Caitlin Clark’s Rookie Contract Sparks Outrage

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 15: Caitlin Clark poses with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert after being selected first overall pick by the Indiana Fever during the 2024 WNBA Draft at Brooklyn Academy of Music on April 15, 2024 in New York City. | Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Caitlin Clark and Victor Wembanyanma come from different worlds but have some very important things in common.

They’re both phenoms drafted first overall by teams in professional basketball leagues. Their unique skill sets have resulted in “appointment viewing,” bringing increased audiences to their games. They’re both superstars set to revolutionize their leagues. The list goes on and on.

Still, with the salary discrepancies between the NBA and the WNBA, Clark will make far less during her rookie year than Wembanyama did this past season despite signing a contract for the same length.

“It’s not good enough,” Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman told NBC News. “It has to get better.”

WNBA salaries have always been among the lowest in sports, causing many players to seek additional paying opportunities overseas throughout the year. Still, with the latest information revealed, many are outraged at the differences.

As one fan so elegantly put it, “Ain’t no reason I should have a higher salary than Caitlin Clark man.”

Wembanyama’s rookie contract will pay him $55.1 million over four years, which isn’t even in the top 100 among NBA salaries, while Clark will enter the WNBA as the 45th highest-paid player with $338,056 over four years. To continue the comparison, Jaylen Brown, the NBA’s highest-paid player, plays on a five-year, $286.2 million deal (roughly $57.2 million annually). In contrast, Elena Delle Donne, the WNBA’s highest-paid player, makes $899,480 on a four-year contract (about $224,870 annually).

Much of the difference in pay can be traced back to league revenues and media contracts, history, and the current collective bargaining agreements (CBAs).

While women’s basketball has gained popularity recently, the WNBA still only makes about 2% of the revenue of the NBA, keeping salaries low as it continues to operate. 

The WNBA is also much newer than the NBA. The men’s league has been around since 1946, while the women’s league is less than 30 years old. The NBA has also had many more media rights deals, which the WNBA is just now starting to receive, and even gets the holiday spotlight on Christmas Day.

“There just hasn’t been enough time to catch up in terms of those media rights deals,” Stephen Master, a professor of sports marketing and media at NYU’s Stern School of Business who also worked for the NBA and Nielsen, told TODAY.com. “Those deals are done so long in advance, and they’re looking at historical numbers when they’re evaluating bids on those rights. The NBA’s deal is based on the history of the NBA drawing a certain level of viewership and sponsorship, selling out arenas, and being an overall part of the zeitgeist.”

According to the current WNBA CBA, which runs through the 2027 season, Clark’s rookie salary of $76,535 matches the league’s minimum salary requirement for players who have played at least three WNBA seasons and is about $12,000 more than the minimum for first and second-year players. 

The WNBA also has a maximum base salary limit set at $241,984 or $208,219 in 2024, based on the amount of time players have spent in the league and with their current teams.

By contrast, the NBA sets its salary limits by percentages of the team salary cap.

While all professional athletes can make additional money through avenues like endorsements and marketing, there is still a gap between the two leagues, and despite the popularity trends, there does not appear to be a quick fix.

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