Here’s how much Caitlin Clark will make in the WNBA

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College basketball sensation Caitlin Clark will make less than six figures in her rookie season with the Indiana Fever, reigniting the debate over whether female professional athletes in the United States are well paid.

Clark, this year's #1 pick in the WNBA draft, will have a starting salary of $76,535 and earn approximately $338,000 over the four-year contract he signed with the Fever. The second, third and fourth picks in this year's draft will also earn $76,535 in the first year, according to the league's collective bargaining agreement. The base annual pay for all four athletes will see only a modest increase over the next few years: $78,066 in 2025, $85,873 in 2026 and $97,582 in 2027.

Lower-ranked WNBA draft picks earn less, according to a salary scale outlined in the players' agreement with the league. Players can also receive bonuses at the end of the season, based on performance. For example, the “Rookie of the Year” award includes a bonus of $5,150.

The WNBA did not immediately respond to CBS MoneyWatch's request for comment on how it sets athletes' salaries.

Clark's income isn't limited to her WNBA salary. She is expected to sign sponsorship deals that will likely earn her much more than the five figures she will earn playing basketball. His image and name likeness is already valued at $3 million, a number expected to grow, while he has already done television commercials for advertisers such as Gatorade, State Farm and Nike.

Still, Clark's base salary pales in comparison to his NBA counterparts. Rookie Victor Wembanyama, the first pick in last year's NBA draft, earned more than $12 million for the 2023-24 season, his first year in the NBA, according to Spotrac, a site which tracks sports statistics. His salary is roughly equivalent to that of a first-year or junior attorney based in New York at a national law firm, according to a job posting on Indeed.

With some online commentators expressing shock at Clark's salary, President Biden weighed in on the issue of pay disparity in sports on Tuesday.

“Women in sports continue to push new boundaries and inspire us all. But right now we're seeing that even if you're the best, women aren't getting paid their fair share,” she said in a publication on X (formerly known as Twitter). “It's time we give our daughters the same opportunities as our sons and make sure women get what they deserve.”


Indiana Fever presents Caitlin Clark

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What female athletes “deserve” is certainly up for debate. The NBA was founded decades ago and generates billions of dollars annually. The WNBA, by contrast, launched in 1996 and is much smaller, generating an estimated $200 million in annual revenue, according to a report by Just Women's Sports.

On the subject of compensation for individual players, “There's not an endless pool of money that they're dealing with,” Greg Bouris, a sports management professor at Adelphi University, told CBS MoneyWatch, adding that the WNBA must grow its revenue significantly in order for player salaries to increase. “It's about economics.”

And as great as Clark has been for college basketball, he remains unproven in the professional arena, he noted. That's part of the reason both the NBA and WNBA cap rookie salaries.

“They come to play against the best basketball players in the world and they still have to prove themselves,” Bouris said. “Success at one level does not guarantee success at the other.”

Likewise, Clark is expected to add a big push to the league, as he did in helping the NCAA Women's Tournament draw a largest television audience than men

“She Will Lift All Ships”

“She comes with all this momentum in earned media coverage for the WNBA, so the league has an opportunity to capitalize on that. It's having a huge economic impact,” Bouris said. “She will lift all ships.”

The Women's Sports Foundation, an advocacy group for women in sports founded by tennis legend Billie Jean King, has pointed to relatively low pay in the WNBA as a reason why top players often compete overseas during the American League offseason to supplement their salaries. This includes WNBA star Brittney Grinerwho was jailed in Russia while playing there and previously noted in an interview that “the reason a lot of us go through is the pay gap.”

The WNBA has made strides in promoting pay equity in recent years. While NBA players collectively receive roughly 50% of the league's revenue, WNBA players previously took home less than 23%. But that number jumped to 50% under the latest labor agreement with the league.

However, the pay gap in professional basketball and most other sports remains, with only female tennis players achieving a measure of equity. In the NBA, the minimum rookie salary for the 2022-23 season was $953,000, according to Spotrac.

Ketra Armstrong, a professor of sports management at the University of Michigan, said that while she feels Clark is underpaid for her skills, so are many athletes in the WNBA.


Women making waves in sports in recent years

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“It's a structural problem, and you can't look at salaries in isolation and compare them to what men make because there are huge differences,” Armstrong told CBS MoneyWatch, noting the NBA's huge revenue, compared to the WNBA. .

The upshot: For WNBA player salaries to increase, the league will have to land bigger broadcast deals, land more lucrative corporate sponsorships and sell more tickets and merchandise. But Armstrong identified the current moment as a potential turning point for the league.

“Caitlin Clark's impact is real. There's an energy and a vibrancy that touches the WNBA in a way it never has before,” she said. “If we can get an increase in ticket sales for all WNBA teams, more merchandise sales, more media exposure and more people investing, we'll start to see some movement in revenue.”





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