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The Women’s National Basketball Association pays some of the best female players in the world a salary comparable with the average American’s household income. In April 2011, a top player, such as Candace Parker, may garner million-dollar endorsements, but her WNBA base salary hovers about $101,000, far from the salaries of male counterparts in the NBA. To guarantee the league's feasibility, player salaries remain low compared with the NBA. However, many players supplement their incomes.
10th-Year Pay Scale
During the WNBA's 10-year anniversary season in 2006, the league paid an average salary of $47,000 a year and a maximum of $91,000. Fifty percent of the players earned $42,000 or less, the New York Times reported in May 2006. The league places a cap on the amount a team can pay the entire team every year, which stands at $852,000 for the 2011 season, according to Women’s Basketball Online.
According to the Women’s Basketball Online website, the league provides incentives for its most competitive players. The most valuable player earns a $15,000 bonus and a player who receives a league award can earn a bonus anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000. Players on the WNBA championship team earn an extra $10,500.
Many players work overseas for international leagues during the WNBA’s off season to gain more exposure and money. As of April 2011, the WNBA season runs from May to August, and players can play for foreign leagues as long as the schedule doesn't interfere with the WNBA's season. International leagues in Russia, Turkey and Poland are popular destinations for some of the WNBA’s most prominent players. In the 2006 article "More Than Money, Exposure Has Players Hooked," agent Bruce Levy told the New York Times that the average international league pays $20,000 a month for a typical seven-month season. However, 11 months of nonstop play comes with its drawbacks. The physical tax that comes along with year-round play pushes many players to the limit, which leads to more injuries and can ultimately shorten a player’s career.
WNBA vs. NBA
According to Yahoo Sports, the average NBA player earns more than $5 million annually as of April 2011, earning more than 100 times the average WNBA player’s salary. While some WNBA proponents attribute the salary contrast to the man vs. woman debate, some WNBA critics proclaim the league’s novelty and poor audience attendance are to blame. Crowds have steadily decreased at WNBA games since the league reached a peak average attendance of 11,000 during the WNBA’s 1998 season. Since 2006, the leagues has drawn an average crowd of 8,000 people per game, nearly 10,000 less in attendance than the average NBA game, hence the WNBA’s inability to draw profitable endorsement deals.
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- New York Times: More Than Money, Exposure Has Players Hooked; Michael S. Schmidt; May 2006
- Yahoo! Sports: Top WNBA Salaries -- How Do They Stack Up?; Brigitte Yuille; April 2011
- USA Today: NBA Sees Increases in Viewers, Sales, Attendance; April 2011
- Women’s Basketball Online: WNBA Salary Scale
- Cornell University: America’s Working Families; February 2006