The average 2023 WNBA salary currently (as of April 2, 2023) is $147,745. That’ll come down a bit after the WNBA Draft, which is likely to introduce more rookie-scale contracts into the league, assuming some of those players make it through training camps.
In the US, that’s a decent wage, in general, considering the US Census Bureau listed the annual median personal income at $35,805 in 2020. However it’s not a decent wage for a professional athlete. It’s especially not a decent wage for one of the most coveted positions in a women’s sports league that has been around for more than two decades.
The WNBA is the longest-lasting professional women’s sports league in the US, now with 25 plus seasons under its belt. And while the league has found its footing, unfortunately its players struggle to. Each opportunity they get, they continue to fight for more pay.
A spot in the WNBA is one of the hardest jobs in the world to get. For perspective, there are more professional astronauts in the world (560) than WNBA players (144)! Yet, these elite female athletes aren’t compensated relative to the value they’re delivering, with the support of very little marketing.
However, hope is on the horizon. The new eight-year CBA, which began with the 2020 season and runs through 2027, provides the foundation to chart a new course for women’s professional basketball. “With bonuses, players can now make $650,000. For four-and-a-half months of work, that isn’t bad.” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.
So today, we’ll take a look at the new average 2023 WNBA salary, the highest and lowest paid players, and how that stacks up to the NBA (spoiler alert: it’s ridiculous). Plus, we’ll reveal what the coaches in the WNBA might make, and it could shock you.
In 2023, the super-maximum base level salary a WNBA player can make is $234,936. The minimum base level salary is that of a rookie selected in the third round of the draft which is $62,285.
That’s tremendous progress considering that just six years ago in 2016, the maximum income a player could earn was $109,000. However, it’s still dwarfed by previous years’ overseas salaries: In Russia players have been known to make more than $500,000 per season – Sue Bird told 60 Minutes that in Russia she made 10 times her first WNBA salary, which was under $60,000 a year. Even more egregiously, Diana Taurasi sat out of entire 2015 WNBA season because her Russian team, which paid her more than $1 million, wanted her to rest.
As a result, almost three-quarters of WNBA players have played for teams abroad. With some, such as Washington Mystic Kristi Toliver, juggling three teams. For example, a week after Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus finished her seven-month season in Russia with the Dynamo Kursk, she was back in Minneapolis for WNBA training camp. At the time – her eleventh year in the league – that had been her routine for eight years. To make a satisfactory wage, the three-time WNBA champion gave up summers, time with her family and her wife, to play overseas.
Obviously this overseas continual play is hard on the players’ physical and mental well-being – and Russia is no longer enticing due to Brittney Griner’s wrongful detainment. Furthermore, the WNBA team owners don’t like it, because their talent can get hurt, which can cost them their season (for example, Alysha Clark’s injury ahead of the 2021 season). So, this was a big sticking point for everyone in the 2020 CBA negotiations, leading to the prioritization rule.
The result was a nice step in the right direction. WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike and the players did a phenomenal job negotiating the latest the CBA, bringing the WNBA maximum base salary up to $215,000 in 2020, which was a $97,500 increase from even the previous year! Though, it’s worth nothing, that even that new maximum is still a fraction of the millions that top women’s players earn overseas in Russia, China, and Turkey.
When asked if overseas money was life-changing by 60 Minutes, Sue Bird said it was for her. “Absolutely,” she said. “Like, I’m a millionaire because of it.”
The new CBA contract stated that salaries need to begin being paid “on or about June 1.” So the league requires WNBA teams to cut rosters down to 11 or 12 players below the salary cap by the time the season starts. Check out the 2023 salary cap sheet here to see how each team has used their current budget so far.
One other option for top WNBA players to earn more money stateside is that Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird also helped create a plan with USA Basketball to pay members of the Olympic team another $100,000 to train in the United States. When asked how they arrived at the $100,000, Diana said, “Working with USA Basketball, working with other players, that was the number that we felt really comfortable with, that people would want to stay and actually do it.” All in all, things (including the average) in the WNBA are on the up and up!
The average 2023 WNBA salary currently (as of April 2, 2023) is $147,745. The average is generally reasonable to measure as the league standard, because there are no tremendous outliers at either end, skewing the results. The league also created additional bonuses and prize pools in the new CBA that raised the total compensation, the WNBA said:
There are also additional cash compensation elements to consider.
