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Analyzing Caitlin Clark’s WNBA salary: How does it stack up against other sports salaries?

After a successful college career at Iowa, Caitlin Clark has now embarked on her professional journey in Indiana. In Indiana, the median salary for college graduates is $52,267 annually according to the U.S. Census American Consumer Survey.

However, Clark is not your average young professional. She is a standout star with immense popularity and commercial appeal as she joins the WNBA. Selling out arenas, securing a $28 million Nike endorsement deal, and boosting television ratings, Clark has sparked debates about the economics of women’s basketball.

Clark will earn a modest salary of $76,535 in her first season with the Indiana Fever, surpassing the Indiana median. Despite this, her salary pales in comparison to other athletes in different sports. For example, the top pick in the 2023 NBA Draft made $12.16 million in his first season, which is around 80 times more per game than Clark. Similarly, the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick will earn about $1 million in salary plus a significant signing bonus. Even players in niche sports like bowling, surfing, and bull riding outearn Clark.

The WNBA generates less revenue than other major North American leagues, but Clark’s salary is also lower than professionals in niche sports. For instance, a contracted player in the Professional Pickleball Association earns a base salary of $75,000. The top five ranked players in the PPA Tour average $1.5 million in prize money annually. Additionally, top bull riders in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association make more than $76,535, with the top-ranked rider earning nearly Clark’s entire four-year contract in a single year.

Clark’s salary disparity has garnered national attention, with even the president weighing in on the issue. The disparity in earnings between WNBA players and other athletes is significant, as WNBA salaries represent a smaller percentage of league revenue than other major sports.

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has defended Clark’s pay, stating that she could earn up to half a million in WNBA wages in 2024 through various agreements and achievements. However, beyond her base salary, there are no guarantees of additional compensation.

The future of the WNBA and its players like Clark hinges on potential changes in the league’s financial landscape. While the league has made strides in securing more revenue through partnerships and media deals, there is still a long way to go to bridge the earnings gap between WNBA players and athletes in other sports.

Comparison of salaries in various sports:

1. Future Olympian, 18, earned $80,000 in one event this spring and totaled $219,000 in five 2024 events.

2. Finnish pro ranked No. 15, with $77,350 prize earnings in 14 events in 2023.

3. Charlotte Hornets entertainer makes an annual salary of $100,000, not the highest among NBA mascots.

4. Miami Marlins signed a 17-year-old catcher to a $75,000 deal in the 2024 class.

5. MLS midfielder made $75,325 base salary in 2023

6. Professional Pickleball League base starting prize money and payouts for a contracted player is around $75,000.

7. Golfer made $78,414 from 11 events in 2023.

8. 20-year-old ranked No. 26 and earned $76,439 in 2023.

9. Chess grandmaster made nearly $80,000 for winning a tournament in 2023.

10. Fortnite player ranked 481st worldwide and won $83,475 in 2023.

The WNBA’s current position is often compared to the NBA when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird entered the league, sparking a wave of popularity. Proponents hope that players like Clark can inspire similar rivalries and growth within the league.

While changes in the WNBA’s financial landscape are underway, Clark’s salary may never reach the levels of other athletes without significant adjustments. The hope is that with continued investment and support, the WNBA can provide its players with fair compensation and opportunities for growth.


Visual data: Drew Jordan / The Athletic; Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; Photos of Caitlin Simmers, Caitlin Clark, Hugo the Hornet, Charlotte Thomas, Sofiane Djeffal and Vidit Gujrathi: Aaron Hughes / Getty Images, Gregory Shamus / Getty Images, Matthew Grimes Jr./ Atlanta Braves, Meg Oliphant / Getty Images, Sofiane Djeffal / Getty Images, Vidit Gujrathi / Hindustan Times

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