While the popularity of the WBA has grown since its inception nearly 30 years ago, there is still room for improvement. For instance, the two leagues have a great disparity in earning potential.
Let us use Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green as an example. He and the Warriors reached an agreement on a four-year contract that will pay him $100 million. A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about the Las Vegas Aces re-signing their star forward A’ja Wilson to a two-year extension.
But the max amount of that contract could not exceed $235,000. Not only that, it was not a certainty that Wilson would ask for the maximum amount Additionally, Breanna Stewart – who is the frontrunner to win the league MVP award this season – took considerably less than the maximum amount to team up with the New York Liberty during the offseason.
Due to this disparity in earning potential, several WNBA players have opted to play overseas during the offseason to supplement their WNBA income. This is not ideal as the players spend six months away from their families while playing overseas. And due to a stipulation in the previous collective bargaining agreement from 2020, starting in 2024, players must report to their respective ball clubs by the start of training camp to be eligible to play. This introduces a problematic scenario because the overseas postseason does not end until mid-May which conflicts with the start of the WNBA season.
To help address this glaring need a couple of WNBA players – New York Liberty forward Breanna Stewart and Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier — are creating an offseason league called Unrivaled. The offseason league will run from January to March so as not to coincide with the start of the WNBA training camp.
Breanna Stewart and Napheesa Collier told @ramonashelburne they are founding a new women’s basketball league to give the top WNBA players an option to play domestically in the offseason.https://t.co/URALd9tlPC
— ESPN (@espn) July 6, 2023
This new league will feature 30 of the top league players on six teams. They will play games of 3-on-3 and one-on-one at a soundstage located in Miami. The objective is to raise enough funding and sponsorships to give players an opportunity to earn money domestically since they will be forced to forego the opportunities to play overseas due to the new prioritization rule that will take effect at the start of next season.
“It’s the ability for players to stay home, to be in a market like Miami where we can just be the buzz and create that with the best WNBA players,” Stewart told ESPN. “We can’t keep fighting [the WNBA’s prioritization rule]. It is a rule that takes away our choices, which should never be a thing, especially as women, but it is still a rule.”
Stewart has stated she always enjoyed playing overseas. But with a second child on the way, that certainly changes a person’s thinking regarding spending significant time away from their families. With that sentiment in mind, Stewart reached out to Collier and her husband to discuss the potential of creating a new women’s league during the offseason.
“We went to dinner in New York and [Bazzell] was explaining the idea of being a part of this league where it’s like you’re on an all-digital basketball court, you’re playing 3-on-3, one-on-one, queen-of-the-court type thing where you hold bragging rights, but also make a salary that’s kind of set in stone but also can always grow bigger,” Stewart said.
“We’ve all been talking and realizing that we’re missing a moment, having a lot of our players be overseas or not playing basketball [during the offseason]. … I think top players want to be playing, right? They want to be home, they want to be playing, but it has to make sense. It has to be right and the money has to be right. And I think that’s what Unrivaled is trying to do.”
The idea of creating an offseason league is a good one in theory. However, the ability to raise enough capital to make it worthwhile for players who no longer want to play overseas could prove to be a difficult task, to say the least.
From a fanbase perspective, the league needs to continuously take steps toward helping the sport of women’s basketball grow. Personally, I like watching WNBA games just as much as I like watching NBA games.
There is something beautiful about the way they play the game. And the opportunity to watch them play the game of basketball at an elite level is definitely worth the price of admission.
Here’s to hoping the players will be provided with the financial support they need to help make this offseason league become a reality.