The biggest win here is the revenue sharing, which was set to start in 2021, allowing players an opportunity to profit as they drive profit. Past revenue sharing was tied to ticket sales and provided 20%-30% of league revenue for the players. But the revenue sharing wasn’t triggered because the specified goals weren’t met. Excitingly, the union believes the new revenue-sharing plan has a more realistic chance of benefiting the players. If the league reaches certain revenue markers in broadcast agreements, marketing partnerships and licensing deals, the WNBA and its players could split revenue equally as of 2021. Kelsey Plum recently revealed though that players still don’t make money off their jersey sales in the WNBA. Cash additions include:
In 2021, as part of the WNBA’s focus on innovation, the league launched its inaugural Commissioner’s Cup in-season competition. Conference rivalry bragging rights, a unique Commissioner’s Cup trophy, and a prize pool of a half a million dollars are at stake.
“To have the Commissioner’s Cup come to life in this historic 25th WNBA season [was] a testament to the players, fans, partners and WNBA teams who have supported and driven innovation at the league,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. “Together, we view the Commissioner’s Cup not just as a compelling competition, but as a multi-faceted platform designed to drive opportunities for broader fan engagement, create additional interest around our regular season games, convene around equity and equality themes in our WNBA markets, and provide the players with an opportunity to earn significant cash compensation.”
Another compensation lift comes in the new quality of travel arrangements. Finally, the women have room to stretch out with Premium Economy class status (such as Comfort/Economy Plus) for all players for regular-season air travel. Plus, they can rest better with individual hotel room accommodations for every player. And, there’s also a Player Advisory Panel to address new travel concerns as they occur.
Now, players can receive their full salary while on maternity leave. There’s also a new annual childcare stipend of $5,000. And players with children are provided two-bedroom apartments.
Added workplace accommodations will provide a comfortable, safe and private place for nursing mothers. Finally, new, progressive family planning benefits of up to a $60,000 reimbursement are now included, for veteran players for costs directly related to adoption, surrogacy, oocyte cryopreservation or fertility/infertility treatment.
The WNBA has pledged to work with its affiliated leagues, teams and sponsors to provide off-season job opportunities designed to prepare players for their post-playing careers. They will also help veteran players interested in coaching careers with opportunities.
Because athletes, such as Kevin Love, have become more outspoken about their mental health, positive changes were made for mental health as well. The WNBA enhanced the players’ mental health benefits and resources. And the new CBA also includes an augmented and holistic domestic/intimate partner violence program that includes education and counseling.
Finally, a joint Nutrition Council committed to identifying resources and address proper nutrition to optimize athletic performance was added. And players are now provided access to experts in women’s health, as well as have the opportunity for representation on league policy committees.
All of these wins are a giant step forward. But there is still a significant amount of work to be done to compensate our female athletes correctly.
The highest paid WNBA player in 2023 is every hooper making the $234,936 supermax salary which include Arike Ogunbowale, Diana Taurasi, and Jewell Loyd. While some vets, such as Candace Parker and Breanna Stewart, have taken less pay to be on stacked super teams, supermax player Diana remarked, “I’m not one to take less money. I don’t know about you guys,” during a press conference.
In 2022, Diana Taurasi, Breanna Stewart, and Jewell Loyd were the highest paid players – each at $228,094.
In 2021, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins-Smith, DeWanna Bonner, and Liz Cambage were the highest paid WBNA players. Each player made the maximum base salary of $221,450.
In 2020, DeWanna Bonner, Elena Delle Donne, Emma Meesseman, Liz Cambage, Brittney Griner, Skylar-Diggins Smith, and Sue Bird were the highest paid players at $215,000 when only considering base salary.
This is to be expected. Salaries typically increase sharply after years three and four when rookie contracts are up. At that point, an elite player quickly begins nearing the maximum WNBA salary, while an average player’s salary increases more gradually.
Tune in each year during the WNBA free agency period to find out how this changes.
WNBA rookies typically earn the least money as they are the newest to the league. So the lowest paid WNBA players in 2023 are mostly the new rookies, each of whom will potentially earn $62,285. They’re followed by the players with zero to two-years of experience.
Interestingly, the base salary for the same pick and years of experience increases by 3% year over year. Meaning 2023’s first overall pick will make 3% more in her first year than Rhyne Howard made in 2022.
NIL, combined with the WNBA’s rookie scale, has definitely influenced who’s deciding to declare for the draft this year. Tennessee’s Tamari Key said she’s returning for a fifth year, sharing that she’s been positively impacted by NIL (and enjoys chartered flights) as well as pointing out that the WNBA doesn’t potentially doesn’t have enough open spots which can result in not being guaranteed a “reasonable livable” salary.
“You don’t really have to do anything (in college) except hoop, go to school and make money,” Aliyah Boston said (who did declare for the draft and is projected to be the first pick). “In the real world, all of the sudden everything is coming at you, so I think it plays a major decision.”
Caitlin Clark won’t enter this year due to age limitations, and hasn’t ruled out staying at Iowa for a fifth year. “It’s been hard for a lot of college athletes to decide what to do, just because there are pros to staying in college but also your dream of reaching the next level is right there,” Caitlin said.
