Russia’s detention of WNBA player Brittney Griner has unleashed several stupid opinions from establishment media, but none are dumber than the continued complaints about the “pay gap” between the WNBA and the NBA.
MSNBC decided that Griner’s release was the perfect occasion to remind everyone that economic literacy is not a requirement to work at the outlet, re-upping a piece from March written by columnist Dave Zirin, who correctly noted that several WNBA players play overseas to supplement their league salaries. MSNBC calls this a “maddening pay disparity,” and Zirin wrote that WNBA players “made a microcosmic fraction of what the men make.”
But if there is a “pay disparity” here, it is only because the NBA allows the WNBA to exist at all.
According to NBA commissioner Adam Silver, the WNBA has lost an average of $10 million every year since it was formed. The league generates just $60 million in revenue and does not run a profit. The NBA, for comparison, generates some $8 billion in revenue.
The two leagues are not comparable in any way other than they are both basketball leagues. The NBA is an entertainment juggernaut, watched by millions across the country. People across the world know the names of the league’s biggest stars. The average regular season NBA game pulls anywhere from 1.4 million to 3.03 million viewers, depending on the network it’s aired on.
In 2022, meanwhile, the WNBA set a viewership record, averaging 379,000 viewers per game.
When Zirin describes how the league would need “robust investment” to close this gap, what he means is burning millions (or billions) of dollars. The leagues are just not similar in terms of athleticism — in fact, the gender gap is arguably greater than in any other sport. If you are able to find team owners willing to burn their money out of the goodness of their hearts, or male players willing to take huge pay cuts, then go for it. On second thought, they will probably end up behaving just like the Russian oligarchs that WNBA players are already depending on overseas (or Chinese Communists in the case of New York Liberty owner Joe Tsai).
This “pay disparity” is not because of gender. It is because of viewership and entertainment value. It would be nice if WNBA players didn’t feel the need to play overseas to supplement a minimum salary of $60,000 (which is nothing to sneeze at for a part-time job), but sexism and “equity” have nothing to do with any of this. You can’t just throw hundreds of millions of dollars into a “supercharged marketing scheme” and expect the WNBA to approach the NBA’s popularity. That goes double when the WNBA tries much harder than the NBA to alienate as many potential viewers as possible.
Perhaps if the league wants to increase its viewership, it should start by addressing that problem, not by relying on establishment media whining to agitate for bigger salaries.