NBA vs WNBA: Revenue, Salaries, Viewership, Attendance and Ratings

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It wasn’t long ago that the WNBA and the NBA game were quite different. Rules of the game weren’t the same across the board, seemingly to increase the attractiveness of the product rather than providing a consistent one through each avenue.

Today, the WNBA and the NBA have never been closer in how the game is played.

But there are still some key differences:

  • A WNBA basketball is an inch smaller and two ounces lighter than a regulation NBA basketball.
  • There are four quarters in an NBA and WNBA game. Each quarter is 12 minutes in the NBA and 10 minutes in the WNBA.
  • An NBA roster consists of a maximum of 15 players and a minimum of 12. A team may have two additional players under contract as “Two-Way Contracts” who split time with the parent club and G-League affiliate.
  • A WNBA roster has a maximum roster size of 12 players.
  • A player in the WNBA Draft must be 22 years old. A draftee does not maintain any contract guarantee, despite being drafted.
  • A player in the NBA Draft must be at least 19 years old and have at least one year of post-secondary experience.

There is a recurring debate over whether the product put out by the NBA and WNBA individually, justifies the revenue share between owners, league, and players.

We’ll also take a look at the growth of each league and see how they’re positioned for the future.

We’re going to answer some of the lasting questions of this debate as we compare the NBA and the WNBA – their revenue, salaries, attendance, ratings – and try to reveal the current and future path of each league.

If you’d like to see more of men’s and women’s basketball side by side, then have a look at how NCAA men’s basketball and women’s basketball compare.

We are going to start with each league’s revenue.

NBA vs WNBA Comparison Table

$7.4 billion $60 million
Average Salaries
$6.4 million $71,635
Ticket Price
$89 USD $17.42 USD
Highest-Paid Player
Stephen Curry $40 million Brittney Griner $113,500
Average Viewership
2019 NBA Finals 15.14 million In 2018: 231,000 viewers
Average Attendance
18,000 6,768
2019 NBA Finals had an 8.8 rating reaching 15.14 million 2019 WNBA season had a 0.6 rating, a 200% increase
Highest viewed game – 18.7 rating, reached 29.04 million viewers

NBA vs WNBA: Revenue

Which League Makes More Money: the NBA, or the WNBA?

The NBA, by a landslide. In total, there are 1230 NBA Games during the regular season. There are at maximum, 105 playoff games – if each series were to max out at seven games.

In a WNBA season, there are 204 matchups between teams. As each team plays 34 games – four against in-conference competition and three against out of conference competition. There is the possibility of 35 post-season games if each series maxed out at five games.

It is currently estimated that the WNBA generates approximately $60 million in revenue, while $12.3 million of that revenue is distributed to its players.

In 2018, the NBA’s 30 teams generated $7.4 billion in revenue which was up 25% from 2017. From a 1983 agreement to cap payrolls, NBA Players are guaranteed at least 53% of league revenue.

How Does Each League Distribute Its Revenue?

Revenue share is key in determining the worth of a league not only to its fans but to its most important employees, the players.

In the NBA, revenue is distributed equally amongst franchises equal to the salary cap set for the year. To receive full revenue sharing benefits, a team must generate revenue that is equal to 70% of the league average.

Roughly 50% of the NBA’s revenue is split between the league and the players.

The WNBA follows a similar system, as the CBA determines the amount of revenue that is split between players and league.

While the WNBA hasn’t officially announced the cut between league and players, it is estimated to be an 80-20 split in favor of the league. The WNBA recently opted out of their CBA, citing the 20.5% player revenue share wasn’t agreeable.

Which Is More Profitable, the NBA Post-Season or WNBA Post-Season?

The NBA. While playoff formats are brilliant due to the excitement that it brings fans, the main value of it lies in the revenue gained during a focused and continuous tournament.

Regular advertisements are what keeps the NBA rather clean of blatant marketing pieces adorned to their players, unlike in many other global leagues.

