Why WNBA Players Are Over (Not Under) Paid

Authored by Tho Bishop via The Mises Institute,

It is a credit to the economics profession that the labor theory of value has largely fallen out of style. There is, however, one sector of the economy in which it continues to be taken seriously: sports.

The latest example of this economic fallacy emerged when A’ja Wilson of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces took to Twitter to poke LeBron James’s new contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“154M. must.be. nice,” wrote Wilson.

“We over here looking for a [million] but Lord, let me get back in my lane.”

When she received push back on comparing her value to one of the greatest players of all time, she responded

“Ohh, it’s about skill set? [B]ecause I heard a bench player gets paid more than … nvm.”

In her defense, Wilson is a 21-year-old athlete who probably hasn’t thought a great deal about economics. It’s understandable for someone in her position to be envious of the paychecks earned in major professional sports leagues. Unfortunately Wilson’s thoughts reflect a growing trend of sports commentary looking at the plight of the “underpaid” WNBA player. Lisa Borders, president of the WNBA, has even directly pointed to sexism as a driving reason for the discrepancies between the earnings of male and female players.

Of course, the real issue has nothing to do with sexism and everything to do with the fact that the WNBA simply isn’t very popular with Americans. 

For example, last month the WNBA averaged 250,000 viewers per game with a high of 378,000. Relative to the history of the league, this was an extraordinary success, up 39% from last year. By comparison, last year’s Professional Bowling League averaged 650,000 viewers for ESPN. So even relative to other non-major professional leagues, the WNBA struggles for relevance. 

Is it possible, however, that this simply shows an inherent sexist bias by consumers against women’s basketball?

Unfortunately the “blame the patriarchy” narrative doesn’t hold up when you compare the WNBA to the college game. This year’s Women’s NCAA Championship managed 3.5 million viewers on ESPN this year — down 9% from 2017. Meanwhile last year’s WNBA championship series averaged 487,000 viewers, with a high of 597,000 for Game 1. These numbers were promoted by the league as the highest since 2003.

Of course, TV ratings themselves are less important to this topic than dollars attached to their television contracts, and to the WNBA’s credit ESPN doubled the value of their contract with the league to $25 million a year in 2016. This has led David Berri of Forbes to argue that because WNBA salaries make up less than a quarter of league revenue, as opposed to the NBA’s 50% split, the WNBA is clearly exploiting their players. Undermining Berri's position is the simple observation that revenue is not the same as profit — another measure by which the WNBA has consistently struggled. As the New York Times reported in 2016, only half of WNBA teams have managed to become profitable 20 years after the league's founding.

A case can actually be made that WNBA players are actually overpaid relative to what consumers actually want. After all, the WNBA is subsidized by the NBA in a variety of ways including direct financial support, free publicity, and the fact that many WNBA franchises are owned by the city’s NBA owner. In fact, the WNBA’s big television contract was itself a byproduct of the channel reworking its agreement with their male counterpart.2 So instead of grumbling about the salaries male basketball players enjoy, perhaps A’ja Wilson should be thankful that the men's product helps bolster her own paycheck. 

At the end of the day, just about any article focusing on how athletes are either under- (or over-) paid stems from the fallacious view that their compensation is an inherent product of their labor, rather than the subjective values of consumers. 

The financial success of professional athletes has almost nothing to do with their talent and everything to do with the entertainment the public receives from it. LeBron James is one of the greatest athletes in human history, but if his sport of choice generated the public interest the WNBA has, he would not be signing a $154 million dollar contract. This also helps explains why e-sports players are making more money than the best in the WNBA. No pain can still result in financial gain.

Of course consumer preferences can change. Perhaps the American public will come to appreciate the strong fundamentals of the WNBA and, as a result, salaries will improve. Until then, women basketball players should perhaps look for markets that place greater value on their skill. Like Russia.


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In reply to by johnQpublic

cbxer55 Adolfsteinbergovitch Thu, 07/12/2018 - 00:46 Permalink

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In reply to by Adolfsteinbergovitch

Curiously_Crazy johnQpublic Wed, 07/11/2018 - 22:54 Permalink

The annoying thing is that it's being forced down Joe Sixpacks throat.

They telecast womens sport before the mens game, constantly hype up how 'exiting' it will be, hold the game in a stadium that can hold 80,000 yet during the game it's so quiet you could hear a pin drop. How can that not be embarrassing for them?

It's always womens sports they are continually promoting - probably believing if they keep floggin a dead horse it might actually get up.

Re pay - Womens netballers get paid infininatly more than Mens netball players who don't get paid at all (and isn't televised where as the womens is) but no one says anything about that. I couldn't give a fuck about any sport period but it's funny how that's pushed under the rug.

In reply to by johnQpublic

Antifaschistische toady Wed, 07/11/2018 - 20:35 Permalink

look...lower the rim at least 12 inches...shorten the court by about 10 feet, make it two feet narrower, change the rules in a way that makes this game a little more exciting.  You don't need WNBA to be the minor leagues for the NBA...change it up!!!   it's tooo boring!!!

In reply to by toady

not dead yet NoPension Thu, 07/12/2018 - 03:40 Permalink

Bimbo pro golfers mouth the same thing. We're as good as the men, they aren't, so we deserve the same money. Difference is most of the women's tournaments are lucky to draw flies let alone paying patrons. Same goes for the Senior Tour, WEB.com. and European tours. Almost all of the PGA draw huge crowds. Phoenix will do over 100,000 a day. If the bimbos want equal pay then tee it up with the men from the same tees. Just like in business where the women demand pay and promotions equal to the men even though they put in far less time and effort.

