Russia’s jailing of WNBA player Brittney Griner has prompted some silly opinions from mainstream media, but none is more silly than the ongoing complaints about the “pay gap” between the WNBA and NBA.
MSNBC decided that Griner’s release was the perfect opportunity to remind everyone that economic education is not a requirement to work at the outlet, echoing a March article written by columnist Dave Zirin, which correctly noted that several WNBA -Players play overseas to supplement their league salaries. MSNBC calls this an “insane pay gap,” and Zirin wrote that WNBA players “earned a microcosmic fraction of what the men earn.”
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But if there’s a “pay disparity” here, it’s only because the NBA even allows the WNBA.
According to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, the WNBA has lost an average of $10 million each year since its inception. The league only generates $60 million in revenue and makes no profit. The NBA generates about $8 for comparison billion in sales.
The two leagues are in no way comparable, except that they are both basketball leagues. The NBA is an entertainment juggernaut watched by millions across the country. People all over the world know the names of the league’s biggest stars. The average NBA regular-season game draws between 1.4 million and 3.03 million viewers, depending on which network it is broadcast on.
In 2022, the WNBA set an attendance record averaging 379,000 viewers per game.
When Zirin describes that the league would need “robust investments” to fill that gap, he means burning millions (or billions) of dollars. The leagues just aren’t alike in terms of athleticism – in fact, the gender gap is arguably wider than in any other sport. If you’re able to find team owners willing to burn their money from the goodness of their hearts – or male players willing to take huge pay cuts – then go for it. On the other hand, they will probably behave in the same way as the Russian oligarchs that WNBA players abroad are already dependent on. (Or Chinese communists in the case of New York Liberty owner Joe Tsai).
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This “pay gap” is not due to gender. It depends on the number of viewers and the entertainment value. It would be nice if WNBA players didn’t feel the need to play overseas to supplement a $60,000 minimum salary (which is nothing to scoff at for a part-time job), but sexism and “justice” have nothing to do with this one . You can’t just throw hundreds of millions of dollars into a “supercharged marketing scheme” and expect the WNBA to match the NBA’s popularity. That goes double when the WNBA tries much harder than the NBA to alienate as many potential viewers as possible.
If the league wants to increase its viewership, perhaps it should start by addressing that issue and not rely on mainstream media whining for higher salaries.