A detailed look at the earnings of top draft picks and the impact of endorsements on their income.

The WNBA's pay disparity: Rookies earning less than you think

As the WNBA continues to flourish, showcasing elite female athletes and their commendable skills, the conversation around their compensation remains pivotal. Especially for rookies, navigating the financial landscapes of professional basketball can be challenging.

In the 2024 WNBA draft, rookies like Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese are set to embark on their professional journeys with starting salaries significantly lower than their NBA counterparts.

The WNBA implements a rookie wage scale that assigns specific salaries based on draft positions. The top four picks are guaranteed a base salary of $76,535 in their first year.

This salary sees a slight increase over the next two years, reflecting structured growth. Players drafted between the 5th and 8th positions will earn $73,439, while those selected from 9th to 12th will receive $70,344. Second-round picks start at $67,249.

These figures stand in stark contrast to NBA rookies, where the top pick can earn a staggering $10.1 million in their debut season.

The disparity highlights ongoing discussions and efforts for increased pay and recognition in women’s basketball.

Veterans of the league, like Arike Ogunbowale and Jewell Loyd, who have moved beyond rookie-scale contracts, now top the earnings chart at $241,984 annually.

However, the average WNBA salary was $147,745 in 2023, still a fraction of the average NBA salary.

Unpacking the financial reality for new players in the women’s league-does it measure up?

For many WNBA players, including rookies, substantial income comes from endorsements and off-court endeavors. Caitlin Clark, a standout from Iowa, exemplifies this trend.

Despite a modest rookie salary, she amassed approximately $3.4 million from name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals this past season with major brands like Nike and Gatorade.

The upcoming WNBA draft, featuring prospective stars from the record-breaking women’s college basketball season, promises to bring fresh talent to the league.

However, it also underscores the financial realities these athletes face as they transition from collegiate success to professional arenas.

As the WNBA gains popularity, with record-breaking viewership numbers and increasing public support, the conversation about fair compensation is more relevant than ever.

With players like Clark poised to raise the profile of the league further, the hope is that these discussions will pave the way for a more equitable future in professional women’s sports.