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  • Kody Bair

Dear Sports Fans, It's Time to Give Female Athletes the Respect they Deserve

One week ago, on Friday, October 8th, WNBA player for the Phoenix Mercury, Diana Taurasi, and two teammates had to charter a private plane so that Taurasi could get to Arizona from Las Vegas after game five of the WNBA semifinals in order to be present for the birth of her second child. This was a last-minute plane ride that Taurasi and her teammates had to pay for.

In regard to this, Taurasi said, “We pay for everything...It’s frustrating because there are people who would like to help, and it’s against CBA rules and this, and I understand there’s a standard to make sure everyone is on the same playing field. So, thank you to my Russian buddies for that.” When talking about her Russian buddies, Taurasi is alluding to when she played overseas. Playing in Russia she earned an annual salary in the seven figures ($1.5 million), making her able to comfortably afford a charter on a private plane. In the US, in comparison to the $1.5 million that Taurasi made in Russia, the WNBA supermax contract is $221,450. The United States is falling behind.

Not only was this a disappointing situation, but the entire Phoenix team had troubles due to the lack of assistance from the WNBA. The Phoenix Mercury flew back to Phoenix on Saturday morning and didn’t get back until Saturday afternoon for a WNBA Finals game taking place on Sunday. This is because the Mercury were not able to leave until 10 AM that Saturday. Therefore, the squad didn’t even get to touch the court until tip off...of the WNBA Finals. In situations like this, how do we expect high-quality basketball? Many people say they don’t watch the WNBA because it is “boring” or “low-quality.” Any consistent low-quality basketball from these female athletes is not due to a lack of skill, it’s due to the fact that they are hardly treated as professional athletes. It’s a simple choice: Either give WNBA players the salary and benefits needed in order to function as professional athletes or don’t be surprised when they don’t.

There are many issues that lead to WNBA players not having fair salaries and plenty of solutions to go along with them. For one, the WNBA has a major distribution issue. NBA players receive 50% of the money that the association generates. WNBA players receive only 24% of the money that the WNBA makes. Less than a quarter of the league’s earnings and less than half of the percentage compared to their male counterparts. The average NBA player earns roughly 3% of their team’s total revenue. The average WNBA player is paid approximately 1.5% of the team revenue. When comparing the separate leagues' major stars, the results are even worse. Steph Curry, the highest paid player in the NBA, earns about 19% of the Golden State Warriors annual revenue. In comparison, DeWanna Bonner, who signed a contract close to the same time as Curry, becoming the highest paid WNBA player at the time, only earns about 2% of the Connecticut Sun total revenue. Things are improving, such as the WNBA max contract is paying more now than when Bonner signed hers, but there is still much more work to be done.

One thing that must be done to generate more revenue for the WNBA, is an improvement in marketing. Go look at SportsCenter or ESPN on social media and look at the lack of coverage the WNBA Finals are getting compared to the NBA Preseason. It’s majorly disappointing but I would be lying if I said it was shocking. Sports social media posts mostly NBA coverage and add in one or two WNBA posts to make themselves look good and progressive and they call it a day. It’s not often and it’s not genuine. That must change. Posting WNBA highlights and news will of course come with “who cares” and “who is that?” hate comments, but the only way to eliminate those is to normalize WNBA getting coverage on social media. People “don’t care” because they’re not told they should. People don’t watch because they’re not informed.

The NBA spent $934 million on marketing in 2017. The WNBA spent only $1 million on marketing and promotion of its own players this season. The compensation for WNBA athletes from their own sponsorships is limited to $250,000 per season. The WNBA-as well as other sponsors, networks, and providers-do a substandard job at marketing their female athletes. That is why you don’t know many WNBA players' names, not because they’re boring. Fixing this is simple, and it goes back to giving female athletes media coverage. ESPN networks aired 36 WNBA games in the 2019 season. In 2021, they aired 88 and marketed them as so. In result, WNBA’s ESPN viewership was up 74% after only five games. There’s no elaborate plan necessary to improve the WNBA. Give the female athletes an opportunity to build their platform, and they will; and when they do, for goodness sake, let them reap the rewards of it. Put female athletes on television, post their highlights, and let them do the rest. Because whether the haters like it or not, WNBA players can ball.

On an individual level, what can we do? For starters, Game 3 of the WNBA Finals is tonight between the Phoenix Mercury and the Chicago Sky at 9 PM Eastern Time on ESPN2. After that, either the Sky or Mercury play to win the WNBA Finals while the other team fights to force a game five on Sunday at 3 PM on ESPN. Tune in and support. Be active in watching the finale of this WNBA season. Watch it and talk about it. You might just find a new favorite sport to watch in the summer.

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