Apr 17, 2024 - Sports

One NBA benchwarmer will earn more than Caitlin Clark's entire team

NBA and WNBA salaries
Data: Spotrac; Note: Based on cap hit (average annual value of a player's contract) in 2023-24 season; Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios

Caitlin Clark's legions of fans have been shocked to learn how little the WNBA's top talent gets paid. She might be powerful enough to change that reality.

Shocking stat: Clark's entire WNBA team, combined, will get paid about the same as one random back-bench NBA player next year.

  • The Indiana Fever's total payroll was roughly $1.2 million this past year, which is about average for the league.
  • The lowest possible salary for an NBA player with just one year of experience — effectively the league's minimum wage — is $1.5 million per year.

By the numbers: The No. 1 draft pick in the WNBA — this year, that's Clark — is guaranteed a $76,000 salary in their first year. The No. 1 draft pick in the NBA gets $10 million.

  • The highest-paid WNBA player makes a little less than $250,000. The highest-paid NBA player makes a little more more than $50 million.

The big picture: The NBA is substantially more popular than the WNBA, and therefore brings in much more revenue, and therefore can pay players more. But the WNBA is primed to take a leap.

  • It's not just Clark, by any means. The league's attendance and TV ratings have both been steadily climbing over the past few years; viewership for last season's finals were the highest in 20 years.
  • The league has bona fide superstars with broad appeal, and some of the NBA's most popular players have made a point to promote women's basketball.

But the Caitlin Clark effect is simply undeniable, and it has the potential to raise the floor for the entire league.

  • This year's WNBA draft — which featured Clark as well as LSU star Angel Reese — pulled in just shy of 2.5 million viewers, quadrupling the previous record. No WNBA game has topped 1 million viewers since 2008.
  • Ticket prices for Fever games are up almost 200%, per The Athletic, and while there's a lot of talent all across the WNBA, other teams' ticket prices are highest, by far, for games against the Fever.
  • The WNBA's defending champion, the Las Vegas Aces, has rented out a bigger arena for its matchup against the Fever next season.
  • 90% of the Fever's home games will be on national television.

Clark is already a powerful endorsement magnet. Sports apparel company Fanatics tells Axios it sold more Clark merchandise on draft night than any other draft pick, in any sport, ever.

  • Rivalries also help build an audience, and Clark already has some — from the veteran players who are eager to dunk on a rookie paying for a bad team, to Reese, her biggest collegiate rival.

Zoom out: The WNBA was on an upward trajectory already, and Clark seems certain to turbocharge it.

The timing simply couldn't be better. One of the biggest stars in the game's history is about to bring in droves of new fans. When they arrive, they'll find a league stacked with talent, storylines and good basketball.

  • The WNBA is in the process of negotiating a new media deal, just as those droves of new fans will be tuning in. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told CNBC she's hoping to double the league's TV revenues.
  • The league will need to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with players by 2027. That will be the chance for players to grab a bigger slice of the league's growing pie. Only 10% of the WNBA's revenues go to player salaries, according to Vox, compared to 40% in the NBA.

The bottom line: The best WNBA players still won't make anywhere near as much as the best NBA players for the foreseeable future.

  • But maybe they can at least gain something approaching parity with the worst NBA players.
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