June 2, 2024

WNBA’s Internal Struggle: Uphold Fairness or Chase Money?

The WNBA has recently experienced drastic growth through superstar players like Caitlin Clark and Kamilla Cardoso making their debuts. The 2024 draft saw an unprecedented average viewership of almost 2.5M, more than quadrupling the figures from the previous year. With a wave of momentum carrying the WNBA into the spotlight, organizations have been making moves to capitalize on its heightened popularity. The deal making the most headlines revolves around the Las Vegas Aces.

las vegas aces

Inside The New Las Vegas Deal

The Las Vegas Aces have struck a new deal with the Las Vegas tourism authority that grants each player an additional $100K every season. Initially designed to support a successful local team, the deal is now facing backlash from both fans and players. It has even triggered an investigation into the Aces organization. Critics argue that the deal undermines the spirit of salary cap rules and creates an unfair advantage by retaining Aces players and attracting new recruits. Although the deal does not technically violate salary cap regulations, many view it as unethical. While it could help grow the WNBA, this growth could come at the expense of the league’s values and competitiveness.

An Enticing Offer
When comparing WNBA salaries to their male counterparts in the NBA, the deal seems inconsequential. After all, NBA players’ inflated salaries are no secret. Stars like Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, and Anthony Edwards earn nearly $250M over just five years. Compared to these figures, $100K seems like a drop in the bucket, hardly enough to retain a player. However, WNBA contracts are significantly lower. For instance, Caitlin Clark, arguably the best women's college basketball player in history, has a salary of just $75K. The Aces' Jackie Young earns a team and league-high of $252K, highlighting why an additional $100K is unquestionably a game changer.

las vegas aces

The Ethical Dilemma

Although the deal does not violate WNBA salary cap rules, it has raised concerns among players and fans about its impact on recruiting. The uniqueness of this deal, unmatched by any other team or city, makes it particularly notable. Critics worry that it promotes a pay-to-play atmosphere, which could be problematic if confirmed by the WNBA's investigation. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) argues that the money functions as a sponsorship, requiring players to wear Las Vegas-related gear off the court. Since all Aces players are paid equally regardless of fame or court value, the money could be viewed as a bonus, thus not violating any rules. LVCVA President and CEO Steve Hill countered the pay-to-play criticism by noting that if the Aces win the title this year for a three-peat, players will receive more money, indicating the deal is performance-based.

Those in Favor

Some land on the other side of the coin, stating that the deal will aid in the advancement of the league and is a side product of its expansion. Reflecting on the fact that her organization has been investigated several times before, Aces’ star A’ja Wilson was adamant in her beliefs that investigation cannot always be the go-to. She feels that the deal will help grow the game and benefit both the franchise and its players. Aces coach, Becky Hammon, seconds the notion. She explains that the LVCVA “wanted the whole team.” Like a true sponsorship, LVCVA reached out to individual players and agents and “the Aces have nothing to do with it.”

las vegas aces


Despite an ongoing investigation, the future is not written in stone. Perhaps the deal will prompt other cities to similarly support their local players and teams, pouring more money into the sport. Maybe the deal will remain one-of-a-kind and attract the best players to the Aces, creating a dynasty like never before. In a different turn of events, the deal could be found to violate regulations and be terminated immediately. Whatever the outcome may be, we will find out what is more important to the WNBA– upholding fairness or chasing money.

Sources:

  1. https://www.sportspromedia.com/news/wnba-las-vegas-aces-tourism-sponsorship-payments-investigation/#:~:text=The%20Women's%20National%20Basketball%20Association,the%20arrangement%20on%2017th%20May.
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/athletic/5503533/2024/05/18/wnba-investigation-aces-sponsorship/
  3. https://www.sportico.com/law/analysis/2024/wnba-aces-investigation-sponsorships-1234779579/
  4. https://www.sportingnews.com/us/wnba/news/caitlin-clark-tv-ratings-wnba-viewership-records/4f55c44f4a0965aa14e72fa7#:~:text=Behind%20No.%201%20pick%20Caitlin%20Clark%2C%20WNBA%20Draft%20sets%20TV%20record&text=An%20average%20of%202.45%20million,draft%2C%20which%20averaged%20572%2C000%20viewers.
  5. https://www.sportingnews.com/us/wnba/news/wnba-10-highest-paid-players-2024/1104a976fdfdbd322602b4c4

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