In 2018 the NBA was third in tv advertising revenue generated during the post-season. Generating an incredible $970 million, they trailed only the NFL and the NCAA in tv advertisement spent on a league.

It fails to be a contest when comparing the WNBA. The WNBA fails to generate even one percent of the NBA’s $8-$9 billion in revenue.

Measuring the post-season revenue is a bit difficult, but estimating is assisted by presented viewership numbers.

The 2019 NBA Finals had 27% fewer viewers this year, compared to last year (17.85M to 10.4M). In fact, Toronto’s Game 3 win tied the all-time lowest NBA Finals rating since the Spurs-Cavaliers Game 4 match in 2007.

However massive support was seen in Canada as an average of 3.8 million people watched the Finals across Sportsnet and CityTV (two Canadian broadcast stations, the latter exclusively presenting the American-ABC feed).

Add that to the total and the total viewership decrease was only 23%, compared to the USA-only viewership decrease of 27%. The WNBA doesn’t hold a candle to those numbers.

Which Teams Are Worth More, NBA or WNBA?

The NBA dominates the WNBA in this regard.

The average NBA team value is $1.9 billion, a 13% growth over last year. Each team received $110 million from shared-revenue outlets including national media, sponsorship, and licensing streams.

Four teams – the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, and Chicago Bulls – earned at least $110 million last season. The Cleveland Cavaliers were the only team to lose money last season.

The NBA teams are far and away the more valuable side in this comparison. While the numbers for the WNBA haven’t been officially released, a number of those franchises are estimated to have been propped up by their NBA ownership.

Take the New York Knicks for example. The Knicks are the most valuable franchise in the NBA, worth approximately $4 billion. Until 2019, the owner of the WNBA’s New York Liberty was the Knicks’ very own James Dolan.

Dolan said to the Washington Post:

“[The Liberty] hasn’t made money,” James Dolan, chairman of franchise owner Madison Square Garden company, told HBO’s “Real Sports” program in 2015, adding that he was considering handing his franchise back to WNBA leadership to cut his losses. “Its prospects of making money, at that time and even today, are still slim.”

When WNBA teams are sold, very rarely is the purchase price publicly announced. Many WNBA teams’ ownership is under an LLC (Atlanta Dream), a corporation (Connecticut Sun, Las Vegas Aces), or a parent NBA team (Indiana Fever, Washington Mystics).

Teams in the WNBA shift ownership and location regularly. It is the curse of a young league, as the WNBA has only been around 23 years to the NBA’s 73. James Dolan, the owner of the New York Knicks, recently sold the New York Liberty to Joe Tsai – co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group.

Which League Is More Internationally Driven, the NBA or the WNBA?

Even though the WNBA has a great international presence, the NBA has more international players.

The WNBA has hosted players from over 53 different countries across its 23-year history. While the majority of players hail from the United States, there is significant participation from some other major countries.

2019 WNBA International Countries Represented (Number of Players)

  • Australia (5)
  • Canada (5)
  • China (2)
  • France (2)
  • Hungary (2)

In terms of the international game, the WNBA took scouting abroad seriously earlier in the leagues’ history. A number of international players were top picks:

  • Isabelle Fijalkowski – France – Second Overall – 1997
  • Ticha Penicheiro – Portugal – 2nd Overall 1999
  • Ma?gorzata Dydek – Poland – 1st Overall, 1999
  • Ann Wauters – Belgium – 1st Overall, 2000
  • Lauren Jackson – Australia – 1st Overall, 2001
  • Chantelle Anderson – Lebanon – 2nd Overall, 2003
  • Liz Cambage – Australia – 2nd Overall, 2011
  • Amanda Zahui B. – Sweden – 2nd Overall, 2015

The NBA, by nature of its scale and presence, set records in its international presence last season. Out of 508 available roster spots, 108 players were international players representing 42 different countries and territories on the opening night of 2018.

