This piece is written by Alexx Klein. She was a journalism major at Indiana U with a sport marketing and management concentration. Currently she serves as the Athletic Communications GA where she is the primary SID for cross country and swim/dive. Previously, she worked as the media relations intern in the IU athletic department, as well as the PR intern for the Washington Mystics. This summer she will further continue her WNBA experience and serve as the PR intern for the Indianapolis Fever.
By Alexx Klein
February 9, 2015
While it may not have been at the top of the average sports fan’s radar, the Diana Taurasi decision was one that holds significant impact for the future of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). This blog is not meant to criticize or condone the WNBA’s highest-paid player’s decision, but rather to voice my concern for what this means moving forward.
To backtrack, Taurasi recently announced that she would be sitting out the entirety of the 2015 WNBA season to focus on herself, her family and honing her basketball skills. How she will be able to do that is because her Russian team she plays for in the off season offered to pay her more to sit out than she would make playing in the WNBA this season.
Taurasi wrote a letter to the Mercury fans and in it, stated that, “The year-round nature of women’s basketball takes its toll and the financial opportunity with my team in Russia would have been irresponsible to turn down. They offered to pay me to rest and I’ve decided to take them up on it. I want to be able to take care of myself and my family when I am done playing” (Taurasi, 2015).
It is the culture within the WNBA for athletes to play overseas during the winter because of the short WNBA season (four months). Taurasi’s team is UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia, where she is making about $1.5 million, according to a Washington Post article. Her salary with the Phoenix Mercury amounts to just less than $107,000 a year, which is less than the league maximum available.
So what can be done?
ESPN’s Kate Fagan suggested a restructuring of salaries within the league. In the 2014 season, there were about 40 players receiving close to the league max, which breaks down to 3-4 “max” players on each team and if anybody has watched a WNBA game you know that is definitely not the case. Fagan’s article suggests that there should only be 12 players in the league to receive that type of money: one on each team.
If the NBA doesn’t pay Cleanthony Early (a mediocre, at best, player for the Knicks who very few have heard of) the same as Lebron James, then why pay average WNBA players the same as its stars? Yet that’s what the league chooses to do.
She also goes as far to say that the highest paid member of the team should not be the coach, it should be the player, like it is in most other professional leagues. You’d be hard pressed to find a sport where the coach makes over twice the salary as his/her players do.
If Taurasi’s decision to sit sparks other WNBA stars into following her lead, then the league needs to implement a solution sooner than later. Other players have been offered money by their overseas team to sit out the WNBA season, Taurasi is just the first to take the deal.
Without the Taurasi’s, Britney Griner’s, Elena Della Donne’s, Skylar Diggins’ and Maya Moore’s of the league, the WNBA loses a large chunk of its entertainment value and that is where the downward slope would begin. Without fans to consume the product, there is no revenue coming in from ticket sales, apparel or concessions, and with only half of the teams currently turning a profit, the league cannot afford to take such a financial hit. As stated by a Deadspin article, if the players “begin to make decisions based solely on finances, there may not be any players left” (Draper, 2015, para 11).
Is this simply an issue of money or do you think the athletes are actually concerned about their long-term health? Is it right for a coach to be making two or three times more than these star athletes in the league? Do you think the salary reallocation proposed by Kate Fagan is a good solution?
Boren, C. (2015, Feb. 4). Diana Taurasi’s decision to skip this season is sobering message for WNBA. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/early-lead/wp/2015/02/04/diana-taurasis-decision-to-skip-this-season-is-sobering-message-for-wnba/
Draper, K. (2015, Feb. 3). Diana Taurasi’s Russian Team Is Paying Her To Skip The WNBA Season. Dead Spin. Retrieved from http://deadspin.com/diana-taurasis-russian-team-is-paying-her-to-skip-the-w-1683643165
Fagan, K. (2015, Feb. 4). Diana Taurasi’s decision to sit out should spark WNBA salary changes. ESPNW. Retrieved from http://espn.go.com/wnba/story/_/id/12272036/diana-taurasi-decision-sit-spark-wnba-salary-changes
Taurasi, D. (2015, Feb. 3). Diana Taurasi’s Open Letter To Phoenix Mercury Fans. Arizona Republic. Retrieved from http://www.azcentral.com/story/sports/wnba/mercury/2015/02/03/diana-taurasi-open-letter-to-phoenix-mercury-fans/22808453/