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Sue Bird Sounds Off On How WNBA Players Can Be More Accessible

Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Last August, Skylar Diggins-Smith would make headlines of her own when she spoke to Wealthsimple during their Money Diaries segment.

Per Yahoo Sports

“I’m the highest paid player on the Dallas Wings, and my salary is in the low six figures. [Harrison Barnes, the highest paid player on the Dallas Mavericks, made $24 million last season.] He’s definitely younger than me. Do you know his stats? Was he an All-Star? I mean, it doesn’t matter. But last year, I was First Team All-WNBA, which only goes to five players. I was also a WNBA All-Star for the third time,” said Smith.

She would continue:

“I would be curious to know how successful we could be with such a great product if we had the same platform as the guys do. Think about the marketing dollars that they spend on guys, the platform given to them. Branding opportunities, TV deals, endorsement deals. It’s kind of like the chicken and the egg. People always talk about, ‘Well, you gotta have more people in the seats.’ But nobody puts us on TV! We have a competitive game, great match-ups; everything that would yield people wanting to see us, plus the success of women’s college basketball.“

She would later take a shot at Mark Cuban.

“We’ve had Cowboys and Mavericks show up at the game and support us,” Diggins-Smith said to Wealthsimple. “I haven’t seen Mark Cuban at a game. And I’m sure I wouldn’t miss him.”

Cuban would reply on Twitter he was fine with the approach Smith was taken to bring awareness to the pay and marketing concerns.

“I’m ok with @SkyDigg4‘s approach. Sometimes you have to get loud to go forward, said Cuban.”

Since 2014 according to  The Dallas Morning News, minimum and maximum player salaries have increased each season.

According to the WNBA Collective Bargaining Agreement, the minimum player salary for players with three or more years of service was $56,100 in 2018, up from $55,000 in 2014. That number will increase each of the next three seasons before eventually making it to $56,925 in 2021.

In 2018, the highest max salary a player could earn was $115,500. That number will increase by $2,000 for each of the next three seasons, making that number $121,500 in 2021.

Cuban and Diggins-Smith had a 90-minute meeting that was not made public, but Cuban did confirm with the Dallas Morning News.

“I met with Skylar Diggins and this is exactly what I told her,” Cuban told the Dallas Morning News, “I said, ‘You’ve got to go out there and create new properties. You’re not going to all of a sudden double WNBA interest so that you can get a huge TV contract to save the day. But what you can do, because the WNBA is so much bigger, dramatically bigger, outside the U.S. Then it is in the U.S., there’s players that won’t play here because they make more money overseas.

“The opportunity is the same one as with the men’s game, and that is to create your own World Cup and back out of the FIBA one and make that a source of revenue so, the [women’s] players can earn more money.”

Cuban would add:

“The difference is the total amount of revenue. It’s not a gender issue. It’s a revenue issue,” Cuban told the Dallas Morning News. “If it so happened that the women had greater revenue than the men, the women would make more money.

“The challenge is when they talk about the percentages it kind of avoids the business 101 topic, which is there’s a certain hurdle of fixed cost that you have to overcome. … If your business makes X-amount in sales, but your costs are up here, you’re going to have to pay lower commissions. It’s just like we paid a lower percentage to the men until the revenues went up. And when our revenues went up we were able to pay a higher percentage.”

Last July, reigning WNBA rookie A’ja Wilson of the year made headlines after tweeting her feelings after details of LeBron James four year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The deal was worth $154 million and that prompted “154M ……….. must. be. nice. We over here looking for a M 🙃 but Lord, let me get back in my lane,” said Wilson.

Las Vegas Aces’ point guard Kelsey Plum, who is a teammate of Wilson would follow her ten days later released a tweet of her own. In that tweet, Plum stated that they are not looking for the same compensation as their male counterparts in the NBA. The WNBA players are seeking an increase in the revenue share between them and the owners to a 50/50 split similar to the NBA.  In the former CBA deal that the players just opted out of paying them around 23 percent, according to Plum’s tweet that has since been deleted.

