WNBA announces new ‘groundbreaking’ agreement with WNBPA for eight-year CBA … and unveils 2020 schedule!

Photo Credit: WNBA

A day that has been speculated on, talked about and much-hoped for by many within the WNBA inner circles finally became a reality on Tuesday morning.

And instead of simply issuing a press release with pertinent details about the new collective bargaining agreement, the WNBA and its union decided to announce the details of the CBA in grand fashion.

The announcement was made with commissioner Cathy Engelbert and union president Nneka Ogwumike making a special appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” During the appearance, they sat down with Robin Roberts to let everyone know about the big news.

The rallying cry for Ogwumike, Terri Jackson and everyone at the WNBPA was to get the league to “Bet on Women.” It is near safe to say that per the terms of this new deal, the WNBA has done just that.

During a conference call which took place shortly after the announcement of the CBA, Ogwumike dropped news that there was 90% player participation to approve the terms and that it was approved by the players by a wide margin. The new CBA ensures labor peace in the WNBA through 2027.

According to a release, all players will have the opportunity to earn six-figure compensation with the top of the top players earning around $500,000 with other main players having the chance to earn between $200,000 to $300,000. For the first time in the WNBA’s history, average salaries will be around $130,000.

With salaries being such a key issue, many asked where would the money come from and how would this affect players’ ability to earn money from overseas play. Would that money come from the 12 WNBA owners or would it be addition investment from the NBA? The WNBA announced the WNBA Changemakers program that fuses together sponsors with the league in a financial effort to bring further awareness to women’s sports.

 

 

The support from these WNBA Changemaker companies will allow us to provide an enhanced player experience for the amazing professional athletes in the WNBA. We tip off our 24th WNBA season in May, and because of the Changemakers support. We will begin to narrow the gap that exists for women sports, as only 1% of all global corporate sponsorship dollars are directed toward women’s sports.

–Cathy Engelbert, WNBA commissioner (per press release)

The initial three organizations that are listed as Changemakers – AT&T, Deloitte and Nike. Nike and AT&T are WNBA sponsors and Engelbert was formerly CEO at Deloitte, a “big-four” accounting firm before entering the W.

 

AT&T set out with the WNBA last year to elevate their amazing athletes, and that collaboration led us to be an inaugural Changemaker, ready to use our modern media company’s resources to help level the playing field.

–Fiona Carter, AT&T Chief Brand Officer (per press release)

 

Deloitte is dedicated to fostering a culture of inclusion and well being.

–Dr. Terri Cooper, chief inclusion officer, Deloitte (per press release)

 

 

We see this program as an opportunity to continue the work we have been doing with the WNBA since its inception and drive new and meaningful change around women’s basketball.

–Sonja Henning, Nike Vice President/Global General Manager, WNBA/NBA (per press release)

On the issue of overseas play, this new deal has been touted as one that could allow more players to stay stateside as opposed to having to play overseas since players, under the previous CBA, would sometimes make the money they did in the W in one month in another country.

Such an incentive could allow more of the WNBA’s flagship players to be more visible during the offseason and expand marketing and sponsorship opportunities for players, teams and the league as a whole. It also means that players will now be required to report for training camp on time. Before, that was an issue because of players’ overseas commitments, but it reflects a new mindset where it hopes that there is a prioritization of the WNBA.

Prior to the 2019 season, Breanna Stewart injured her Achilles in an overseas game which sidelined her for the entire season – following a 2018 where she was the WNBA’s regular season MVP, Finals MVP and MVP of the FIBA World Cup.

With the announcement of the CBA, this does indeed mean that free agency will begin as scheduled on Feb. 1. The CBA provides that unrestricted free agency will be available to players a year earlier than under the earlier deal. Beginning with the 2020 season, a player now can only be “cored” by a team three times, then two starting with the 2022 campaign.

The WNBA website mentions that players that fulfill their contractual obligations “and have five or more years of service” will earn unrestricted free agent status if they already were not cored by their incumbent teams. Among this year’s unrestricted free agents are Skylar Diggins-Smith and Angel McCoughtry.

One of the much-talked about elements of the new deal is a Commissioner’s Cup, which will add two more games to the incumbent 34-game slate. Engelbert mentioned that the idea was one presented by the players themselves. It is modeled after similar Commissioner’s Cup’s in soccer. The minimum of prize money involved in the Commissioner’s Cup – $750,000.

 

 

We approached these negotiations with a player-first agenda, and I am pleased that this agreement guarantees substantial increases in compensation and progressive benefits for the women of the WNBA.

–Cathy Engelbert, WNBA commissioner (per press release)

 

 

Cathy Engelbert, the first WNBA Commissioner, brought her perspective as a former women’s basketball student-athlete, her experience as a business professional and her passion for the game to these negotiations.

–WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike (per press release)

 

 

–With cautious optimism and trusting the league’s renewed commitment and investment, the players demonstrated a willingness to ‘lean in’ themselves and show an even greater commitment and investment in the W.