However for international players NIL is not quite as much of an incentive to use extra eligibility. Though UConn has developed innovative ways to create revenue streams for their international athletes through merchandise sales such as player-name T-shirts.
Rookie base salaries are not guaranteed, which means players are just paid when they’re actually on the roster, according to the CBA. The CBA also actually allows for rookie scale contracts to fall below the league minimum, in a few select situations (such as hardship contracts).
Base salaries vary depending on how high each player was drafted, with the first four picks in the draft earning $74,305 in 2023. And at the other end of the spectrum, those drafted in the third round will earn $62,285.
“154M…must be nice. We over here looking for a M but Lord, let me get back in my lane.”
That’s a tweet by Las Vegas Aces WNBA sensation A’ja Wilson, about LeBron James’ new contract with the Lakers. And it sure did reignite the debate on gender pay inequality.
The gender wage gap is nothing new, and it’s certainly not just relegated to basketball. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, working women earn 80 percent of what their male counterparts do annually. Furthermore, the gap widens for Black women. Specifically, in 2016, Hispanic or Latina, black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native (AIAN), and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (NHPI) women had lower median annual earnings compared with non-Hispanic white and Asian women full-time workers.
The NBA pays 50 percent of its revenue to its players. According to a Forbes analysis, NBA teams brought in around $5.9 billion in revenue in 2015–2016.
Previously WNBA was required to pay about 20 percent of its revenue to its players if certain goals were hit (they weren’t!). That has been update to 50% with more reasonable goals. You can see how the gap was previously quite wide at 30%.
Though, the gap will still be wide, because the women’s total revenue will be much smaller than the mens. Even 50% of a smaller pie is still a smaller slice. While revenue data isn’t accessible for the WNBA, approximating it puts it at about $70 million in 2019.
Here’s the breakdown: The WNBA brought in a minimum of $45 million through ticket sales (the average median ticket price found on WNBA.com in 2019 was $17.42. Multiply that by 2,614,000 tickets sold – average game attendance was 6,535 fans times 40 games), and in 2016 signed a deal with ESPN increasing what the network pays to broadcast games from $12 million to $25 million per season.
Plus, the league also brings in revenue from merchandise sales, sponsorship, and licensing agreements. So, in 2021, the women could expect about 50% of $70 million. No billions there.
On the other hand, the NBA capped teams at $101.869 million for the 2018–19 season. Under the NBA-NBPA’s collective bargaining agreement, the minimum team salary is $91.862 million. That’s 90 percent of the salary cap, and allows teams to determine mid-level salaries based on the overall, team salary average, while setting the minimum starting salary at $582,186. That’s a lot more ($525,186 – half a million!) than the women’s $58,710 minimum in 2021.
Meanwhile, the average 2020 NBA salary is $7.7 million. That’s up from $6.4 million in 2019. The average WNBA player makes $120,648 a year in 2020. That’s less than an eighth of what an NBA rookie makes ($820,000) on average.
Unfortunately, when you look at the top players, it doesn’t get any better for the females. Consider the Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry, who was the highest-paid NBA player for the 2019 season, at about $40.2 million. Followed by Chris Paul at $38.5 million. Meanwhile, the highest earner in the WNBA at that time was Phoenix Mercury forward, DeWanna Bonner at just $127,000.
While the contrast is large, the new CBA was a positive step towards compensating the women more. Even Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr joined those speaking out in praise of the WNBA’s new labor deal. “I read that they got their own hotel rooms on the road, which may not seem like a big deal to you but it took us forever to get that in the NBA,” Kerr said.
“I think we got that kind of midway through my career, first half of my career. We shared rooms with roommates. If we wanted our own room we had to pay the difference. And that just seemed like kind of a petty thing that the owners were hanging onto, but we could never win that in collective bargaining. And I remember when we finally won it, it was a really big deal.”
Though, the fight is not over. Nor will it be for quite some time. Former WNBA President Lisa Borders told Forbes that bias against female athletes is at the heart of the pay disparity, and that’s one thing that will take generations to change.
“Let’s be clear, there is a lot of sexism that still goes on. People do not believe that women can be superb professional athletes. That frankly is an ignorant perspective, but if you haven’t had the opportunity to see a game, a player, or experienced the game, then perhaps you have an uninformed perspective. We invite folks into the area to actually see a game.”
However, the men of the NBA are on their side. NBA players have expressed their WNBA fandom daily in recent years. Kyle Lowry said, “sick handles,” explaining why he watches the WNBA in a video promoting the league, with Anthony Davis adding, “Mad skills.” And recently, the WNBA hoodie finally got its moment in the spotlight, becoming the hottest item in the still very-much-fashion-concerned bubble, according to GQ.