Per the Huff Post, the average salary in the NBA is reported to be $7.4 million, while the average pay in the WNBA is reported to be less than $80,000.

I’m tired of people thinking that us players are asking for the same type of money as NBA players.. we are asking for the same percentage of revenue shared within our CBA. NBA players receive around 50% of shared revenue within their league, whereas we receive around 20%.

— Kelsey Plum (@Kelseyplum10) July 12, 2018

Later that day Phoenix Mercury shooting guard Diana Taurasi was asked by See Hendo about Wilson comment about equal pay and the always outspoken future Hall of Famer didn’t hold back.

“We have been talking about this for the past ten years, and it is the same adage. She would continue by stating that it is going to take drastic measures to get anything done. You can talk about it, and you can post it on Instagram we had an opportunity four years ago to take a stand as players. Instead, we took a bad CBA deal and any time where you want something to make a difference you have to be willing to risk it all. At that time we weren’t, and we took a bad deal, and now we are in the same position we were 12 years ago. Not making a lot of money and not many improvements as a league we eventually have to take a stand as players.”

After the July 12th game, I spoke with Taurasi’s teammate Brittney Griner on behalf of The Hype Magazine. I would present the same question about equal pay in the WNBA.

“We should get paid more I don’t know where it is supposed to come from that is not my job. That is somebody else’s job, but we should definitely get paid more there is no reason why should have to go overseas to make a living… All we hear is that it is going to get better and we are working on it… So, what is happening?  Because we do not see it in our paychecks,” said Griner.“

I would follow up that question with asking did they plan on teaming up with Hope Solo, because she is having similar issues with the Team USA Soccer Federation to try to figure it out across the board?

“I mean at this point; maybe we should go on strike and not play and see if anybody cares at this point I would be willing to do it. At this point, it is not getting any better talking about it. It is going to come down to at the end of my career why the hell am I still playing in the WNBA. Like I am playing for what?  To hurt myself, so I can not go overseas? And honestly, if I weren’t with the Phoenix Mercury, I would not be playing right now in the WNBA for What? Why? You do your job to make money to support you. This is not doing anything overseas is. So, I am not going to put that off forever!”

Enter Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird. The Seattle Storm opened the 2019-2020 season by raising their championship banner from their 2018-2019 championship run before they took on the Phoenix Mercury. Prior to the game Bird, shared how WNBA players can be more accessible to help promote their platform in the states.

“The way I view a lot of it is we have a lot of gifts and curses. I could argue the NBA is a gift and a curse in some ways. I can also argue overseas is a gift and a curse and the problem with playing overseas it takes us away from our markets for seven or eight months. So, essentially we are invisible to our consumer for a very long time,” said Bird.

She would continue:

“So, if there were a way we could all stay home and be present not only in our individual markets, but nationally, it would make a huge difference. The issue currently overseas does play a lot more money and it’s hard to say no to that. Obviously, each individual literally has to put food on the table and like said there are gifts and curses everywhere.”

The Seattle Storm went on to beat the Phoenix Mercury 77-68 behind the scoring of second-year guard Jordin Canada, who recorded 16 points, six assists, and three steals. In the absence of future Hall of Famer Sue Bird, who is out indefinitely with a leg injury. After the game, Canada spoke about having the opportunity to showcase her game with Sue Bird being out.

“It sucks when anyone gets injured, but to have one of our biggest leaders on the floor go out, you know it’s a chance for me to step up and lead my team in the way I know and just gain confidence,” said Canada, who hit seven of her 13 field-goal attempts Saturday. “I thought in the first half I was overthinking it too much. I wasn’t playing with a lot of poise and patience. And in the second half, my teammates talked to me, my coaches talked to me, telling me to stay in the moment and don’t overthink and just play your game in the second half. I thought I did a much better job.”

The Seattle Storm will take on the Minnesota Lynx on Wednesday, May 29th at the Target Center at 8 PM EST.

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