The Women's National Basketball Association has steadily gained popularity and revenue since the league was founded in 1996. Despite this, player salaries have struggled to keep pace. In the 2019 season, the minimum salary for a player with two years of service was set at $42,728 annually, compared with a median income of $48,672 for the typical worker in the United States at the end of 2019. 

Players will make more from 2020 onward, thanks to a new eight-year collective bargaining agreement signed in January 2020. The WNBA says top athletes can earn more than $500,000 annually, while the average player can earn $130,000. The minimum salary for a player with two years of service rose to $57,000 for the 2020 season, and is scheduled to climb 3% annually through 2027.

However, female pro basketballers still earn a fraction of what their male counterparts make, where minimum salaries were set at $815,615 annually under the current collective bargaining agreement for NBA players.

Key Takeaways

  • The minimum salary for an WNBA player with two years of service will rise from $42,728 annually to $57,000 beginning in 2020.
  • Core players will go from making $117,500 in 2019 to earning $215,000 in 2020.
  • WNBA players can now earn 50% of league revenue, provided revenue targets are hit.

A New Deal for WNBA Players

The new collective bargaining agreement reached in January 2020 offers significant salary improvements and other benefits for WNBA players. An athlete designated as a "core player" will earn $215,000 in the 2020 season, rising 3% annually through 2027. Under the old contract, a core player earned $117,500 in 2019 and would have earned $119,500 in 2020.

Teams can also offer players more to stay home (and stay fresh) during the off-season, when it's common for athletes to supplement their income by playing in overseas leagues. Teams can now pay top talent a maximum of $100,000 to stay home and perform marketing and promotional activities. This rises to $150,000 in 2023. Under the old contract, teams could pay a time-off bonus of no more than $50,000.

The league itself will spend at least $1 million annually for marketing and promotional activities, capped at $250,000 per player.

There is also more opportunity for players to participate in the league's success. Under the old contract, players earned just 15% to 20% on ticket revenue once targets were hit. The new contract provides a 50% revenue share on league revenue from the 2021 season, provided revenue targets are hit.

WNBA Salaries Versus NBA Salaries

Though WNBA players earn more under their new contract, annual compensation pales in comparison to their counterparts in the National Basketball Association, where the maximum salary for top players is set at $30 million per season. (For related reading, see How the NBA Makes Money.)

Nowhere is the pay disparity more evident than in compensation schedules for rookie athletes. The top four female draft picks earn just $68,000 in their first season in the WNBA. Meanwhile, the top draft pick in the NBA earns more than $8 million in his first season.

First-year rookie salaries
Pick WNBA (2020 season) NBA (2019-2020 season)
1 $68,000 $8,139,400
2 $68,000 $7,282,500
3 $68,000 $6,539,800
4 $68,000 $5,896,400
5 $62,500 $5,339,400
6 $62,500 $4,849,600
7 $62,500 $4,427,100
8 $62,500 $4,055,700

Source: WBPA, NBPA. 

It's not a pro basketball thing. Of the 60 athletes that Forbes ranks as the best paid in 2020, just two are women: Serena Williams (ranked #33) and Naomi Osaka (ranked #29).

Meanwhile, average attendance figures for WNBA games are about one-third those of NBA games. The WNBA's 12 teams reportedly drew an average of 6,500 fans per game in the 2019 season. The L.A. Sparks was the best performing team, drawing about 11,300 fans per game. N.Y. Liberty was at the bottom, drawing just 2,200 fans per game. In 2019, the top team in the NBA drew a reported 20,400 fans per game, while the bottom team drew 14,900 fans per game.