So the future looks bright, but what exactly can make the future brighter? The most powerful way for the women to raise their wages again in the future may be to strike. According to economics professor Dave Berri in a 2016 radio discussion, “Until very recently in most sports, women have not gone on strike or threatened to go on strike.” And historically, that’s how the most progress was made.
For example, the first time men and women got paid the same amount of money in a sports competition was at the 1973 US Open. There, legend Billie Jean King raised the issue of unequal pay, lobbied hard, and then threatened to sit out. Eventually, Ban Deodorant stepped in to offer equal pay. Which led to the other four major tournaments offering equal prize money to both genders, inspiring the 2017 movie “Battle of the Sexes.”
“She got wages changed by just threatening not to play anymore,” said Berri. “And that really is the story of sports. And we’ve seen this throughout the history of sports. If the players are not willing to walk away, they cannot change their wages.” So don’t be surprised if WNBA players walk the walk once the current CBA expires.
Now that you know more about WNBA players’ salaries, what about the professionals who support them every day? Up next, we’ll check out how much WNBA coaches and referees make. Because without them leveling up, too, the women will have a much harder time taking the game to the next level.
WNBA coach salaries are not public. In terms of WNBA coach contracts, on December 31, 2021, the WNBA announced that Becky Hammon will make her return back to the WNBA as the new Head Coach of the Las Vegas Aces. Becky spent 16 seasons in the WNBA, the first eight with the New York Liberty and the second eight with the San Antonio Stars, before retiring in 2014 as a six-time WNBA All-Star.
Becky’s five-year deal will make her the highest-paid coach in WNBA history, according to The Athletic. ESPN reports, in her eighth season with the Spurs, Becky’s salary was estimated in the $750,000 range, more than twice what some WNBA coaches reportedly make. Owner Mark Davis, who owns the Aces, confirmed that new coach Becky Hammon will be the first WNBA coach to exceed $1 million in annual salary.
The salary is in stark contrast to what the top players in the league are making, which had Liz Cambage speaking out. “Ahhh yes the WNBA where a head coach can get paid 4X the highest paid players super max contract. lmao and y’all think imma spend another season upgrading my seat on a flight to get to games out of my own pocket.” said Aces forward Liz Cambage. Nonetheless, more money to any employee of the league – including coaches – is a step in the right direction.
Though college coaches make more than WNBA coaches, here we’ll take a look at college coaches’ salaries as a very loose reference point. Unfortunately, the pay disparity appears as this level as well: the 2021 men’s Final Four coaches made $1 million more than this year’s women’s Final Four coaches.
The late Pat Summitt of Tennessee was previously the highest paid women’s basketball coach, at $1.125 million per year in base salary. As of 2021, there are now multiple coaches of college women’s basketball making $1 million or more annually, including UConn’s Geno Auriemma at $2,400,000, Stanford’s Tara Vanderveer at $2,279,608, and South Carolina’s Dawn Staley at $3 million plus.
Bonuses also add to the bag. Geno Auriemma’s previous contract held a bonus of more than $130,000 for reaching the Final Four. Meanwhile, Dawn Staley’s previous contract had a $200,000 bonus for making the Final Four. And LSU’s Kim Mulkey’s contract incentives range from $10k-150k, depending on the accomplishment from SEC Coach of the Year to NCAA Tournament rounds.
Recently, beyond performance bonuses from championships, strong season performance has driven higher contracts. In 2021, Georgia extended women’s basketball coach Joni Taylor’s contract through the 2026-27 season with a boost in pay to $850,000. She will receive $925,000 by year six of the new contract.
In addition, Arizona women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes received an effective raise of 34% to $580,000 next season as part of a reworked five-year contract. The deal kept Adia Barnes under contract through 2025-26, with Adia receiving higher salaries every season up to $770,000 in the final year. But after that extension, the school increased her yet contract again, and it is now a five year contract with $5.85 million in base salary compensation.
Most recently, Kim Mulkey’s deal with LSU is set to pay Kim $2.5 million in year one, and will increase to north of $3 million by the end of the deal which runs through 2028-2029, an LSU official told TheAthletic. Kim Mulkey was previously the highest paid coach in the country at Baylor, and many expected her career would finish there.
And Dawn Staley’s now the highest paid women’s basketball coach in the SEC, with her new 7 year $22.4 million contract.
Based on how much money the WNBA players are paid today, it seems unlikely top WNBA coaches make a similar amount to college coaches. Furthermore, many coaches of the women’s game are men today. In fact, there are fewer women coaches today than ever before. When Title IX was enacted in 1972, women led ninety percent of women’s teams.
Now that you know how much money our favorite stars earn, continue to invest in them! Buy tickets and merchandise. And insist that your friends watch the WNBA.