Opinion: Historic CBA elevates WNBA as progressive, aggressive league

WNBA players wanted higher salaries, better family benefits and improved travel accommodations.

They got all three in an eight-year collective bargaining agreement that was tentatively reached between players and the league Tuesday.

It’s not often two sides in professional sports are equally bullish on CBA agreements. But that was the message delivered by WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, who said, “the time is now for women’s sports,” and Women’s National Basketball Players Association president and Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, who said the league and players made “meaningful improvements in working conditions.”

The agreement aims to make the WNBA a thriving and sustainable business model for teams and players and one that will create growth and opportunities for future generations.

The improvements are significant, and while it’s certainly a win for the players, it might also be a win for the league, which is betting on its players (their on-court talent and off-court marketability) to help create revenue streams that will benefit both sides.

Engelbert, who was the first female CEO at Deloitte, is ambitious and determined to make that happen. She wouldn’t have made this deal if she didn’t believe there is money out there for the WNBA. She is a fierce advocate for the players and already is making deals.

The league also announced the WNBA Changemakers program which will bring businesses together, including one new sponsor, and provide financial and value-driven support. Engelbert pointed out 1% of global corporate sponsorship dollars go to women’s sports. Obviously, there is room for the WNBA to secure more.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert (Photo: Patrick Semansky, AP)

Pay has been an issue – and we’ve seen this issue play out in women’s soccer – and there is now a commitment that will raise the average cash compensation salary to $130,000. The top players can earn a max salary of $215,000 – an increase from $117,000 – with the possibility of reaching more than $500,000 in compensation from marketing agreements and bonuses.

There is also the possibility of players getting a 50-50 split of league revenue – similar to the agreement between the NBA and its players – if the league reaches certain monetary benchmarks through broadcast agreements, marketing partnerships and licensing deals starting in 2021. That would also push salaries higher.

As important as the compensation is, the family benefits are just as important and maybe even more so when it comes to personal life.

Players will receive full salary while on maternity leave, up from 50% of their salary, and receive a $5,000 stipend for child care. Apartments, which are provided by teams, will include two bedrooms for players with children, and there will be “safe, comfortable and private” workplace accommodations for nursing mothers. Also included: up to $60,000 reimbursement for veteran players for adoption, surrogacy, oocyte cryopreservation or fertility/infertility treatment.

There are also significant mental health/well being initiatives for players.

The league and players also improved quality of travel by giving players comfort/economy class for all flights and individual hotel rooms.

Were there concessions? Yes. Players must report to training camp on time, meaning players on European teams will have tough decisions to make. It’s common for WNBA players to also play in Europe to supplement their income, but with the league trying to elevate its position with corporate sponsors, fans and potential fans, it needed to make itself the top priority for players. It’s an agreement the players understood was necessary to reach short- and long-term goals.

The NBA and by proxy the WNBA have promoted themselves as progressive leagues, and this deal delivers on that point.

Follow NBA columnist Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter. 

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