All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith spoke out about the pay discrepancy WNBA athletes face in comparison to their NBA counterparts, the lack of marketing for the league’s superstars and ESPN’s failure to properly spotlight the best women’s basketball association on the planet in a story on Wealthsimple. Diggins-Smith is one of many to use her platform to speak on the wage gap issue this season, and with good reasons as the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement opt-out date looms on Nov. 1.
Among the highlights in her piece, the Dallas Wings guard notes that she’s paid in the low six-figure range whereas Harrison Barnes, another basketball talent in the Dallas market, earns $24 million despite fewer career achievements. She also called out Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who she says hadn’t attended a Wings game this year.
Cuban responded on Twitter after sharing her story on his account, saying, “I’m ok with @SkyDigg4’s approach. Sometimes you have to get loud to go forward.”
Diggins-Smith’s teammate, the league’s leading scorer Liz Cambage, spoke to SB Nation about her biggest frustrations which echo similar sentiments.
Diggins-Smith argues for better pay
The biggest topic for the league’s next CBA is how revenue will be shared. In the NBA, 50 percent of that pie is put in the player’s pockets while in the WNBA, somewhere around 20 percent of a much smaller pie is given to its players.
Diggins-Smith: So before we even talk about base salary or anything like that, we don’t even get paid the same percentage of the revenue that we bring in, which is kind of unbelievable. People try to hijack this issue and say that women’s basketball may not be as interesting a game, because they disparage women in sports, period. But we don’t even make the same percentage of revenue!
That’s how Barnes, a good player, but not an All-Star, will make more than 208 times the salary of a top-3 or so point guard in the WNBA.
Diggins-Smith, one of the league’s biggest stars with over a million Instagram followers, also doesn’t make money off her jersey sales as Barnes or any other NBA player does. She claims she’s had a top-five selling jersey for the last three or four years.
Diggins-Smith argues that the WNBA can’t put out its best product with most players going overseas to play in the “offseason”
It’s no secret that WNBA players aren’t making the bulk of their salaries in America. Most go overseas to earn, in some cases, 10-to-15 times as much money as they do in the ‘W,’ playing in Europe or Asia. The goal should be for the WNBA to put enough money in its players pockets to spare their bodies from playing in two leagues each year, but it isn’t close.
As the league functions now, players hardly get any time to rest their WNBA seasons end in September and overseas seasons start around October.
Diggins-Smith: You have women playing year-round basketball going overseas to have more opportunities for higher wages. I’ve never been overseas to play. I’m with Roc Nation, where I’m the only woman signed, and I take my off-season and use it to explore other opportunities, to work with different brands and explore different marketing opportunities that Roc Nation and I decided to pursue, like my basketball camps. But 90% of the league goes overseas. And so these women are playing year-round, which is terrible for your body. It’s so much wear and tear.
One of the league’s best players, Maya Moore, told SB Nation that she missed WNBA training camp for the first time in her career because she was busy winning a championship in China. The turnaround is that quick. But with athletes looking at very short playing careers, they have to make as much money as they can before they can’t compete any longer.
Diggins-Smith: I would be curious to know how successful we could be with such a great product if we had the same platform as the guys do. Think about the marketing dollars that they spend on guys, the platform given to them. Branding opportunities, TV deals, endorsement deals. It’s kind of like the chicken and the egg. People always talk about, “Well, you gotta have more people in the seats.” But nobody puts us on TV! We have a competitive game, great match-ups; everything that would yield people wanting to see us, plus the success of women’s college basketball.
Diggins-Smith calls out ESPN
ESPN aired just 13 regular season games this season, and Diggins-Smith has seen firsthand a lack of interest in the company to promote the WNBA.
Diggins-Smith: People always talk about, “Well, you gotta have more people in the seats.” But nobody puts us on TV! We have a competitive game, great match-ups; everything that would yield people wanting to see us, plus the success of women’s college basketball.
But you rarely see the WNBA on the “Worldwide Leader in Sports”: ESPN. You rarely see them talking about women’s sports in general, let alone highlights of the WNBA games. Yes, LeBron is one of the best athletes in the world, but they’ll go into everything that he ate before they show a highlight of a WNBA game.
I was a guest on the His & Hers that featured Jemele Hill and Michael Smith and is no longer on ESPN. I was filling in for Jemele during game five of the WNBA Finals — Minnesota versus L.A. That’s the longest the series could go. And they have a board where they write down what’s gonna happen on the show. And game five of the WNBA finals was not even on the board.
They asked me, “Well, is there anything that you wanna talk about?” And I kinda scoffed and said, “Uh, game five of the WNBA Finals?” So they just scribbled it into one of the blocks. It was so symbolic, that moment. It’s kinda unbelievable how the WNBA is viewed and treated even by the “Worldwide Leader in Sports.”
Diggins-Smith argues for better travel
Travel has been the biggest topic of issue in the 2018 WNBA season. The Las Vegas Aces had to forfeit a game with playoff implications for health reasons after the team suffered through 25 hours worth of plane delays and layovers. Teams are only permitted to fly commercially, and that isn’t always comfortable, especially not for the taller players in the league.
Diggins-Smith: Let’s say we have a game on Thursday and a game on Friday and they’re both away. We will play Thursday night, then fly on a commercial plane on Friday — the same day as the game — and play. In college, everyone who played Division I chartered private planes. But it’s a WNBA policy that everyone flies commercial, because if someone charters then it would be considered an advantage.
So you’ve got 6’5”, 6’8” women flying coach. Some lady in the airport came up to me and she’s like, “You guys fly commercial? Why aren’t you guys on your own plane?”
When might these changes be made?
The WNBA’s CBA has an opt-out for both the Players Association and league on Nov. 1, and any changes made will take effect in the 2020 season. It’s no coincidence players have been more vocal than ever on the issues they face.
There’s a lengthy list of fixes to make, and Diggins-Smith highlighted the bulk of them. It’s now up to her colleagues to invoke change.