WNBL players welcome minimum pay increase, but is it a double-edged sword?

The 2019 season saw a record-breaking attendance at the Grand Final series, attracting nearly 15,000 faithful fans to see the best talent the WNBL has to offer.

Off the back of this, the WNBL has recognised the need to retain and develop player talent by raising the minimum wage to $13,000 for next season, a 73 per cent increase. The move comes about despite two of the league’s eight teams almost forced into extintion due to financial difficulty within the past 6 months.

After enjoying gold medal success at recent Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast and silver at the 2018 FIBA World Cup, the Australian peak league for female basketball has reacted to pressure to avoid losing talent to the AFLW, Super Netball as well as other sporting codes while recognising the talent taking to the hardwood.

The increase in player payments has come from discussions held between the WNBL and the Australian Basketballers’ Association in their minimum conditions agreement. It will run for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons.

Head of the WNBL Sally Phillips said the sport needed to show young players they were valued and had a clear pathway into the league with progression into the representative team, the Australian Opals.

“The WNBL’s vision is to be Australia’s most accessible, inspiring and globally elite women’s professional sporting league,” Phillips said.

“Young girls playing basketball need to see there is a clear career pathway and continued improvements in conditions for our WNBL athletes is a high priority.

“We want the best athletes in our league, and we want to see girls making basketball their sport of choice.”

This new deal for the WNBL is aimed to accurately reflect the hours the league’s players put into their careers. The details of the AFLW’s most recent deal, rewarded in their second season of 2018, outlined the wages of its players as follows on a revised tiered payment system, with the minimum wage of a senior-listed player lifted from $8,500 to $10,500 through to a rookie-listed player required to receive an $8,500 salary. That set by the womens basketball league is extremely favourable in comparison to their AFLW counterparts. However there was no mention of how the additional expense for teams would be covered, and this should be of concern to everyone involved.

In the case of netball as a competitor to the talent pool, they delivered a massive pay deal in 2016, which saw a doubling of the previous minimum wage. That increase came on the back of a massive commercial deal with NAB, and at this point in time, there is no mention or any whispers of any such deal for the WNBL on the horizon.

With the aim to cement its status as the nation’s number one sport for women, netball’s pay deal saw landmark family-friendly conditions and pay along with the minimum wage for players increase to $27,375.

Following podium finishes at both the Commonwealth Games and World Championships, the need to grow female basketball talent throughout the country and to be nurtured through its peak league is more vital now than ever. With the Olympics in Tokyo next year, it is the next chance for our great female talent to show what they bring to the court. The WNBL free agency has commenced, and the reaction from various stars across the league is overall very positive.

“It’s a massive step in the right direction and we have to thank Jacob [Holmes, CEO Players Association] and the players association for all the hard work they’ve done to get us here. As a full-time university student there isn’t enough time to play basketball at this level, study and work and I know there are a lot of other players in similar situations so to have a little more money it makes it a lot less stressful,” Canberra Capitals forward Keely Froling stated.

“It’s great and obviously another positive stride the league has taken to become better. Hopefully we see it continue to grow in the coming years as a result,” Townville Fire guard Mikhaela Donnelly also commented.

The deal not only looks after the current talent pool, but that of the future, and it was not lost on current Duke freshman star and Australian junior representative Miela Goodchild.

“The way forward for equality in sport for women can seem completely daunting at times and this deal signifies movement in the right direction towards narrowing the gap even though it does still highlight that we still have a long way to go,” explained Goodchild.

“I have not yet entered the pro world yet but believe it is critical for the development of women in sport and for the recognition and value of our hard work and commitment that we are presented and exposed to great opportunities to play professionally. I am a proud Australian and I love playing in and for Australia and the WNBL is one of the best leagues in the world, so I am very pleased Australia is taking the initiative and putting in place better conditions and exposing women in sport more.”

Even though there is great support and hype surrounding this pay deal, questions still remain over the feasibility of such an arrangement, including where the funding for the increase is coming from. It was not something lost for Adelaide Lightning’s cult hero Nicole Seekamp either, someone who lived through a season of uncertainty given the dire financial faced by her club throughout 2018/19.

“I think it’s a great step forward for women’s basketball; however I am interested to see how teams deal with it financially,” outlined Seekamp.

While there is no doubting that Australia’s elite female basketballers deserve their pay rise – and in fact much more – the financial viability of the WNBL and its teams is of paramount importance. With Adelaide narrowly avoiding its demise, and more recently Dandenong, the question remains as to where the extra money is coming from to support the additional expense. Let’s hope that the increase to the minimum wage to recognise the players does not turn out to be a double edged sword, as that would be an absolute disaster.

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