–Terri Jackson, WNBPA executive director (per press release)

Beginning with the 2021 season – the 25th year of the W, it will implement a brand new 50-50 revenue sharing model which, according to the WNBA website, is based on the league reaching growth goals from television sponsorships. There will also be an increase in cash bonuses for on-court awards such as Rookie of the Year and WNBA MVP.

Financial attributes of the new CBA also include a floor of $1.6 million in off-season marketing, which the league states would create up to $300,000 in annual cash compensation for certain players.

Engelbert said when she first became commissioner that she wanted to address travel problems as WNBA teams have had its fair share of travel issues over the years – ask the Las Vegas Aces and Indiana Fever two seasons ago. All players will get Premium Economy class status plus individual hotel accommodations for all players.

One issue that became a big one after Skylar Diggins-Smith’s tweets directed at the Dallas Wings was that of how the WNBA treats players who are either expecting or have already given birth. The agreement states that players will receive their full salaries while on maternity leave plus a $5,000 childcare stipend.

Progressive planning benefits for veteran players are also in the new deal.

Among the words that have been used to describe the new deal have been “groundbreaking” and “pioneering.” It even made the WNBA a No. 9 worldwide trender on Twitter.

This CBA also understands that there is life after basketball. The deal states that the WNBA will work with its teams and sponsors as well as with its “affiliated leagues” (NBA, etc.) to provide job opportunities for players in the offseason – another potential incentive to get players to stay in the States after seasons conclude.

Another element of the new pact is committing to diversity in coaching by creating initiatives for veteran players that wish to become coaches. The Washington Mystics’ Kristi Toliver is currently an assistant coach with their Monumental Sports and Entertainment “big brother,” the Washington Wizards.

Other former players such as Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, Cynthia Cooper, Nancy Lieberman, Lisa Leslie, Teresa Weatherspoon, Kara Lawson and most notably Becky Hammon among others have embarked on coaching careers after they have hung up their WNBA jerseys.

Other “quality of life elements” include a nutrition council which will address proper eating for better athletic output, a program that addresses domestic violence and “enhanced mental health benefits and resources.”

Mental health was on the brains of many in WNBA circles during last offseason when Liz Cambage posted stories on Instagram that illustrated how ongoing trade negotiations between her former team, the Dallas Wings and her current team, the Las Vegas Aces, were ongoing. She also posted a story on The Players’ Tribune that further documented her ongoing battle with having better mental health.

But wait … there was more!

In other news that may peak one’s interest….

If dots are properly connected, one had to believe that the release of the schedule would be far behind the signing, sealing and delivering of the new CBA. After all, the 2019 schedule was released a few days prior to Christmas 2018.

With this year’s schedule now being unveiled…you know what that means.

Begin figuring out which days you’re calling out from work, circle those calendars and start making those travel arrangements because before you know it, it will be May 15.

Oh, did we just give away the lede – the 2020 WNBA season tips off on May 15 with three games that night. The first two teams to take the court will be the Atlanta Dream and Indiana Fever when they meet up at Butler University’s Hinkle Fieldhouse in what will be Marianne Stanley’s debut as Indiana coach.

Later on that night at 8 p.m. eastern time up I-55, the Minnesota Lynx (and last year’s Rookie of the Year Napheesa Collier) pay a visit to the City of Broad Shoulders when they take on a Chicago Sky squad expected to make more noise in 2020 after a breakthrough 2019.

At 10 p.m. that night, we will see the grand return of Breanna Stewart to WNBA action when the Seattle Storm take on the Dallas Wings at Alaska Airlines Arena.

The momentum from the first three games on May 15 will carry into the weekend with three more contests on Saturday and four on Sunday. ESPN will have its first WNBA broadcast that late afternoon when Elena Delle Donne, Emma Meesseman, Kristi Toliver and the defending champion Washington Mystics receive their rings and raise its first-ever championship banner to the ceiling of DC Entertainment and Sports Arena.

This means to kick off two of the last three seasons, the defending champions open up against Los Angeles. Candace Parker, two years ago, was vocal on Twitter when the Sparks began the 2018 season at Target Center against the Minnesota Lynx when Minnesota received its rings and banner after winning the 2017 WNBA title. Of course, the Lynx-Sparks rivalry was at its peak after the 2017 Finals and it was the Connecticut Sun that was on the receiving end of last season’s Finals defeat instead of Los Angeles.

After the Sky’s contest with the Lynx, Chicago will take to the skies and fly down to Atlanta’s southside (ironically, where Atlanta’s airport is located) and meet up with the Dream as it opens its new College Park home at Gateway Center Arena. As for the Sun, it is New England vs. New York when the Liberty open 2020’s season by making the short trek of Interstate 95 to Uncasville to take on Connecticut in Walt Hopkins’ coaching debut.

As for when the first WNBA game will take place at Barclays Center in 2020, that will occur a day later in a contest of East meets West. Fresh off of its date in D.C., the Sparks will make its short trip up I-95 for a get-together with New York at Atlantic and Flatbush. Also that same day, the Dallas Wings face the Las Vegas Aces at Mandalay Bay Events Center and the Storm renew pleasantries with the Mercury at its temporary home of Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Also, there’s Indiana Fever and Minnesota Lynx at Target Center that Sunday as well. On May 20, Stanley will coach the Fever against her old team, the Mystics in Indiana.

