Caitlin Clark's $76,000 WNBA salary puts a spotlight on pay disparity

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(NEW YORK) -- The pandemonium behind the new stars of women's college basketball this year carried to the WNBA, with the WNBA draft bringing in a whopping 2.5 million viewers, its highest viewership to date, according to ESPN.

With an influx of new fans, many are now outraged and exposing the decades-long gender pay gap issue in professional basketball.

Caitlin Clark was selected No. 1 overall in the 2024 WNBA draft. Clark, along with other top rookies including Cameron Brink, Kamilla Cardoso, and Rickea Jackson, is tied for the highest female rookie salary, estimated to make $76,535 in her first season -- approximately $338,000 over four years, per the WNBA's collective bargaining agreement -- according to Sport Trac.

Compared to their male counterparts, most NBA players make over 100 times what the new women's players will make, including rookie Victor Wembanyama, the No. 1 NBA draft pick last year, whose 2023-24 season salary was more than $12 million.

The pay disparity has been a longstanding challenge in the women's league for years.

"It's because of fans' lack of interest. Not watching, not buying products, not buying tickets. That's why we are where we are right now," Christine Brennan, USA Today columnist and an ABC News contributor, told ABC's Good Morning America.

Chicago Sky's Brianna Turner said her 2019 rookie salary was just $44,207.

"Appreciative that rookies this year are making significantly more than I did," she wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter. "I'm hopeful that rookies 5 years from now are making significantly more than rookies today. It's all about the growth, even if it's more beneficial for others."

The WNBA players have been fighting for pay equity for decades. Many players are even forced to play internationally in their offseason to supplement their WNBA incomes, as international salaries are often higher than those in the U.S.

"We saw it obviously become a major international headline with the Brittney Griner situation," Brennan said. "Why was Brittney Griner in Russia? Because of the low pay in the WNBA. That's it."

In a 2022 interview, Las Vegas Aces star Kelsey Plum publicly called on the WNBA to improve its pay structure, advocating for a higher revenue share from the NBA.

"We're not asking to get paid what the men get paid," Plum told "The Residency Podcast" at the time. "We're asking to get paid the same percentage of revenue shared."

In addition to the WNBA rookies' base salaries, college name, image, and likeness deals like the ones Clark signed with Nike, Brink signed with New Balance and Reese signed with Reebok have been considered game changers for them, especially as many of their NIL deals will follow them into the pros.

As the WNBA enters its 28th season, experts believe this new draft class may help propel it and add momentum following record-breaking viewership numbers during the 2023 WNBA finals.

"The one thing I know about sports, you need household names, rivalries and games of consequence," WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a press conference ahead of the 2024 WNBA draft.

She added, "Those are the three things we've had over the past couple weeks, and hopefully will continue into the WNBA season."

Thursday, April 18, 2024 at 6:03AM by Jade Lawson, ABC News Permalink