How Britney Grenier’s conviction shines a light on the issue of equal pay

Katie Lou Samuelson had the perfect shoes to celebrate Memory of the ninth chapter. Before the Sparks’ home game against Chicago Sky on June 23, Samuelson unpacked white tissue paper into a black shoe box to reveal her pair of custom-decorated Puma sneakers.

“Payment for Math” Advertise Samuelson shoes In bold white font across a black background.

The sneakers featured a Title IX memory tag on the back of the left shoe, Brittney Griner’s initials, and number 42 shirt on the right.

Phoenix Mercury Center Arrest and Conviction In Russia, cannabis possession has become emblematic of the pay equity issue that has plagued the WNBA, with even stars like Griner — the WNBA champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist and eight-time All-Star — traveling abroad during the WNBA offseason for paychecks worth more than four or more. Five times what they earn at home.

The international tournaments, created decades before the 26-year-old WNBA, have long been the financial lifeline for American players who spend five months in front of the home crowd and then set off for seven months in Turkey, Spain, Russia, China or Australia.

Exotic locations and huge paydays come at the expense of attending major events like weddings and birthdays or spending time with loved ones, not to mention the extra wear on the player’s body.

A written look at the basketball shoe of Sparks striker Katie Lou Samuelson with “Pay Women Athletes”.

(Icon Sportswire/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Samuelson, who also plays in Spain, can envision the future of the WNBA when players don’t have to play abroad, but the road is out of reach. The regular WNBA season will probably be four or five months longer. Lists will need to expand from 12 players. Salaries must go up.

Steps to reduce the pay gap begin with the development of the WNBA, which is a shared responsibility of the league, players, and agents.

“As women in sports, we have to play the long game,” said Allison Galler, agent representing Cheney Ogomec, Washington forward Elizabeth Williams and Rookie of the Year Michaela Unin.

Increased television ratings and merchandise sales indicate the WNBA’s growing popularity. It’s a recent boom, finding its origin in Bradenton, Florida, where the WNBA staged a pandemic bubble season in 2020. This disastrous year had a ray of hope for the WNBA. Viewership of the WNBA Finals 15% more than the previous year When almost all other leagues were experiencing a huge drop in viewership. off the field, Unapologetic invitation from the players For Breonna Taylor, Black Lives Matter and voting rights have cemented the WNBA’s image as a leader in social justice.

Many companies are championing diversity, equality, and inclusion in the wake of 2020, which should make the WNBA and its players prime targets for endorsement deals from brands looking to connect with younger, digitally savvy and mostly women customers.

‘We are the league that [says] WNBA Commissioner Kathy Engelbert said:

WNBA Commissioner Kathy Engelbert addresses the media.

Addressing the media during the 2020 WNBA Finals, Kathy Engelbert became the league’s commissioner in 2019 with the goal of making the league a thriving business.

(News agency)

Frequent statistic of women in sports It says that only 0.4% of all sports sponsorship between 2011 and 2013 went to women. That little piece is usually dominated by athletes who star in individual sports.

Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams were the only players Among the Forbes 50 best companies this year With 24-year-old Osaka recording the highest paid female athlete in the world. Its estimated total earnings of $59.2 million are ranked 19th overall, and $58 million came from out-of-court deals. Williams received $45 million of the $45.3 million from the court and was ranked 31st.

Engelbert said the highest-earning female tennis player has been every year since Forbes began tracking data in 1990, fostering an ecosystem that devalues ​​women in team sports.

She added, “Before I finish, we’re going to change the broken appraisal model.”

The WNBA is valued at over $1 billion, a significant increase due to the recent capital increase of $75 million. The cash from twenty investors was the largest ever capital increase for a women’s sports property.

Engelbert said the money would be spread over three to five years. It is dedicated to branding and marketing; WNBA globalization; innovation and growth of consumer touchpoints; and human capital and operational improvement, according to a statement issued by the league announcing the deal.