In reply to by NoPension

jin187 Antifaschistische Thu, 07/12/2018 - 00:20 Permalink

I've been saying that for awhile.  Women playing regulation mens' basketball is just aesthetically unpleasing.  A smaller ball for their smaller hands, lower goal so we can see them do cool dunks, and a closer three-point line so we don't have to see their weak wrists chuck up air balls that are so ugly, you'll wonder if you're watching Special Olympic basketball.  Those changes would at least make it watchable.  Popular, probably not, but maybe more popular.

In reply to by Antifaschistische

jin187 toady Thu, 07/12/2018 - 00:13 Permalink

ESPN won't let it go bankrupt.  It certainly should have, would have by now, if it wasn't being propped up by liberal do-gooders.

Why would we watch a sport where the so-called professionals would get boat raced by a slightly above average high school mens' team?  Give me womens' tennis, golf, softball, bowling, pool, etc.  Seeing a chick bowl a 290, or drive a ball 2-feet from the cup from 250 yards is a thing of beauty that 99.99% of men will never do, thus it's worthy of the title "professional".  I don't care to see a basketball game where the 7-footers can barely jump high enough to touch the rim.  All the Ivy League schools have well-coached teams with great fundamentals, too.  Should we start the WPNBA for the white preppy guys that can't jump?

That said, Candace Parker is fine as fuck, and should use her "personalities" in a profession that makes her some real money.

In reply to by toady

helloimjohnnycat Quantify Wed, 07/11/2018 - 20:48 Permalink

The NBAnana  should change the ball to an inflated banana.

Then we'll see who can dribble & control that thing.

Most of the time, the big apes are running / traveling with it in dere paws anyway.

The hoop will be changed from round to banana-shaped & set flat. Both curved ends will face the court.

Da 'naner must go in sideways to count. It cannot be tossed or stuffed through with either pointed end first. Too easy.

That concept might take half the niggers a few extra days to get the hang of thangs, but soon enough, they'll adjust or be benched.

Now then, about fouling, & I'm glad ya'll asked.

Any nigger foulin' anudder nigga' will be set on a " throne " 10 feet above the court.

A bucket of poo with proper consistency will be lowered and the fouled nigger will reach in and get its ape-self a pawful.

It will be made into a proper-sized crap-ball and he will then poo-sling it from 30 feet away at the fouler nigger.

Each nigger baller will have a target on its monkey-jersey. If the target is bulls-eyed, that's a 1-point score.

If the fouler gets shit-faced, that's a deuce.

Monkey-shines galore.

As the game wears on, court-side Hollywood sluts & celebrity coal-burners will have been wetting themselves in anticipation of shit-covered fouler monkeys going after an errant banana-ball, and " oops ", landing in their heated laps.

The true purpose of the banana ball will soon be discovered.




In reply to by Quantify

motoXdude Wed, 07/11/2018 - 19:49 Permalink

OK... now the Female (Are they really FEMALE when you look at them) version of throw the ball into the hoop brings us more NOTHING!  Time-outs, obnoxious fans, and the eternal sound of Chinese-made Nikes squeaking on the court's floor and all the grunts and groans in the process.   I'd rather watch a triple heart bypass in 4k with Dolby Surround Sound.   Sorry, but once the score exceeds 7 or 8 on either side I know it's just a time-wasting event!  you lost me at 6!  Enjoy the Commercial Interruptions!  NEXT!

exartizo Wed, 07/11/2018 - 19:50 Permalink

There is simply Nothing More Grotesquely Disturbing than watching a bunch of women dressed like men run up and down a basketball court trying to act like professional male athletes (men).

It's a Perversion of the natural truth and reality that men are physically strength superior to women to insinuate that women could even remotely compete on the same basketball court as professional male basketball players.

Basketball, by definition, is a Men's Sport. Always has been. Always will be.

Go back to your ballet shoes and tutus WNBA GIRLIES.

truthalwayswinsout Wed, 07/11/2018 - 19:52 Permalink

We need equality in sports. We need integration in sports.

Sports discriminates against older people, and nerds and the unfit. We need to be more inclusive. Teams should be gender neutral, age neutral, race neutral and properly representative all races.

I have found when you confront the socialist morons with the idea that sports needs to be the leader in race and gender equality they quickly shut their snow flake mouths and understand just how stupid the idea of race and gender equality in anything is just plain wrong.

Antifaschistische What is The Hedge Wed, 07/11/2018 - 20:53 Permalink

speaking of which....you make an excellent point.

When I watch a soccer game, and the team is from (let's say) Nottingham England (for example).   I'm sick of seeing a bunch of dudes from Africa.

I love the World Cup games....and I love watching dudes from Africa, or Brazil, or Japan, or whatever...but...who wants to watch the Nottingham Nickers with a bunch of dudes from numbabwe!!

In reply to by What is The Hedge

STP What is The Hedge Wed, 07/11/2018 - 22:38 Permalink

It's all fixed anyways.  It's a bunch of bogus bullshit.  Every year, it's always seven games. Has to be, for the TV revenue.  So the other team just lays back a little bit on the defense and lets the other team, easily sink hoops, which ain't hard to do.

What's hard to do, is being a Hockey Goalie, because every goal the other team scores, is technically their fault, even if the defense is lacking (like Las Vegas).

PS: Love how the Golden Knights did, but they didn't have the 'Shooters', like Oshie, Ovechky, Smith-Pella and others on the Caps.


In reply to by What is The Hedge

McDuff71 Wed, 07/11/2018 - 19:53 Permalink

...the question is why don't more women watch this crap instead of whining and complaining about men not wanting to watch it...vote with your feet women/lgbtxyzabc kind and pay with your hard earned to support your own kind; men have been doing it for years!!!