Cathy Engelbert Has A Tough Job
WNBA attendance figures will be telling this season by the time we get to September, but the league’s problems have been less about attendance recently and more about pay and travel equity.
Enter new WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert, who not only has to balance the day-to-day operations of the league, but also oversee what could be intense negotiations surrounding the future of the W.
With an embarrassingly low minimum salary around $40,000 and with the max contract a player can make only $113,000, the league needs to update with the times. No one is arguing these women should make as much as NBA players, but a minimum salary of $100,000 should not be hard to come by.
Also, allow the superstars to make more money so they don’t have to go overseas and play a grueling schedule, only to water down the WNBA product in the summer when they are too tired or injured to compete.
The second big issue that Engelbert and the Player’s Association has to figure out is travel. WNBA players don’t get the benefit of charter flights. They have to stick it out in coach with the rest of us. However, that has led to some notable issues like last season with the Aces and this season with the Fever.
This is a tougher one to crack. You have teams scattered all across the country and if the league wants to expand, they will need to figure out the travel issues. Limited charter flights, or more allotted travel time between games might be a necessary piece for players in negotiations.
Room For Optimism
Considering most high-level WNBA players make eight to 10 times what they can make in the WNBA overseas, I thought that a strike was eminent. However, two important bits of news broke over the All Star Week that require some optimism.
First, USA Basketball has come to an agreement with eight of the league’s top players to stay home this winter and start to train for the 2020 Olympics. That is a huge move for both women’s basketball and the WNBA. It should allow more exposure to the league and the level of talent that the USA has in women’s basketball. The league won’t want to ruin that momentum with a strike or lockout heading into the 2020 season.
Secondly, the league released a press statement last Thursday acknowledging that CBA discussions are ongoing. While I’m sure there is a long way to go, it’s encouraging that talks are getting started early.
As someone who actively bets on the WNBA, this news is great, because I was struggling with what to bet on in the summer of 2020 if the league was temporarily shut down. As a fan, I also really enjoy going to games with my kids, so it’s welcome news for those of us who can’t get enough hoops.
Hopefully we’ll know more before the regular season winds down, but I am downgrading my pessimism about the future of the WNBA for now.