Where it won’t go is the players’ salaries.

although 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement He earned many benefits such as six-figure salaries on average, higher wages for star players and Paid maternity leavePlayers must still secure equal profit sharing.

WNBA players are only guaranteed a 50-50 revenue split if the league achieves specific but undisclosed goals. WNBA revenue reached $60 million in 2018, According to Forbes magazine. The 50-year-old NBA made $7.4 billion that year and has boasted $10 billion in revenue this year.

The dual tasks of increasing revenue and adjusting the CBA, which runs through 2027, make it unlikely that player pay raises will be the next domino to drop in the WNBA wage battle.

“Everyone wants to go straight to the paycheck,” said Samuelson, the former fourth seed who has played on four teams in four years in the WNBA. “But there are a lot of different things that have to be a starting point before that happens, too.”

Aside from the pay increase, players are citing issues such as a lack of charter flights – especially during this tight season when teams often play matches every day – or training facilities. Sparks split their training time between three venues this season: a gym rental in Torrance, the USC Galen Center and at the Arena, where they also play games.

Sparks striker Katie Lou Samuelson followed up with a three-point shot.

Sparks forward Katie Lou Samuelson followed up with a three-point shot during a game against Phoenix Mercury.

(Courtesy of L.A. Sparks)

Major leagues abroad meet those demands out of court. Players are not only paid well, but also play among the elite competition while honing their skills. The development opportunity is especially important for young players who have limited playing time in the WNBA, which do not have coaching teams or a developmental league. The richest teams, including Griner’s UMMC Ekaterinburg, controlled by a couple of Russian oligarchs, have been known to outfit players with their own apartments, their own car service, and luxurious accommodations for travel.

But Galler said the chances of playing abroad are dwindling. She does not believe that any agent will send an American player to Russia in light of the arrest of Grenier, the war in Ukraine, and the Euroleague suspension of Russian teams UMMC Ekaterinburg, Dynamo Kursk and MBA Moscow. COVID-19 has also paralyzed the overseas market.

With WNBA salaries stagnating, “there is a lot of importance to sponsorships and brand partnerships,” said Nika Ogomec, Sparks forward.

Re-creating the WNBA player sponsorship scheme requires sustained and deliberate brand building efforts from individual player agents and the league. Since her first day as commissioner in 2019, Engelbert said the WNBA has had a “marketing issue.” To help resolve it, it attempted to encourage players to remain in the United States during the vacation period in exchange for league marketing agreements that provide compensation for participating in advertising campaigns with WNBA partners.

The hope is to turn players like the league’s most valuable player Jonquel Jones and WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper into household names. But those stars played abroad last year, with Jones playing for Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg, the same club as Griner. Al-Nahhas was chosen as the best player in the Spanish League and the Euroleague.

The marketing money provided by the WNBA cannot yet make up for the difference in an offshore contract that pays anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 a month.

“Is it better for players to be here for marketing purposes?” Galler said. “But the bet is not necessarily higher for every player if they are staying here.”

Engelbert said she would never shut down players’ outside opportunities but wanted them to prioritize the NBA and make the league financially worth it. Engelbert, who is behind the podium at the All-Star weekend, celebrated the progress made at the latter.

During a press conference in Chicago at the league’s mid-season event, the commissioner announced that an additional $1.5 million will be available to players from the league’s suite of marketing agreements. Charter flights to the WNBA Finals were on the way. The total bonus rewards increased by almost 50% to $500,000.

“We’re just trying to get rid of it,” she said at the event.

Engelbert repeated the phrase when describing the WNBA’s journey toward equal pay. No one can solve the problem simply with a comprehensive announcement, but recent progress has made the commissioner, players and agents look forward to a bright future

Nneka Ogwumike said she hopes “it won’t take much longer to see the minimum salary at six figures”.

Engelbert is already exploring cities for potential expansion teams to be launched in 2024 or 2025.

“We’re just going up from here,” Galler said. “We just have to build it.”