Supply and Demand

Some of the area's top basketball minds and sports economists gathered a couple nights ago for a theoretical debate about what the average pay of a WNBA player should be. Here's what fell out:

"One thousand a game," said Emily Hice.

"Two thousand a game," offered Rachel Arington.

"One to two thousand a game," Jill Carroll stated plainly, playing the politician.

Relatively the same answers. Maybe the groupthink phenomenon was at work.

Or, maybe the answers would've differed if issues like taxation, bonus pay, and the value of the dollar in the international market were argued. But alas, they were not, because the experts didn't want to get into these issues... because the experts are all ten years old. I help coach their AAU basketball team, the Angels. We struck up the salary dialogue after practice on Monday.

Ten-year-old girls, if you don't know, are indeed authorities on everything. Just ask them.

And these three girls, especially Emily, were right (on the money). According to Leigh Grandy, Marketing Team Leader for the WNBA's Orlando Miracle franchise (and formerly in promotions in UK athletics), the average WNBAer makes $32-34,000.

This may or may not seem like a lot of money to you. Depends on what your job is. If you are a full-time journalist, a WNBA salary may be a treasure chest (depending on the market - for the journalist, not the WNBA player). If you are a high school teacher, a WNBA player may be in the same tax bracket as you are. And if you are an NBA player, a WNBAer's salary may be your hourly billing rate.

Did I say hourly billing rate? I meant eighth-of-an-hour billing rate.

In the 1998-99 NBA season, Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves was the league's highest-paid player. If Garnett were paid by the minute, he could have played just .16 percent of the NBA season and still have made 34 grand. If the average WNBA player played just .16 percent of her season, she'd make an entire $2.05 - rounded up.

That may make you say, "Holy Gender Inequity, Batman!"

Or it may make you say, if you're Kathleen Woods, one of the smallest, speediest Angels, "That's not fair because men and women should be treated the same."

It's nice to be 10, when things should be one way or the other just because they should.

Leigh Grandy was 10 years old 15 years ago. She knows better.

"When it comes down to a revenue thing, women athletes are paid fairly. The women do not sell as many tickets as the men," she said.

Neither do women sell as much TV, and TV signs many an athlete's check.

From October 1998 through August 1999, only one female sporting event cracked the 75 top-rated network sports events, according to Nielsen. This was the Women's World Cup Finals, sandwiched at #57 between the NBA Finals Game 1 and the December 20 NFL Regular Season Late Post-Game Show on FOX.

You don't have to be Adam Smith or Chuck Schwab to figure out that this means the supply of women's athletics is increasing faster than the TV demand.

That is, the market is literally limiting the salaries of professional women athletes. Now, to understand who ultimately controls that market, yeah, you probably do have to be a Schwab or Smith type.

The (smaller) bottom line is "women athletes need to be patient - we [women's professional sports franchises] cannot pay people money that we are not making," Grandy explains.

And Grandy does know something about sports teams not generating huge cash flows. She served in the promotional department for the non-revenue sports of men's and women's golf, soccer, and tennis at the University of Kentucky from June 1999 through February of 2000.

Still, she says, "The opportunities in basketball are awesome. The WNBA is an awesome empowerment tool for the women."

The Angels probably don't recognize yet what the WNBA could mean for their futures. No, they're too busy scuttling about the floor in organized chaos - sweating, setting fierce picks, diving to fight for loose balls. In general, having a wonderful time with the game.

And when it stops being fun, and starts feeling like a job - or even a career path - I hope they all quit.

Actually, very few of them, at this point, can name a WNBA player, let alone aspire to make a living off basketball.

"I want to play soccer," said Tyler Darland, a pony-tailed point guard with a mean cross-over dribble.

Center Erika Frey wants "to be an architect and make $100,000 a year." Which prompted Rachel to interrupt with, "What's an architect???"

Rachel's question told me that the girls had had enough basketball/business talk. So I shifted the dialogue to what the girls liked to do off the court.

I asked, misguidedly, if the girls played with Barbie. A query to which six simultaneously responded with an appalled, "Noooooooo!!!!!!"

Ten-year-old girls?

Maybe the groupthink phenomenon was at work again.