Does the NBA subsidize the WNBA?
The WNBA celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, but despite reaching this significant milestone, the league continues to struggle to turn a profit.
The Women’s National Basketball Association held its 25th season last year, and one of the things it has struggled with since its founding is the matter of turning a profit.
The WNBA was founded as a female counterpart to the NBA in 1996, and the new league first tipped off in 1997. It started out with eight teams, and after going through a lot of upheavals including relocations, it currently has 12.
Over the years, the league has been hounded by debates about pay discrepancies between the NBA and the WNBA, with female players earning only a fraction of their counterparts' salaries.
The WNBA's lack of profitability
The issue of the players' pay has been a thorny issue, and one aspect of this discussion that has been pointed out is the fact that since it was founded, the league has been operating in the red. NBA commissioner Adam Silver stated in 2018 that the WNBA had lost an an average of $10 million each year that it has been in existence, including $12 million in the previous season.
The WNBA signed a new collective bargaining agreement with the Women’ National Basketball Players Association in 2020 which included a 53% pay raise for players.
Before the new agreement, the average salary for a player was approximately $116,000; and now, the base salary is $130,000 with additional bonuses and incentives. This increase could mean even bigger subsidies from the NBA, if the WNBA does not find a way to become more profitable.
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WNBA: Brighter days ahead
Despite their discouraging track record in making money, audience figures from 2021 show that things could be looking up for the league. According to ESPN, the 25th anniversary season saw considerable viewership growth from previous years.
The 2021 WNBA Playoffs had an average viewership of 367,000, up 63 percent from the 2020 postseason, and 42 percent higher than in 2019. The 2021 regular season also saw strong growth, with a 49 percent increase from the previous season, and 24 percent growth from 2019.
Aside from ESPN, WNBA games have also begun to be broadcast on Amazon Prime Video, which is another way to capture more eyeballs.
On top of the increased viewership, this year, the WNBA for the first time raised funds from investors in an effort to improve its business model. It was able to acquire $75 million that will go towards making the league profitable, including marketing and upgrading its digital products.
With more TV exposure for the league, and more money that can help promote it, the WNBA might just be able to grow its business, and start making headway in the long road to independence from the NBA.