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WNBA: Shooting for that raise

Basketball

April 25, 2022
JULIO AGUILAR/GETTY IMAGES
JULIO AGUILAR/GETTY IMAGES

The GIST: The WNBA has scored ratings win after ratings win in recent months, and the timing of the rise couldn’t be better. According to a Friday report, the W is aiming to negotiate a new broadcast deal worth $100 million per year, which would kick in for the 2024 season.

The current deal: The league has five national broadcast partners for the 2022 season — ESPN, CBS, Amazon Prime Video, Facebook Watch and NBA TV. The W’s deals with ESPN and CBS are reportedly worth over $25 million per yearcombined, while the details of the Amazon and Facebook partnerships have not been publicly disclosed.

  • Prime Video is one of the league’s newer broadcast partners. The streamer signed a multiyear deal with the W ahead of last year’s 25th season.

The context: If the W can land a $100 million deal, the influx of cash will (hopefully) go a long way to increasing players’ salaries, especially with lucrative international options coming off the table.

  • Russia’s war with Ukraine, the subsequent economic strife and the arrest of Brittney Griner makes it an unattractive — and possibly dangerous — destination. Meanwhile, China’s COVID-19 restrictions led the U.S. to encourage citizens to leave.
  • Many players would prefer to not go overseas, but as Connecticut Sun forward Jonquel Jones says, domestic and international salaries are currently “not comparable.” She reportedly earns around $200K a month with Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg — her annual salary in the W. Shocking.

Zooming out: The W has quickly become the example of tangible growth in women’s sports in the U.S., and it’s past time for a media deal to reflect how the W stacks up. The league averaged 306K viewers per game during the 2021 regular season, similar to MLS viewership at 384K.

  • The big difference? MLS boasts a $90 million broadcast package with ESPN, Fox and Univisión, well over double the W’s current agreement. A new media deal with more accurate valuation could cement the W as the proven sports entity it is.
  • A dramatic increase in broadcast valuation would also naturally increase the figures on agreements with new — and existing — sponsors. Pro tip to all brands: act on the W, like, yesterday.