A shift in the WNBA season? Show me the money
Would having the WNBA's season run during the fall and winter help improve the league's profitability? That's a question NBA commissioner Adam Silver says he contemplates, according to an interview Friday on ESPN's "Get Up."
"It's been harder to get people to come to the games," Silver said. "It may be because the games are in the summer. One of the things we've talked about is do we need to shift to the so-called more natural basketball season sort of in the fall and winter?"
It's not a new thought. Traditionally the idea goes as follows: Summer is for swimming and flip flops; it's for running outside, not lacing up high tops or sitting in dark arenas. And there's some truth to that argument.
But the WNBA would need to vastly restructure its compensation agreements with players for this thought to ever gain traction.
One of the best things about the league is the number of great basketball players who compete against each other. Fans get to watch Brittney Griner and Sylvia Fowles battle in the post while Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore jockey for position on the perimeter. But many of those top players make the bulk of their paycheck during the WNBA offseason, playing for leagues in Europe and China during the winter.
Shifting the WNBA season would force the top players to decide between larger paychecks overseas or staying home to make what is assuredly less money. If Diana Taurasi's decision to sit out the 2015 season because her Russian club paid her to do so is any indication, the decision to shift seasons wouldn't bode well for the WNBA.
And it's the potential loss of players like Breanna Stewart, Kelsey Plum, A'ja Wilson and Jewell Loyd that should end this conversation before it really starts -- or, at the very least, should renew conversations about player compensation.
The 2018 maximum WNBA salary is about $115,000. Players make many multiples of that abroad (Taurasi was getting paid nearly $1.5 million when she sat out in 2015). No one's asking for NBA-level dollars, as that business model is vastly different. But nearly all WNBA players have multiple jobs, and not in the sense of maintaining endorsement deals and national team commitments (though many of them do). In addition to their WNBA responsibilities, they also coach, call games, manage ice cream shops, publish books, run camps or some combination thereof.
The bottom line: In order to avoid talent-drain, the WNBA needs to pay its top players more if it wants to shift its season. It needs to open up its books and examine its compensation structure. Teams' low salary cap (which is less than $1 million) coupled with the low maximum salary suppresses the values of the league's top players. Yes, you need more spectators in the arenas to get more revenue, so it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. But if Silver is actually serious about this as a possibility, then perhaps the NBA should pony up and write a paycheck for the best women players. Otherwise, the WNBA could lose them forever.
And frankly, who would blame them for leaving?