Her incredible combination of size and skill have made her the most recognizable face in women’s college basketball. This will soon be the case when she enters the WNBA Draft. She will probably be the WNBA’s Michael Jordan. Or, rather, its Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
But she won’t make the big bucks like the NBA greats do because of simple economics.
On the surface, it may seem unfair that the salary cap for an entire WNBA team is less than many NBA rookie contracts, but based on league revenues, this fact is anything but unreasonable.
Forbes estimates that the NBA has an operating income of about $183 million, whereas the WNBA struggles to break even. In fact, many WNBA teams lose money every year, but the NBA subsidizes the losses.
Because television deals have a lot to do with each league’s income, the disparity is also seen in attendance numbers.
An average NBA game will generally have about 10,000 more fans than a typical WNBA game.
At the end of last season, the NBA’s New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets) recorded a league-worst attendance of just fewer than 14,000 fans at each game.
The WNBA’s Washington Mystics averaged a league-best 10,449 fans per game. The team with the worst attendance in the WNBA at the end of last season was the Tulsa Shock, with an average turnout of 4,828.
A WNBA team has a salary cap of $900,000. This means that the total amount of annual player salaries cannot exceed this set amount. In the NBA, the salary cap is just over $58 million, but every team except for the Houston Rockets exceeds this cap and pays a luxury tax to the league.
Griner has the potential to impact the WNBA on and off of the floor. She will likely raise league interest and income. On an individual basis, the top player contracts in the WNBA hover around $100,000. Griner could one day get a top-level contract in the WNBA and it will likely be more money than anyone is currently making in the league. But many WNBA players still take their talents overseas to other leagues in the offseason to make more money.
To contrast, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant will make more than $27.8 million this season just from his salary.
This amount, which excludes endorsement deals, bonuses and jersey sales, is still more than twice the amount of every player in the WNBA combined.
When you consider that you have to drop about $100 per ticket just to get the worst seat in the house for a Lakers game, plus the annual revenue of $200 million from the Lakers’ TV deal, the money starts to make more and more sense.
That same $100 at a WNBA game can almost buy you season tickets for the Los Angeles Sparks.
It’s simple supply and demand. Most other teams in the league would be willing to pay Bryant just under $30 million. Fans are willing to pay the money to see these superstars play. They are not willing to pay a similar amount for WNBA stars.
Income equality can’t be reached with this kind of disparity. Griner will hopefully have a great career and achieve her potential. She has the ability to change the women’s game forever.
Baylor is a bit of an odd case because our women’s basketball attendance is very high. But people show up to games to see great basketball. This is what Griner brings to the court. Maybe WNBA attendance is lacking, but people will start to show up just to watch her play. This is only a future projection, however.
Based on the current system, Griner’s income will reflect what she brings to the WNBA. She won’t make the same kind of money that NBA stars make because she does not generate the same amount of money for a team. While this is unfair, it’s both reasonable and realistic. People in all professions are paid based on the money they generate for their company.
Changing women’s basketball is an achievement in its own right, and Griner will be rewarded for it, but she will never make the millions of dollars that NBA players make.
The league’s income, ticket sales and TV deals just aren’t high enough.