On May 21, remember when we just wrote about New York and New England? A few days after opening the season at Mohegan Sun Arena, that potential budding rivalry shifts to Gotham when the Sun and Liberty meet at Barclays. Sunday May 24 will be the first get-together for the Aces and Sky since that miracle shot from Dearica Hamby (or as she may be known in the Windy City – D**ric* H*mby). Even more intriguing – that game is in Chicago at Wintrust Arena.

That may May 24 will also see the Sparks take on the Sun for the first time since last year’s WNBA semifinals that led to the reported Penny Toler locker room outburst which eventually led to her being let go as general manager. Los Angeles has yet to name a permanent replacement.

On May 29, all 12 teams will be in uniform starting with the Liberty at the Dream in College Park, then Dallas vs. Indiana at Hinkle Fieldhouse and the Sparks facing the Sky at Wintrust. A’ja Wilson, Liz Cambage and co. travel to Minnesota to take on the Lynx, the Mercury will host the Sun at home and the Mystics head to the Emerald City to take on the Seattle Storm in what, on paper, has the potential to be a Finals preview.

Interesting note about the Storm’s home schedule – its entire home schedule before the Olympic break will emanate from Alaska Airlines Arena while its home arena post-Olympics will be Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett.

Hopkins’ first game against his old team will be on May 31 when the Liberty host the Lynx in Brooklyn. That same day will see 10 of the 12 teams in action – including another meeting between Connecticut and Los Angeles. Hopkins returns to Minnesota when the Lynx host the Liberty at Target Center. That same day, Stanley returns to Washington as the Fever get together with the Mystics at DC Entertainment and Sports Arena.

June 27 will also be a day to circle on the WNBA’s calendar because the Liberty will travel cross-country to face the Storm. With Sabrina Ionescu pegged as everyone’s prospective No. 1 overall draft pick, expect a large contingency from Oregon that will make that trip up I-5 to Seattle to cheer on Oregon’s very own.

The first of the Mystics’ games against the team it defeated in the Finals – Connecticut – will occur on June 28 at DC’s Entertainment and Sports Arena. They meet up again on July 5 at Mohegan Sun Arena and one more time on September 20 in the Nation’s Capital. The June 28 (ESPN2) and September 5 (ABC) are both on national television on the ESPN family of channels.

As a result of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the season gets extended by two games from 34 to 36 and also features a new Commissioner’s Cup. It denotes a portion of regular season games – 10 per team – as going towards Cup play. The team with the best record in each conference will compete for the Commissioner’s Cup title and a prize pool.

Those games will be the first home game and first road game each team plays against its five conference rivals during the first “half” of the season prior to the Olympic break (July 11-Aug. 15). The tentative date for the Commissioner’s Cup title game is Friday, Aug. 14.


The Commissioner’s Cup offers fans another competition through which to support their favorite teams and adds a new dimension to the season for our players and teams. And the 2020 schedule gives fans even more opportunities to see the best players in the world compete at the highest level and highlights the ABC/ESPN family’s continued commitment to the WNBA and women’s sports.

–Cathy Engelbert, WNBA commissioner (per release)


The WNBA continues to be a priority for ESPN, as it has been since its launch. We look forward to working hand-in-hand with the league, elevating women’s professional basketball to new heights.

–Carol Stiff, ESPN VP, programming and acquisitions (per release)

The Mystics, Sparks and Mercury will appear on the ESPN channels five times with the Storm and Sun each appearing on four occasions. Interestingly enough, the Liberty will be on the ESPN networks twice with the move to Barclays complete – June 16 vs. the Mercury and July 2 vs. the Sun.

The NBA TV, CBS Sports Network, TSN and SportsNet games will be announced at a later date as well as this year’s Twitter slate. ESPN will air 17 games, including five on ABC and 10 on ESPN2.

ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 telecasts:

May 16 – Sparks at Mystics (4 p.m., ESPN)

June 2 – Storm at Mystics (8 p.m., ESPN2)

June 6 – Mercury at Aces (3 p.m., ABC)

June 7 – Sparks at Lynx (3 p.m., ABC)

June 16 – Mercury at Liberty (8 p.m., ESPN2)

June 16 – Aces at Sparks (10 p.m., ESPN2)

June 23 – Storm at Wings (8 p.m., ESPN2)

June 23 – Mercury at Sparks (10 p.m., ESPN2)

June 27 – Sky at Aces (4 p.m., ESPN2)

June 28 – Sun at Mystics (3 p.m., ESPN2)

July 2 – Sun at Liberty (8 p.m., ESPN2)

Aug. 16 – Lynx at Sun (12 p.m., ESPN)

Aug. 25 – Sparks at Sky (8 p.m., ESPN2)

Aug. 25 – Lynx at Storm (10 p.m., ESPN2)

Sept. 6 – Mystics at Mercury (3 p.m., ABC)

Sept. 13 – Mercury at Storm (3 p.m., ABC)

Sept. 20 – Sun at Mystics (3 p.m., ABC)

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