WNBA, WNBPA strike landmark eight-year labor deal

Elena Delle Donne of the Washington Mystics

The Women’s National Basketball Association has reached tentative agreement on a landmark eight-year collective bargaining agreement with the Women’s National Basketball Players Association that includes sweeping improvements in pay and working conditions for players.

The new deal, covering the 2020-27 seasons, includes a 53-per-cent increase in total cash compensation to players, which is more than treble the maximum compensation to top players to more than $500,000 per year, and average player compensation reaching nearly $130,000, marking the first time that average has reached six figures. 

The agreement also calls for a new revenue-sharing agreement between the league and players that involves a straight 50-50 split, based on the league achieving certain “revenue growth targets from broadcast agreements, marketing partnerships, and licensing deals.” As part of that, the deal calls for a commitment to implement a league-wide integrated marketing plan. 

In addition to salary boosts, the new deal also includes a wide range of non-monetary improvements, including improved travel conditions for players, family planning and maternity leave benefits, liberalized free agency, and career development resources to help players prepare for post-playing careers.

The series of improvements combine to represent one of the most significant steps forward for US women’s pro athletes. The union and league in a joint release called the deal no less than “the foundation to chart a new course for women’s professional basketball”.

“We approached these negotiations with a player-first agenda, and I am pleased that this agreement guarantees substantial increases in compensation and progressive benefits for the women of the WNBA,” said WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

The deal is subject to ratification by the union and the WNBA Board of Governors. Players in 2018 opted out of the existing CBA to help accelerate talks toward a new deal.

“We found common ground in areas that confirmed the league’s and the players’ intentions to not only make meaningful improvements in working conditions and overall professional experience, but also to improve the business with strategic planning and intentional marketing that will keep the WNBA front and center year-round,” said Nneka Ogwumike, WNBPA president. 

Money to fund the improvements in the new CBA will come from a variety of sources. In addition to an increased commitment from the WNBA and team owners, the new revenue-sharing plan creates a shared incentive to grow the league. 

The WNBA, meanwhile, has also created new business collective, WNBA Changemakers, that will bring together value-driven businesses seeking to promote the advancement of women through sports, and create a new platform for corpoations to support the WNBA in its ongoing growth and transformation. Initial Changemakers partners include AT&T, Nike, and Deloitte.