Sorting through the new WNBA CBA


WNBAPA President Nneka Ogwumike and WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced the new CBA on Good Morning America. It was a great moment for the league and the details that they shared made it clear that the WNBA is betting on women. Let’s sort through what we know and what it means.


The big question coming into the CBA negotiations was whether the players would start getting paid properly for their services. The new CBA is an absolutely massive step in the right direction. Go read the WNBA and WNBAPA’s statement for all the details. Here are the highlights for me:

  • 53% increase in compensation for players
  • Top players will be able to earn over $500,000 in total cash compensation
  • Average player compensation will be $130,000, hitting six figures for the first time
  • 50-50 revenue sharing between players and owners
  • Minimum of $1.6 million in off-season league and team marketing agreements
  • Maximum base salary will be at $250,000 (before bonuses and what not)
  • The WNBA will work with its affiliated leagues, teams and sponsors to provide off-season job opportunities designed to prepare players for their post-playing careers and will advance diversity in coaching initiatives for veteran players interested in coaching careers.

That’s all fantastic. Players will now make a salary that they can be proud of, as Commish Englebert said on a conference call earlier today. They can make enough money to stay here full-time and grow the game in the US. It’s such a huge step in the right direction.

But notice that the term “cash compensation” is used far more than salary. That likely means that much of extra money will be coming in from bonuses. That is slightly scary since much of the conversation around the WNBA was about how it’s not bringing in money. Tying compensation to bonuses and “revenue goals” seems like it could lead to that compensation disappearing when revenue goes down or when the league needs to save money.

However, the league seems to be betting on women rather than giving into demands. The Commissioner said that this model is a more holistic view of compensation rather than just guaranteed salaries. At this point, we should believe the league and the players when they say that this deal will actually make playing in the WNBA worth it for all players.

The last part is important for players like Kristi Toliver who coaches for the NBA’s Washington Wizards in the offseason. In fact, the provision was called the “Toliver Provision” on the conference call. It will remove the barriers to her getting properly paid for her work. Hopefully, it will cultivate more women coaches in the NBA and allow players to grow the game in that aspect.

Other benefits

Another massive concern coming into the CBA negotiations was the travel woes that WNBA teams have continually faced and how the league would support its players as mothers. Here are some of the new benefits for players in that regard:

  • Premium Economy class status (such as Comfort/Economy Plus) for all players for regular-season air travel.
  • Individual hotel room accommodations for every player.
  • Players to receive full salary while on maternity leave for as long as a player needs
  • A new annual childcare stipend of $5,000.
  • Two-bedroom apartments for players with children.
  • New, progressive family planning benefits of up to a $60,000 reimbursement for veteran players for costs directly related to adoption, surrogacy, oocyte cryopreservation or fertility/infertility treatment.

The family care and maternity leave provisions are an absolute win for the players.    This is exactly what the WNBA needed to do to set the standard for benefits that women deserve in the workplace. I fear that players may be rushed back by teams if maternity leave isn’t set for a minimum amount of time (like Skylar Diggins-Smith said happened in Dallas), but again let’s believe in the league for now.

The travel provisions are honestly a little underwhelming. The whole problem was that teams had to fly commercial and when flights got cancelled, it would create massive problems. Putting players in nicer seats doesn’t fix that. However, it’s an acknowledgment of the travel issues. Also, teams will reportedly be able to use charter flights when they need to. Step in the right direction but not the leap we were hoping for.

Free Agency and Commissioner’s Cup

The biggest impacts for the fans from the CBA will come from the increased free agency, a new in-season tournament, and the prioritization of the WNBA over overseas ball:

See Also

  • Unrestricted free agency available to players one year earlier than under the prior agreement beginning with the free agency period leading up to the 2021 season. Specifically, players who complete the playing services called for in their contract and have five or more years of service will become unrestricted free agents (if they are not designated as a “Core” player).
  • Reduction in the number of times a player can receive the “Core” designation – from four to three beginning with the 2020 season, dropping to two beginning with the 2022 season.
  • Players must be at training camp on time, which means ending overseas obligations earlier
  • A new in-season tournament for the Commissioner’s Cup, similar to what European soccer leagues have

The free agency provisions will seemingly increase player movement and helped create more offseason buzz for the WNBA. The reduction in core designations is massive for player freedom as the league’s best players can move more often.

I’m most interested to see what happens to the reserve system for players with 3 years of service or less. Right now, young players cannot negotiate with other teams until they have 4 years of service. When teams decide to not re-sign them, they cannot negotiate with other teams until they get a 4th year of service. Let’s hope there are changes to that system.

I love the Commissioner’s Cup idea. Giving teams something extra to play for is fun and allows every team to have hope for something each year. Hopefully, it’ll also create some more rivalries between teams that play for it.

The league is also making sure prioritize the WNBA over going overseas. The message was clear: stay in the US, grow this league, and we will help you make enough money to do so. However, the Commissioner clarified that there will be carve outs for young players who make less and European players who may want to play at home.

Overall Impressions

The CBA is not perfect nor does it solve all of the league’s problems, but it’s a giant step in the right direction. This agreement is much closer to the best-case scenario for the CBA rather than the worst-case scenario. The WNBA and its partners are showing a commitment to women’s basketball in the future. You absolutely love to see it.



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