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WNBA Players Opt Out of CBA

While the NBA is in full swing, the WNBA quietly has been making the news. On November 1, the WNBA Players Association opted out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) they had with the WNBA. A move like this makes ripples throughout the sports and business world.

WNBA Players Agree to Opt Out of CBA

The announcement was made by WNBAPA President Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks on the Players Tribune website. Ogwumike’s announcement was passionate from the outset. “This is not just about business, this is deeply personal.” Ogwumike wrote. “I want young female athletes to dream about playing in a vibrant and thriving WNBA.”

Ogwumike wrote, “We take this seriously. So seriously. We’re not just opting out of this agreement — we’ve also given rigorous consideration to the agreement that we want in its place.” To further clarify, the WNBAPA President wrote, “To me, opting out means not just believing in ourselves, but going one step further: betting on ourselves. It means being a group of empowered women, in the year 2018, not just feeling fed up with the status quo, but going one step further: rejecting the status quo.” Strong words from an obviously strong leader. A well-supported leader.

The current CBA was signed in 2014 and scheduled to run through 2021. This move by the Players Union does not affect the 2019 season, an agreement is needed before the 2020 season commences.

Why Opt Out?

Well, an obvious reason is for better wages. However, money is not the only reason or even the most important reason arguably. In the Players’ Tribune essay Ogwumike cited the primary reason for opting out as “full transparency”. They are seeking information on the where the league is as a business entity. Never one to mince words Ogwumike wrote, “We don’t know how the league is doing. As the kids say nowadays, we just want to see the receipts.” These players know they are the product and seek to be treated more as partners when it comes to the league’s decision-making process.

But what does that all mean in simple English? According to ESPNW writer Mechelle Voepel, the players seek additional involvement in branding initiatives and growth strategies. The players also seek better working experiences for all teams, from training facilities to traveling.

Remember the Las Vegas Aces canceled a game after traveling an absurd 25 plus hours, finally arriving at its destination a mere 4 hours before scheduled tip-off. The Aces’ players cited an obvious increased risk of injury as the reason for the cancellation. The WNBA was not very understanding and as a result, issued a forfeit on August 7.

The WNBA’s Response

The WNBA is in transition currently. Former President Lisa Borders stepped down on October 2. Deputy NBA Commissioner Mark Tatum is now the interim president. The NBA possesses a 70 percent ownership stake in the WNBA. In addition to searching for a new President, the WNBA team New York Liberty has been searching for a buyer for its club. Further to that, the NBA is now admitting quietly that the league’s marketing strategy has not yielded the expected success over the last 22 years.

To this end, Tatum urged corporate entities and fans to support and invest in the WNBA.

NBA Commissioner Weighs In

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver expressed optimism in the upcoming negotiations. During an interview with ESPNW, Commissioner Silver stated his position. “I wasn’t disappointed at all,” Silver said. “And in a way, the silver lining of them opting out now is that, given that [WNBA president Lisa Borders] left when she did, my sense from talking to players and listening to what they’re saying publicly is that we seem to be missing a connection, a real engagement between the players and the league. It’s something I know we can do.”

Using his relationship with the NBA Players Association and their head Michelle Roberts as his example, Silver further expounded on his point. “It doesn’t mean we [The NBA and the Players Association] don’t have disagreements, but I think everyone would say that we’re truly listening to each other and that there is a sense of real inclusion. By them reopening the agreement early … let’s begin these discussions now.”

On the subject of partnership, Commissioner Silver was resolute in his response. “We absolutely want them to have input; they are our partners in this league,” Silver said. “I think this is an opportunity to correct every aspect of our relationship with them.”

Silver opined on his feelings about the WNBA. “I believe in this league and the women who are our players. But there’s something in our approach that hasn’t resonated with consumers. We’re going to be trying some new things.” Silver continued. “One of the initiatives that Lisa (Borders) began, about six months ago, was to take a fresh look at the WNBA brand and to bring in some outside voices to give us some guidance there and to confer with the players as well.”

Silver on the Issues of Flying and Financial Compensation

On the flying issues that players have voiced on social media and other platforms, Commissioner Silver said the following. “I hear the players loud and clear: There are certain points in the season where it would probably make sense to have a charter program,” he said. “I don’t hear the players saying, ‘We expect an NBA charter program overnight.’ ”

“It’s something I’m sure we’ll discuss as part of the bargaining process. The teams want what’s best for the players as well. It’s just that you have to decide where you want to spend your money.”

On financial issues, Commissioner Silver was defensive. “The investment that we have made over the last 22 years in the WNBA is many times greater than the investment we’ve made in the G League.” This was in response to questions and criticisms from WNBA players and observers who saw the newly proposed incentive structure for elite G-League players as a slight to the WNBA. Silver said this incentive structure was not an attempt to slight the WNBA, stating that the WNBA and NBA G-League are totally separate entities.

All parties preach optimism about impending negotiations

The WNBA Players Association wrote the following in their statement regarding negotiations. “We look forward to our upcoming discussions and negotiating a new agreement with the league.”

Interim President of the WNBA Mark Tatum said, “The league and its teams are committed to an open and good-faith negotiation that is rooted in the financial realities of our business. We are getting to work immediately and are confident such a process can lead to a fair deal for all involved.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stood firm about the NBA’s stance on the WNBA. “In the case of the WNBA, we’ve never at any point said that the measure [of investment] is about profitability in any given season. We’ve invested year after year and are going to continue to invest. There is no short-term business plan to turn the league into a profitable one, but that’s OK. We are willing to continue to invest for the long term, with the players as our partners.”

National Basketball Players Association President Chris Paul also weighed in. “I’ve gotten an opportunity to talk to [Ogwumike] a number of times, and she is not only an amazing player, but she’s also amazing at what she’s doing for the WNBA players,” said Paul. “I think them continuing to fight for themselves and use their voice is great because I’m a big fan of the WNBA.”

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