A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that the President of the WNBA had resigned to take a new executive position and that the new person in her seat would likely have to deal with new CBA negotiations very soon. Well, it happened late last week; the WNBA players’ union has opted out of the existing CBA as of the end of the 2019 season meaning that negotiations for a new CBA can start now. As is always the case, money is the fundamental issue in the upcoming negotiations.
WNBA players have been unhappy with the league’s salary structure for a while now. The league minimum for players is $39K and the league maximum is $115K. Several of the players choose to play internationally during the WNBA offseason to “make ends meet”. That situation has never gone down well. The irritation over this issue has been increased recently by the NBA’s announcement that it will offer elite high school prospects the option to sign a 1-year $125K contract to play in the G-League as their way to become eligible for the NBA Draft; these would be collegiate one-and-done players who would likely not attend more than a dozen classes in their year on campus. WNBA players look at the money to be made available there and ask, “What about us?”
These negotiations will go on for a while but let me put some financial framework around the situation so you can calibrate the stories you will read along the way that are released by either side in the matter:
- The NBA owns 70% of the WNBA.
- The WNBA has lost money every year of its existence over the past 20 years or so. The NBA accounting says the WNBA lost $12M in fiscal year 2017.
- Given the NBA’s revenues approximating $7B, a $12M loss is almost petty cash.
- NBA players get about 50% of the league revenues. WNBA players get about 20% of league revenues. Nonetheless the WNBA continues to lose money.
- WNBA TV ratings this year were the highest ever. However, that does not mean those TV ratings are good.
- The WNBA has “partnered with” a daily fantasy sports site for whatever that means.
- There is now a WNBA video game available.
The data I would like to know here is rather simple and direct:
- Of the 12 WNBA entries, how many of the individual teams operate in the black – without any fancy accounting legerdemain?
- Of those franchises that operate in the black, how many would do so without any sort of subsidy from the NBA or the NBA team with which the WNBA team is affiliated?
Over the past year or two, the WNBA has made some major changes regarding the venues for their games. The biggest news was that the NY Liberty would no longer play home games at Madison Square Garden and would play in a much smaller venue. Here in the DC area, the Washington Mystics will not play in the Capital One Arena but will now play in a smaller arena in DC that holds a maximum of 4000 fans. [The Washington team in the G-League will also play their home games in this venue.]
From the perspective of someone who has no particular interest in the outcome of any new negotiations here, this strategic move to smaller arenas to better manage operating costs is also an admission that the WNBA product is not nearly as appealing as the rosy projections have been for the growth of this league over the past 2 decades. If Wikipedia is correct, there are 15 high schools in the US with basketball seating capacities of 7000 or higher; that makes a 4000-seat arena appear rather junior varsity.
Switching gears… The college basketball season is about to get underway. There is an unusual rhythm to college basketball these days.
- The season begins with various tournaments where at least a couple of the nominally top teams enter and often play one another.
- Then the season devolves into “December Blowouts” that are meaningless and bordering on annoying.
- In January conference play begins and interest begins to build again.
- Then comes March Madness and everyone focuses on college basketball.
With regard to the early season tournaments, there has been a new one added this year for late November. It will take place in Las Vegas and feature Michigan State, Texas, UCLA and UNC. That is an interesting field; and if you are wondering what might bring those schools together for a tournament since they are all in different conferences, consider that the games will be on FS1 meaning there is TV money for the schools to split.
File this under “Learning from Experience”:
- Note that the UCLA basketball team did not choose to take a week or so trip to China in early November this year…
During the NBA off-season, the Washington Wizards acquired Dwight Howard; this will be his 15th year on the NBA; for his career, he averages 17 points per game, 13 rebounds per game and 2 blocked shots per game. That is not too shabby… And that is why it is interesting to note that Howard has been the NBA’s version of “one-and-done” with teams since the 2015-16 season. Three teams – the Rockets, the Hawks and the Hornets – have all bid him adieu without receiving any recompense that might be appropriate for someone with Dwight Howard’s production. He also had a one-year tenure with the Lakers back in 2012-13. Howard has – rightfully or wrongfully – developed a reputation as a guy that messes up locker-room/team chemistry.
Last week, Howard made his debut with the Wizards; he had to sit out the first half-dozen games nursing an injury that was variously described as a sore muscle or muscles in either his “lower back” or his “hip area”. Personally, I am hoping that it is eventually revealed to be a muscle in his butt because that will set up “pain in the ass” lines somewhere down the road.
- Am I a bad person wishing for that?
Finally, since today’s rant has dealt with basketball and finances associated with basketball, consider this item from Brad Rock in the Deseret News.
“American CEOs earn 312 times what the average worker makes.
“Latrell Sprewell’s first thought: ‘Hey. They got families to feed’.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………