a professional sports league that airs on network television is an even more catastrophic embarrassment, and would be even less sustainable — if not for the fact that the WNBA doesn’t have to sustain itself. Which is fortunate for the league, because it would be out of business in a month if it did have to sustain itself.

Joe Biden wants these women to get paid their “fair share.” Well, what’s a fair share of zero dollars in profit? That’s a math problem so easy that even our vegetable of a president should be able to do it. The fair share — the actual fair share — is nothing. Zero.

That’s what you deserve to get paid when you put a product on the airways that nobody cares to watch. That’s the simple reality here.

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