The NBA and WNBA are vastly different. The rule differences are small and the WNBA rules are slowly being changed to meet the NBA rules, like the shot clock or the three-point line
distance. But the way each league is regarded and treated by the public is unfairly different. Most of this stems from the attention each league gets, which determines the revenue of the league. The NBA makes a LOT of money. In the 2016-2017 season, the league brought in $5.9 billion, according to Forbes. The average NBA salary is about $6.2 million. The WNBA’s is $75,000. WNBA total revenue isn’t readily available but can be estimated. With 139 players each paid on average $75,000, the total money paid to players is $10,425,000. Since the WNBA pays their players less than 25% of the total revenue, the league is making at least $41.7 million. That’s a tiny fraction of what the NBA makes. Not only is the individual salary of the WNBA minuscule compared to the NBA, it’s just not the same percentage of the league revenue.
Diana Taurasi – a 12-year WNBA vet, a WNBA champ, and Finals MVP – was paid by an international league a little over a million not to play in the WNBA so that she could be ready to play for them. She didn’t play in her 2015 season. Instead she played for UMMC – her Russian club team. Pay is a real problem when other teams can pay your own athletes to not participate, especially as significant an athlete as Taurasi.
Finding an easy solution for this whole thing is hard because the general public just doesn’t care that much about women’s basketball. In terms of game attendance, the WNBA doesn’t get that many fans on average. Because of this, a lot of the teams aren’t very profitable. WNBA games are more seen as family entertainment. NBA is the “real deal.” A-list celebrities go to NBA games. Elementary school children go to WNBA games. At NBA games, you see full stadiums, and people like Beyonce and Drake. At WNBA games, you see toddlers playing with the mascot, and only a fraction of the stadiums full. It’s just not the same.
The NBA players have historically vocally supported WNBA players. During the finals, well-known NBA athletes energetically tweeted about how the championship game was a super exciting watch. Before the 2017 season, the WNBA launched an advertisement campaign called “Watch Me Work” (See it here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MN6fkuBzi2I). The commercials featured star athletes putting in an incredible amount of work to prepare for the season, sweating. shooting, and played highlights from the previous season. That ad campaign made them look real and tough, because they are! There was one commercial that featured a young girl watching the WNBA, inspired, as the athletes commentate on how they “didn’t know” they would become all-stars. Basketball is an intense sport and to be a professional level athlete takes a whole lot of dedication. Women were portrayed as strong. I love that! It’s so important to teach that to young girls as soon as possible because everything else in their life is going to tell them the opposite.