The WNBA and its players union announced a tentative eight-year labor deal Tuesday that will allow top players to earn more than $500,000 while the average annual compensation for players will surpass six figures for the first time.
The deal, which begins this season and runs through 2027, will pay players an average of $130,000 and guarantees them full salaries while on maternity leave. The agreement also provides enhanced family benefits, travel standards and other health and wellness improvements.
“I call it historic,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a phone interview. “The CBA guarantees substantial (financial) increases. The way we are paying these players is different than the past. ... The top couple players are tripling (in pay) where they were. Other players are making $200,000-300,000. The average will be over $130,000. Everyone gets an increase here.”
The deal, which must be ratified by owners and players, calls for 50-50 revenue sharing starting in 2021, based on the league achieving revenue growth targets from broadcast agreements, marketing partnerships and licensing deals.
“I was adamant on the 50-50 target,” Engelbert said. “The league and players work together to market this league so we can share revenue with the players. We have to hit some targets.”
The salary cap will go up 31% to $1.3 million in the first year — up from $996,000 and another $750,000 in prize money for special competitions arrives in 2021. Under this deal, the maximum base salary would increase to $215,000 from $117,500.
“You can pay your stars. That’s how the league grows,” Engelbert said.
Atlanta’s WNBA team, the Dream, have four players on guaranteed contracts for 2020: Tiffany Hayes and Elizabeth Williams, who both signed multi-year extensions last year, and Breland and Renee Montgomery. The Dream have the option to sign two players to guaranteed, full-protection contracts.
Dream All-Star Angel McCoughtry is an unrestricted free agent. McCoughty, the top overall draft pick in 2009, sat out last season with an injury, but her salary counted against the Dream’s cap and the Dream worked with 11 roster spots and the league limit of six players under guaranteed contracts, all earning above $100,000 or close to the league max of $117,500.
The Dream hold the No. 4 pick in the 2020 draft in April. They will play the 2020 season at College Park’s new arena, Gateway Center Arena, starting in May.
“While the process was elongated, we know that the spirit of the negotiations was collaborative and that a deal was reached that is favorable to both sides,” Dream president and general manager Chris Sienko said. “Ultimately, what this agreement says is that the WNBA is here to stay, and we are thrilled about that.”
This will be the fifth CBA in the history of the WNBA, which launched in 1997. Like the last CBA, there is a mutual opt-out provision after six years.
The CBA also proposes a minimum of $1.6 million in offseason league and team marketing agreements that would create up to $300,000 in additional annual cash compensation for select players.
The rookie scale for the No. 1-4 picks will rise to $68,000 — an increase of about $15,000 from this year — plus the ability to qualify for league-guaranteed money under the marketing agreement.
“It was collaborative effort,” WNBA players’ union president Nneka Ogwumike said. “I think that we really all had the same things in mind and had different way of getting there. We really put our heads together and came with some ideas.”
The league also will expand its schedule by a few games and add an in-season Commissioner’s Cup tournament this year. Other highlights of the CBA include:
• Travel improvements where players are given premium economy airline tickets as well as individual rooms on road trips. In the past, players flew coach and some shared rooms.
• A more liberal free agency system that allows players to become unrestricted free agents sooner beginning next year if they aren’t given the “core” designation by their team. It also drops the number of times a player can be so designated from four to three beginning this year and down to two beginning in 2022.
• Players receive their full salary while on maternity leave, are given two-bedroom apartments for players with children as well as workplace accommodations that provide privacy for nursing mothers.
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