Landmark labor deal between WNBA and its players

Posted in Employment, labor and pensions

On January 14, 2020, the Women’s National Basketball Association (“WNBA” or “League”) and the players’ union, the Women's National Basketball Players Association (“WNBPA”), announced a new, “groundbreaking”[1] collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) that, if ratified as expected, will significantly expand players’ compensation and benefits.  The eight-year CBA, which will commence with the 2020 season and last until 2027, is expected to provide “the foundation to chart a new course for women’s professional basketball.”[2]

One of the most significant changes for the players is the increase in compensation.   The salary cap will increase by 30 percent from approximately $1 million to $1.3 million, maximum salaries will increase from $117,500 to $215,000, and the League’s top players are eligible to earn additional annual cash compensation of up to $300,000.  Beginning with the 2021 season, there will also be a minimum of $750,000 in prize money for special competitions and a 50-50 revenue sharing arrangement with owners if certain revenue markers are met.  As a result of these changes, this is the first time in history that the average WNBA player salary will exceed six figures.

Players will also see increased family planning and childcare benefits, including maternity leave with full salary; an annual $5,000 childcare stipend; dedicated space in the arenas for nursing mothers; two-bedroom apartments for players with children; and up to a $60,000 reimbursement for veteran players for costs relating to adoption, surrogacy, and fertility treatments.  Further benefits include off-season job opportunities to help players prepare for post-playing careers, increased mental health resources, a holistic domestic violence program, a “Nutrition Counsel,” and access to women’s health experts.  Moreover, during travel, the players are guaranteed individual hotel rooms and premium airline seats.

The free agency rules for players have also been relaxed.  Under the new CBA, players can reach unrestricted free agency one year earlier than the prior agreement, starting with the period leading up to the 2021 season.  Specifically, players who are not designated as “Core” players, who complete the obligations in their contracts and have five or more years of service will become unrestricted free agents.  The CBA will also reduce the number of times that a player can be designated as a “Core” player, allowing a bit more flexibility for players to switch teams. 

There are also provisions that will provide assurances to the League.  Currently, many WNBA players play on two teams (in many cases, on an WNBA team and a foreign team)[3] to supplement their salary and earnings.  This has led to certain scheduling issues, such as players missing the WNBA reporting deadlines due to foreign contractual obligations, as well as player injuries and other risks relating to the overuse of players.  Under the new CBA, there will be a prioritization policy by years four through six, under which players who fail to report on time to training camp may be subject to a season-long suspension.  The WNBA is hopeful that this policy, in conjunction with the increases in compensation and other employment opportunities, will cause the players to prioritize the WNBA over other leagues.

While announcing the new CBA, the WNBA also announced a new program, the WNBA Changemakers, which “brings together values-driven businesses who lead the way in the advancement of women through sports.”[4]  The hope is that these partnerships with well-known organizations will facilitate growth within the WNBA relating to marketing, branding, and the fan experience and, more broadly, support positive changes for WNBA players, female athletes, and women in society generally.   This program, along with the new CBA, underscores the WNBA’s commitment to support the female players in its League, and may pave the way for similar advancements across other women’s sports.

 

 

 

[1] https://www.wnba.com/news/wnba-and-wnbpa-reach-tentative-agreement-on-groundbreaking-eight-year-collective-bargaining-agreement/

[2] Id.

[3] The WNBA provides a list of its players that also play overseas here:  https://www.wnba.com/wnba-players-playing-overseas/

[4] https://www.wnba.com/news/wnba-announces-progressive-wnba-changemakers-partnership-platform-to-elevate-the-wnba-and-womens-sports/

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