How Caitlin Clark’s W.N.B.A. Wage Measures Up Throughout Sports activities

by Christina S. Brown
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After a generational school run at Iowa, Caitlin Clark began her skilled profession this week in Indiana, the place the median school graduate earns $52,267 yearly, in line with the U.S. Census American Shopper Survey.

However Clark isn’t your common younger skilled.

She’s one of many largest stars within the nation with main title recognition and industrial enchantment as she enters the WNBA. She sells out arenas, inked a $28 million Nike endorsement deal and made tv rankings skyrocket — and her professional potential has prompted widespread arguments in regards to the economics of girls’s basketball.

In her first season with the Indiana Fever, she’ll modestly surpass that Indiana median with $76,535 in wage. Even contemplating the WNBA’s five-month season, it’s a pittance in contrast with many different athletes, particularly these hyped as having the potential to vary the trajectory of their sports activities.

Victor Wembanyama, the highest choose within the 2023 NBA Draft, made $12.16 million in his first season, roughly 80 occasions greater than Clark per sport. The NFL’s No. 1 draft choice, Caleb Williams, will earn about $1 million in wage in 2024, plus a signing bonus that can web him upward of $7 million. Even Paul Skenes, who was the highest choose within the 2023 MLB Draft however is much from a family title, signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates value about $9.8 million, which features a $9.2 million bonus.

The WNBA’s revenues far path these of different main North American leagues. However Clark’s wage additionally lags behind professionals in area of interest sports activities like bowling, browsing and bull driving.

The bottom wage for a contracted participant within the Skilled Pickleball Affiliation is $75,000. The highest 5 ranked gamers on the PPA Tour will common $1.5 million this yr in prize cash and payouts. Ten gamers within the Skilled Bowlers Affiliation made extra final yr than Clark’s rookie wage. The Skilled Rodeo Cowboys Affiliation featured 25 bull riders whose paychecks exceeded $76,535 with the top-ranked rider making almost Clark’s whole four-year contract value ($338,056) in 2023 from Nationwide Finals Rodeo earnings.

Clark’s relative small wage has turn out to be such a nationwide dialog that even the president weighed in on it.

One main distinction between the WNBA and its counterparts throughout many different sports activities is that WNBA gamers earn a smaller fraction of league income. Whereas NBA gamers have negotiated a 50-50 cut up of basketball-related earnings, WNBA salaries represented 9.3 p.c of the league’s income in 2023. Kelsey Plum, the Las Vegas Aces star and first vp of the gamers affiliation, has repeatedly stated that WNBA gamers desire a greater piece of the pie, not essentially a uncooked wage bump. “We’re not asking to receives a commission what the lads receives a commission,” she stated. “We’re asking to receives a commission the identical share of income shared.”

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has pushed again on the narrative surrounding Clark’s pay. On the CNBC Changemakers Summit, Engelbert defined that Clark might earn as much as half 1,000,000 in WNBA wages in 2024. Nevertheless, that further compensation depends on Clark utilizing crew and league advertising and marketing agreements in addition to incomes particular person honors and advancing within the playoffs.

Nothing is assured past her base wage, which resembles the paychecks seen in leagues far newer than the WNBA, which is in its twenty eighth season. The No. 1 choose within the Professional Volleyball Federation, Asjia O’Neal, is incomes $60,000 within the PVF’s inaugural season. The PWHL can also be paying its gamers a median of $55,000 in its first yr. The newer leagues have stated that their sponsorships and media rights are necessary income drivers. However the WNBA attracts main sponsors, too, together with Google, Nike and CarMax, and has rights offers with ESPN and Amazon.

Given the WNBA’s place within the main sports activities panorama, maybe it’s unreasonable to match Clark to Wembanyama, Williams or Skenes. However she’s additionally simply being out-earned by the bottom paid NBA participant on a two-way contract ($559,872), some NFL follow gamers ($12,000 per week minimal) and minimum-salary earners within the NHL ($750,000).


 

1.  Future Olympian, 18, earned $80,000 profitable one multi-day occasion this spring and totaled $219,000 in 5 2024 occasions.

