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Sorting through the details of the new WNBA CBA

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Connecticut Sun v Los Angeles Sparks - Game Three Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

After months of negotiations between the WNBA and players union and one day before their self imposed January 15 deadline, the league and players have agreed to a tentative new collective bargaining agreement. Robin Roberts broke the news on ABC's "Good Morning America"

Shortly thereafter, the league released a video on the new agreement:

Here are some of the highlights being discussed so far:

Pay

This is the main issue that players have spoken about in recent years. Players in the W have had to go overseas to earn a livable income due to low salaries. That travel has had disastrous consequences for the league as starts like 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart tore her Achilles tendon in early 2019 overseas.

Under this new agreement, players can earn a maximum base salary of $217,500. This can go up to $500,000 when you take other factors into account. According to Matt Ellentuck of SB Nation, minimum salaries for players just entering the league will increase to $57,000 and $68,000 for thise with at least three years. The salary cap will also increase every year by three percent.

In addition, players who have five years of experience, have fulfilled their current contracts, and aren't designated as core players (the equivalent of the franchise tag for the NFL fans out there) can enter unrestricted free agency one year earlier. The amount of times player can be labeled with the core designation will gradually decrease over the years.

In conjunction with the changes in compensation, structure, etc., from Team USA, players will start to see more money coming in soon.

It's an overdue change for the league and represents a well deserved improvement for the players. Having increased financial security at home will allow players the opportunity to give their bodies a full break during the offseason instead of having to travel overseas to make ends meet. Players can provide for themselves, their families, and have the opportunity to bring more money in if some other things break well for them. Not having to worry (as much) about making ends meet is a GIGANTIC stress reliever and players can rest easy knowing that their pay will start to reflect their contributions to the game and their communities. As the financial opportunities for the league grow, the player salaries and share of revenue should and will grow along with it.

Travel

Players and coaches have discussed the poor conditions they fly under and noted that they don't get professional accomodations from the league. In a perfect world, the players in the W would be receiving first class travel amenities like their peers in the NBA, but that doesn't appear to be in the cards.

In the new agreement, players will fly Premium Economy class on all flights and have their own hotel rooms instead of having to share with teammates like they had been doing.

This is an important step forward for the league. How you get to the games and the physical/mental condition you're in has such an effect on your performance and health. By making steps to improve travel conditions, player health will be a little better. As a result, players aren't at as great a risk for injury as they had been and the quality of games will improve as a result. Everybody wins.

Family

2019 USA Women’s National Team Camp Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Dallas Wings point guard missed the entire 2019 season following the birth of her first child earlier that year. In October 2019, the four time All Star revealed that she had received very little support from the Wings and had to take time away from the game due to postpartum depression. Diggins is expected to return to the W in 2020.

Per Howard Megdal in the New York Times,

This agreement also would provide maternity leave with full salary, a dedicated space in arenas for nursing mothers and a $5,000 child care stipend. Veteran players also would be able to seek reimbursement for up to $60,000 in costs directly related to adoption, surrogacy, egg freezing and fertility treatment.

I have to admit, I was under the assumption that players received their full salary while out on leave. Sheesh. That said, I'm glad the players have access to these new benefits. Family planning is

Marketing

The 2021 season will be one to watch for the W. In this agreement, players can achieve a 50-50 revenue split if the league hits certain targets with their licensing, marketing and broadcast partners. This means that the WNBA HAS to do a better job of promoting the product. The league has done a poor job of making merchandise available for purchase and hasn't done enough to link the WNBA with the NBA's marmeting behemoth. Sue Bird spoke about the problem the league has had in marketing the players over the summer and said:

“Whether it’s the 15-year-old boy on Instagram telling us to stay in the kitchen and that we suck or the people on TV saying we don’t have the revenue, they’re basically telling us we have no value. But then we’ll turn around and a major company like Nike will pay us money to endorse their products. Clearly, we do have value. What I think happens is the WNBA isn’t able to really capitalize and be successful because we do go dark for so long.”

The league plans to make up for it by investing close to $2 million in offseason advertising. The also announced their "Changemakers" collective. In partnership with AT&T, Nike, and Deloitte, the league aims to boost the marketing opportunites for players and fan experience at games. They hope to provide more opportunities and an equal playing field for women in sports and other venues.

I talked about how the league can better promote the game here.

Understandably, there are concerns with partnering with large corporations like this. Cat Ariall discussed this in December 2019:

At minimum, it is worth recognizing that working with the WNBA allows major corporations to access cultural capital. A tepid investment in the WNBA and its players is a cheap, easy form of performative progressivism, showing support for women’s empowerment in a way that does not substantially threaten status quo political and economic structures.

This is important to remember. It's one thing to hit all the right notes and say what you plan to do. It's another to actually put that work in to make the change you want to see.

What does it all mean?

Phoenix Mercury v Connecticut Sun Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Connecticut Sun guard Layshia Clarendon explained why the CBA was a victory for the players:

“I think for women who’ve often been underpaid, we know that Black women often are underpaid, and queer people. When you add all the layers on top of that, for us to fight this fight and kind of take our power back.

We set out a year ago, that we’re going to bet on women, that we want more, and that we’re demanding more, and that we deserve more. It’s still sinking in for me — what this means as the foundation we’re setting, what this means in the context of history, and even social justice… What better way to fight for social justice than to do a deal like this?”

This is it right here. The players have been bravely fighting for fair pay, reproductive rights, etc. for years. This CBA is a great first step in the ultimate goal of fair and equal pay. With the improvements in travel conditions, pay, maternity policy, marketing, etc, the league has a great opportunity to advance to the next level and help grow women's sports even further in the United States. There's still plenty of work to do, but we're off to a wonderful start.