On a recent episode of ESPN’s “The Jump,” ex-NBA player Chauncy Billups and ex-NBA coach Stan Van Gundy said that they believe that WNBA players deserve to be paid more money. The segment came on the heels of the WNBA Players Association telling the league that they are opting out of the current collective bargaining agreement. The players want more money.
I don’t fault the WNBA players for wanting more money. I fault the narrative claiming that one group deserves as much money as another group solely because of gender — the narrative that the utopic desire for gender equality trumps market forces.
Gender wage disparity arguments are a great way to virtue signal. Proclaiming that women should get paid as much as men is a great way for a man to demonstrate his feminist bona fides. Except I don’t know a single person who believes that women should get paid less than men for being as productive while doing the same job. Seriously, not a single person. For example, if a woman made an NBA team, then she should get paid commensurate to her position and contributions to her team. I don’t know anyone who would disagree with that. But the notion that women deserve to be paid more just because they’re women is absurd and counterproductive to my daughter’s future earning potential.
Here’s the thing: the WNBA is not nearly as profitable as the NBA. In fact, in the segment, ESPN’s Rachel Nichols cautions, “Here’s another key point in all this. The NBA makes a profit. The WNBA… according to the league… the WNBA has yet to make a profit.”
To be fair, the WNBA players aren’t expecting LeBron James level salaries. The Players Association wants a higher share of the estimated basketball-related income (EBRI). According to ESPN estimates, NBA players receive around 50 percent of the EBRI; WNBA players receive around 22 percent.
If the WNBA doesn’t make a profit, and ESPN’s sources confirm that it doesn’t, then it bears to reason that the players’ share of the EBRI will be lower. In essence, the owners aren’t making money off the league. The players are, though. As Mark Tatum, NBA deputy commissioner, says, “The league and its teams are committed to an open and good-faith negotiation that is rooted in the financial realities of our business.”
The pushback on that, and one of the more prominent arguments utilized by those who advocate for higher WNBA salaries, is that the NBA doesn’t promote the women’s league enough. Yet, ESPN is constantly promoting the WNBA, as is their right. I see and hear promos for the Washington Mystics, the local WNBA team, all the time. In fact, far more than I see and hear them for the Wizards, the local NBA team. Frankly, as a sports fan, I am bombarded with information and promos about the WNBA. I choose to ignore them and not attend the games because, to be blunt, the product isn’t very good. I have limited time and resources. If I’m going to spend my time and money to watch professional basketball, why would I choose the Mystics over the Wizards? Solely because they’re women? That’s patronizing. (For the record, I have seen WNBA games.)
Circling back to my claim that harping on gender wage-gap disparities potentially hinders my daughter’s earning potential, if employees are forced to pay everyone the same regardless of tenure, efficiency, and production, my daughter is going to see her future employment opportunities constrict. In STEM areas, specifically math and computer programming, my daughter is as capable as (if not more capable than) her male peers. I have zero doubt that one day she will prove herself worthy as an employee and that over time her compensation will match her production. But forcing employers to pay based solely on gender is going to mean that fewer employers will be willing to hire women. They’ll be more prone to hiring men because they’ll be able to pay men based on their production — more bang for the buck, so to speak.
While I empathize with the WNBA players’ desire for higher wages, if they’re not careful, the NBA will be forced to shutter the already unprofitable WNBA. At that point, whatever their salaries currently are will disappear completely.