With more and more people turning to sports during these lockdowns, the question everyone’s wondering is does the WNBA make money?
How Much Revenue Does the WNBA Generate?
The WNBA generates revenues of $60 million annually, but it also has costs in excess of $70 million annually. So, the WNBA does not make money. It has turned an average $10 million net loss (revenue – costs) per year, since its inception in 1996.
One of the main reasons that the WNBA remains in existence is that it is subsidized by the NBA, which are able to sustain this $10 million loss every year.
WNBA Revenue Split
There is no known information on how much of the leagues revenue comes from what sources, but with a little bit of math, we can figure out an estimate.
According to the Washington Post, WNBA games averaged about 7,716 in-person fans per game in 2017.
With an average ticket price of $16.88, and 12 teams playing 32 games each, that leads us to being able to account for how much of the WNBA’s revenue comes from ticket sales;
Here’s our calculations: 12 (teams) x 32 (total games/team) = 384 (total games played) x 7,716 (average attendance per game) = 2,962,944 total tickets sold
2,962,944 (total tickets sold) x 16.88 (average ticket price) = Just over $50M (total revenue from ticket sales)
As we stated earlier, the WNBA makes an average of $60 million per year in revenue. The ticket sales, which makes up $50M, which is more than 83% of the total revenue of the WNBA.
When comparing this to the NBA, the WNBA makes a much larger percentage of their revenue from ticket sales.
Of the NBA’s ~$8.3B revenue per year, only about $3B comes from ticket sales. This equates to a little more than 35% of the NBA’s total revenue.
Should WNBA Be Paid the Same as the NBA?
WNBA players can’t be paid the same as NBA players because it does not make fiscal sense for the league. Well, they could be paid the same, but it would result in a fully bankrupt WNBA.
Many WNBA players, as well as other social justice advocates, are trying to make the case that WNBA players should be paid the same as NBA players (as a percentage of league revenue), but that is just not feasible.
Last year, of the $60 million in revenue of the WNBA, about $12.3 million is paid out to the players, which equates to just over 20% of the total revenue.
When comparing this to the NBA, which is a 50-50 split of revenue (NBA pays out 50% of revenue to players), it may seem unfair.
However, these stats don’t take into account the revenue, or even more important profits of each of the leagues.
The most obvious difference between the leagues is the sheer amount of money they make, not even taking into account how much they profit. The NBA has revenues of $8.3B/year, while the WNBA only generates $60M (as we said earlier).
NBA vs WNBA Profit
The WNBA has produced an average net loss of $10M per year.
The NBA, however, turns a profit of roughly $2.1B per year, which is what allows them to payout 50% of the league revenue to players.
While the WNBA only pays out 20% of its revenue, it doesn’t actually turn a profit.
If the WNBA paid out the same revenue split as the NBA (50-50), that would cause the WNBA’s net income to go from a net loss of $10M to a net loss of $28M per year.
WNBA vs NBA Salaries
The average NBA salary is $7.7 million per year, with the minimum rookie contracts set at $893,310. Comparing this to the WNBA, salaries will average $130,000 per year starting in the 2020-21 season. The minimum inexperienced contract in the WNBA is now set at $57,000.
Although these seem to be completely disproportionate, when you compare the salaries chart to the profits chart, this shows where the true disproportion lies.
Think about it this way, picture two companies that are in the same industries; Company A and Company B.
They both have a similar amount of employees, and a similar business model.
But, when they go to market, the consumer base really responds to Company A, but does not respond as much to Company B.
It results in an incredible growth rate of Company A , and a stagnant trajectory of Company B.
Since the companies are heavily dependent on their employees (i.e. if the employees leave they don’t have a company), they obviously need to pay these employees as well as they can to incentivize them staying at their company.
I’m sure you can tell what is what in this simulation, the NBA is Company A, and the WNBA is Company B.
The unfortunate truth is that the general public has not responded well to the WNBA.
On the other hand, the general public has responded very well to the NBA.
The NBA and the WNBA is made up of people, and the people of these leagues is what sells tickets and jerseys.
Imagine if everyone currently in the NBA left, the league would see an instant drop in ratings and revenues.
These guys are driving big numbers ($8.3B revenue!), so you gotta pay them what they’re worth, or they may go elsewhere.
What About NBA vs Soccer?
For those that still aren’t sure why NBA players get paid much more than WNBA players, I challenge you to think about this.
Professional athletes are almost all extremely dedicated. They usually start their sport very early and spend countless hours perfecting it, regardless of gender or age.
But if this is the point that the WNBA is making, then why can’t NBA players get upset that there are soccer players (Cristian Ronaldo, Lionel Messi), who have been paid $70M and $92M, respectively.
NBA players are paid at max just over $40M, so why is it fair that these soccer players (who aren’t working twice as hard as the NBA players) are being paid more than double them?