W.N.B.A. It makes a “big bet on women” with a new contract

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The W.N.B.A. and his players union have signaled a radical change in the way female athletes should be compensated with a tentative contract agreement that would dramatically increase salaries and provide generous maternal benefits in a move that Commissioner Cathy Engelbert called “a big bet for the women”.

The implications of the agreement go far beyond basketball at a time when women around the world demand higher wages and benefits, on their own merit and as a challenge to a historically unequal salary that leaves them earning less than men for a similar work. The retreat has been most visible in football, where the US Women’s National Team has sued its governing body, and stellar players like Megan Rapinoe have spoken. But the fight also continues in tennis, hockey, athletics and other sports.

The W.N.B.A. The contract, which has yet to be approved by the league’s board of governors and union membership, would allow the best players to earn more than $ 500,000, roughly triple the ceiling of last season and much more than seemed possible. since the first season of the league in 1997.

But in the midst of a broader cultural calculus about disparities in the way society considers women and men, the 12 teams in the league have attracted more attention, and their players have felt better trained to press for Better wages and benefits.

“What we have here is a multidimensional salary structure, as well as a profit structure,” Engelbert said in a telephone interview. “We have really been here. We are making a big bet in this league, a great bet for women, and that in professional sports, that the W.N.B.A. can open the way.”

Low wages and limited or non-existent maternity benefits have been two of the most discussed issues in the debate about compensation for athletes. Under this agreement, the maximum of W.N.B.A. the salary would increase by almost 83 percent, to $ 215,000 from $ 117,500. And although some people think that players, by pressing for a better pay, have asked to earn the same billionaire salaries as their counterparts in the NBA, union leaders have insisted that what they want is a comparable part of their income. league. , which would allow this agreement.

The N.B.A., which created the W.N.B.A. In 1996, he shared the property with the women’s teams, divided his income between 50 and 50 with the male players. In the W.N.B.A., it is estimated that players receive only 20 to 30 percent of the league’s income. By 2021, if the league reaches certain income markers in transmission agreements, marketing associations and licensing agreements, the W.N.B.A. and their players could be dividing the revenue equally. The contract would last eight years, until 2027.

This agreement would also provide full salary maternity leave, a dedicated arena space for nursing mothers and a $ 5,000 stipend for child care. Veteran players may also request reimbursement of up to $ 60,000 in costs directly related to adoption, subrogation, egg freezing and fertility treatment.

“We have several mothers in the league, and we had players who told us about what they realized they needed while playing,” Nneka Ogwumike, W.N.B.A. president of the players union, said in a telephone interview on Monday.

In exchange for these and other benefits, there is a new requirement that will be gradually incorporated: players must be in W.N.B.A. training camps from the beginning. No more reports late, or even after the season begins, to end commitments with clubs abroad, with exceptions incorporated only for the national team game and players in their first three seasons. Players, from superstars to rookies, have long complemented their league pay by competing for clubs abroad during the offseason.

“We had to be incredibly innovative with this,” said Ogwumike. “And to be honest, with what the league wanted, we understood that it would take some novel change to take the league wherever we want it to go. We wanted to make sure that it is still allowing players the opportunity to get the salaries we are used to in both markets, while incorporating a system that will keep the league as a certain priority. “

The game of some players throughout the year has had its consequences. Last year, Seattle Storm striker Breanna Stewart broke her right Achilles tendon while playing abroad and missed the entire 2019 season while winning the Most Valuable Player Award.

That and other examples of players returning fatigued or injured have led the league and the union to look for ways to encourage players to stay more in the United States.

The league agreed to add $ 1.6 million annually in what are called league marketing agreements, up to $ 250,000 for any player, Engelbert said. For a top player, this new deal could mean a one-season salary of $ 215,000, another $ 250,000 in a league marketing deal, plus bonus incentives for things like appearances in the All-Star Game and prizes that could boost your total compensation above $ 500,000.

The W.N.B.A. It will also be associated with other leagues: the N.B.A. and its university development and basketball league, to promote its own players for possible training openings. And Engelbert said players train in the N.B.A. the market rate could be paid, even if the men’s team were affiliated with a W.N.B.A. equipment. This became a problem last season when the mystics guard Kristi Toliver, due to wage restrictions in the collective bargaining agreement that expires, I could win just $ 10,000 as an assistant coach for the Washington Wizards. That is no longer a problem, said Engelbert.

The W.N.B.A. The season will also change dramatically if the agreement is approved. A 34-game campaign in 2019 will become a list of 36 games this season. And the games themselves will be different, thanks to another innovation: the Commissioner’s Cup.

Certain games in the 2020 calendar will be designated as Cup games, with separate rankings for this season competition. The two teams with the best records in the Cup games will play for the Commissioner’s Cup title. Starting in 2021, the prize money for seasonal tournaments will be a minimum of $ 750,000.

The players’ experience will also improve in a way that reflects both their daily priorities and their lifestyle choices.

League teams, which provide accommodation, will now guarantee two-room apartments for players with children. Traveling, a source of frustration among players, will now include individual hotel rooms instead of shared rooms for each player. But players will still have to fly in commercial airplanes, not charter, to games, although they will receive accommodation on cheaper flights.

Player movement will also be easier, echoing an N.B.A. tendency to give players more opportunities to change teams or sign new agreements. In the last W.N.B.A. agreement, players could not reach free agency without restrictions until they had played six full seasons. That number would become five. The leagues, in the coming years, will reduce the number of times a team can designate someone as a central player and thus prevent, even as a free agent without restrictions, leaving the team.

The sum of the new investments, which represent the specific initiatives of the league and the team, is almost $ 1 million per team per season.

Engelbert said he expected unanimous approval from the league’s board of governors. This was not, Engelbert emphasized, simply a matter of justice. Rather, he said he believed that greater investment would bear fruit in a way that reflected both the increase in women’s sports and the position of W.N.B.A. of leading on that front.

“We believe this is the best agreement to drive a return on investment during the term of this agreement,” said Engelbert. “But without a doubt, many of these elements are preparing the future for the next generation of players to be in a great place, so that the current stars leave a legacy for the next generation.”

Ogwumike said she had been too busy negotiating to think about her legacy, but she saw that the definition of women’s professional basketball changed in an agreement that she hoped would last longer than her career as a player.

“We wanted to create a league in which it is clearly a viable option to play in the W.N.B.A.,” said Ogwumike. “So we are providing a new starting line for those who follow us.”

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