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Pro Basketball’s Gender Pay Gap Is the ‘Perfect Business Problem,’ the WNBA’s New Commissioner Says

October 22, 2019, 1:55 AM UTC

The average NBA player salary for the 2019-2020 season is around $7.7 million, according to Basketball Reference. The average salary of an WNBA player, meanwhile, is around $75,0000. Though the men’s schedule packs in more than twice the games that the women’s league offers, the math isn’t even close to comparable, a fact not lost to Cathy Engelbert, the newly installed WNBA commissioner and CEO who joined the league in July after leading the professional services giant Deloitte.

“It varies, but it’s not enough,” Engelbert said Monday, regarding WNBA player salaries during Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C.

Raising wages for WNBA players is just one of the many challenging tasks facing Engelbert, who described joining the basketball league as an example of stepping into the “perfect business problem.”

For instance, Engelbert said the WNBA needs more people watching and attending the live games, more investment in sales and marketing, and more support from businesses. 

“We have a big issue around women’s sports right now around money,” Engelbert said. “Less than 5% of corporate sponsorship goes to women and less than 5% of media coverage goes to women.” 

But Engelbert is optimistic about the future of the WNBA, and women’s sports in general. For instance, the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s World Cup victory this past summer brought massive attention and accolades to women in sports. Engelbert is hoping that some of that momentum—as well as the movement around women’s empowerment—spills over to the WNBA as well.

But it’s not just U.S. women soccer players who are dominating the women’s sports world, Engelbert said. The U.S. women’s national basketball team has won six consecutive gold medals, and is aiming for its seventh at the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo. Another U.S. women gold would turn the program into a sports dynasty for the ages.

But, there’s a problem, says Engelbert: “Nobody is talking about it.” At least they aren’t, yet.

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