WNBA agrees to 53% pay raise, maternity benefits for players in new collective bargaining agreement

Key Points
  • WNBA players get a 53% increase in total compensation under a new collective bargaining agreement.
  • It also includes paid maternity leave and fertility benefits.
  • The new deal overhauls the structure of the season for women's professional basketball, the league announced Tuesday.
LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 27: WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert addresses the media before the AT&T WNBA All-Star Game 2019 on July 27, 2019 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Brian Babineau | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

The Women's National Basketball Association agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that includes a 53% pay raise and maternity benefits for players and overhauls the structure of the season, the league announced Tuesday.

Starting with the 2020 season, the new eight-year agreement with the Women's National Basketball Players Association includes a new in-season tournament and changes the compensation structure to include a base salary and performance-based bonuses. Players also won some better benefits, including paid maternity leave, fertility and adoption services, marketing and improved travel conditions.

"We approached these negotiations with a player-first agenda, and I am pleased that this agreement guarantees substantial increases in compensation and progressive benefits for the women of the WNBA," the WNBA's first-ever commissioner, Cathy Engelbert, said in a statement provided to CNBC.

WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike said Engelbert "brought her perspective as a former women's basketball student-athlete, her experience as a business professional and her passion for the game to these negotiations."

"We found common ground in areas that confirmed the league's and the players' intentions to not only make meaningful improvements in working conditions and overall professional experience, but also to improve the business with strategic planning and intentional marketing that will keep the WNBA front and center year-round."

Last year, the average pay for a WNBA player was roughly $116,000, the league has previously said. The new agreement raises the base salary to $130,000 and creates additional bonuses and prize pools that raise the total compensation by 53%, the WNBA said. Top players can earn more than $500,000 a year in cash, which is more than triple the current maximum cash compensation, according to the league.

The new agreement, which runs through 2027, will now place a minimum $1.6 million from off-season marketing into a share which the league says will create an additional $300,000 in cash compensation for players to split. The deal also includes an equal revenue split between players and the WNBA's 12 teams starting in the 2021 season and $750,000 in prize money in "special competitions," which could be the reward for the in-season tournament.

By comparison, the average pay for male players in the National Basketball Association for the current season is $7.5 million, according to data compiled by Basketball Reference.

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association have been flirting with the idea of an in-season tournament and playoff reseeding with little fanfare, as some players are against any changes to the regular-season schedule.

The NBA's proposal for a schedule change also includes playoff play-in rounds, which would consist of the 7-10 seeds in each conference on a battle to determine entry and order. The league would also reseed the last four teams that compete in the NBA Finals.

With the WNBA adopting the new in-season tournament format, perhaps the NBA can show its players a tournament-style strategy is useful as it hopes it can reform its schedule amid declining TV ratings.

Another significant change to the collective bargaining agreement, or CBA, is an upgraded travel package for WNBA players. In the former CBA, teams were required to fly coach, but under the new agreement, players are promised "premium economy class" during the regular season. Individual hotel accommodations and full paid maternity leave were also included in the new CBA. For veteran players, the league also agreed to cover up to $60,000 toward the costs of adoption, surrogacy, oocyte cryopreservation or fertility treatments.

"There are significant gains all across the board in this new agreement, and everything is in place for our players and the league to thrive," WNBPA Executive Director Terri Jackson said in a statement.

The new CBA now awaits ratification by the players and the WNBA Board of Governors.