2. Finnish professional ranked No. 15, $77,350 prize earnings in 14 occasions, by no means completed increased than third in 2023.

3. Based on Sports activities Enterprise Journal, the Charlotte Hornets entertainer makes an annual wage of $100,000 — not even the very best amongst NBA mascots.

4. Miami Marlins signed the 17-year-old catcher to a 1-year deal value $75,000 within the 2024 class. He’s been assigned to the Dominican Summer season League Marlins within the minor leagues.

5. The MLS midfielder made a $75,325 base wage in 2023 because the 789th highest paid participant.

6. The Skilled Pickleball League base beginning prize cash and payouts for a contracted participant is about $75,000.

7. The golfer made $78,414 from taking part in 11 occasions (greatest end tied for twenty third) in 2023.

8. Regardless of not putting in a majority of competitions, the 20-year-old ranked No. 26 and earned $76,439 in 2023.

9. The chess grandmaster made almost $80,000 for profitable one event — the Grand Swiss — in November 2023.

10. Ranked 481st worldwide in whole earnings, the Fortnite participant gained $83,475 final yr.


The WNBA’s present place in its evolution is usually in comparison with when Magic Johnson and Larry Hen entered the NBA, which spurred a wave of recognition that the league has ridden for many years. When Hen was drafted in 1978, he signed a five-year contract with a median annual worth of $650,000 (that determine doesn’t account for inflation). Johnson’s common wage was $460,000 over his first 5 seasons.

Proponents of the WNBA hope that Clark can assist encourage related rivalries, with rookies like Angel Reese of the Chicago Sky and quite a few different gamers bringing earlier historical past within the NCAA Match and different matchups.

At an April donor occasion, Southern California head coach Lindsey Gottlieb cited Clark’s wage as a cause to advocate for more cash towards ladies’s school basketball. Though Clark and USC star JuJu Watkins have profitable endorsements, Gottlieb stated that neither is “going to receives a commission her worth and value by way of the basketball.”

The hope for Clark and different WNBA gamers is that change is on the horizon. The league traditionally has struggled to maintain its monetary footing via funding. Throughout the previous decade, even legacy franchises such because the New York Liberty and Los Angeles Sparks virtually folded. Groups have lacked sufficient follow services, and gamers have typically competed abroad to complement their incomes.

Now, groups have turn out to be typically extra aggressive and new possession teams in Atlanta, Las Vegas, New York and Phoenix are targeted on making WNBA life extra enticing, fiscally and with perks. The WNBA has pursued extra company partnerships and media offers to enhance the worth of the league. The league had an estimated $200 million in income in 2023, doubling its 2019 whole, in line with Chiney Ogwumike, former vp of the gamers affiliation. The WNBA not too long ago introduced it can spend $25 million in every of the subsequent two seasons on constitution flights. And it hopes a brand new media rights deal — the present one, which nets about $50 million mixed from broadcast companions, expires in 2025 — will present one other inflow of money.

Take into account the NWSL’s new broadcasting deal that pays $60 million yearly in comparison with the earlier quantity of $1.5 million, which helped enhance the wage cap 40 p.c from 2023 to 2024. Now a number of gamers’ contracts pay within the excessive six figures yearly and are valued at seven figures over their lifetime. No WNBA participant has ever signed a million-dollar-plus contract.

That million greenback barrier could fall earlier than Clark indicators her subsequent deal. And but her wage could by no means replicate what different stars get in related positions with no important change within the funds of the WNBA.

(Visible information: Drew Jordan / The Athletic; Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; Pictures of Caitlin Simmers, Caitlin Clark, Hugo the Hornet, Charlotte Thomas, Sofiane Djeffal and Vidit Gujrathi: Aaron Hughes / Getty Pictures, Gregory Shamus / Getty Pictures, Matthew Grimes Jr./ Getty Pictures / Atlanta Braves, Meg Oliphant / Getty Pictures, Sofiane Djeffal / Getty Pictures, Vidit Gujrathi / Hindustan Instances)

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