2019 NBA International Countries Represented (Number of Players)

  • Canada (11)
  • Australia (9)
  • France (9)
  • Spain (7)
  • Germany (6)
  • Croatia, Serbia, Turkey (5)

Europe is the most represented continent outside of North America, with 65 players on NBA rosters.

The Dallas Mavericks have an NBA-high seven international players, while the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers have six.

A number of international players were selected first overall in the prestigious NBA Draft.

  • Mychal Thompson – Bahamas – 1st Overall, 1978
  • Hakeem Olajuwon – Nigeria – 1st Overall, 1984
  • Michael Olowokandi – Nigeria – 1st Overall, 1998
  • Yao Ming – China – 1st Overall, 2002
  • Andrew Bogut – Australia – 1st Overall, 2005
  • Andrea Bargnani – Italy – 1st Overall, 2006
  • Anthony Bennett – Canada – 1st Overall, 2013
  • Andrew Wiggins – Canada – 1st Overall, 2014
  • Karl-Anthony Towns – Dominican Republic – 1st Overall, 2015
  • Ben Simmons – Australia – 1st Overall, 2016
  • DeAndre Ayton – Bahamas – 1st Overall, 2018

NBA vs WNBA: Salaries

What Is the Average NBA Salary? What Is the Average WNBA Salary?

Stephen Curry
Source PA Images: Stephen Curry is the NBA’s highest-paid player

Thanks to a sky-rocketing salary cap, aided by record cable television agreements, the average NBA player makes more than ever.

The average salary of an NBA player is $6.4 million.

The highest-paid player in the NBA will be Stephen Curry during the 2019-2020 season. He will make approximately $40 million guaranteed.

A minimum salary in the NBA is dependant on your years of experience in the NBA. Scaling from no experience to 10+ years of experience, a minimum contract can cost from $838,464 to $2.4 million.

The wages in the WNBA are nowhere near their NBA counterparts.

Brittney Griner
Source PA Images: Brittney Griner is among the WNBA’s highest-paid athletes

An average WNBA player made $71,635 last season and the number is expected to increase to approximately $75,000.

The maximum salary for a WNBA player is $113,500. The minimum salary for a WNBA player is $41,202, which is also equal to the rookie minimum salary.

The WNBA’s wage differences are in part due to the revenue split between the WNBA and league that gives the players around 20% of WNBA revenue. As such, many of the WNBA’s top players ply their trade overseas in the offseason, usually to more profitable results.

For example, Brittney Griner, the WNBA’s highest-paid player, has played in China with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls and UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason.

Why Do WNBA Players Make Less Money Than their NBA Counterparts?

The most important action in the history of the WNBA is soon to come. Last season the WNBA players’ labor union opted out of its collective bargaining agreement at the end of this season. They chose not to wait until the deal expired in 2021.

WNBPA President and Los Angeles Sparks player Nneka Ogwumike said:

In opting out of this CBA, our primary objective is full transparency. We just want information about where the league is as a business, so that we can come together and make sound decisions for the future of the game.

Ogwumike has stated that the goal of the WNBPA opting out of its current CBA isn’t a statement of privilege, but one to better understand the goings-on of the NBA – the WNBA’s parent company.

Seeing as Adam Silver declared that the WNBA lost $12 million last year, all the WNBPA asks for is clarity.

The root of the wage gap is simple. The NBA rakes in more than $8 billion in revenue every year and the WNBA doesn’t generate a fraction of that.

David Berri (Forbes) quoted that a source suggested a conservative estimate of the WNBA’s revenue would be approximately $60 million.

Even at the current CBA which stipulates an approximate 80-20 revenue split between players and owners – in favor of the owners, that revenue valuation would suggest players would be taking home $12.3 million.

NBA vs WNBA: Viewership

Which Is More Viewed in the US, the NBA, or the WNBA?

The NBA viewership is one of the major sports populations in the world. Almost 27% of Americans tune in to the NBA on a regular basis, with that amount peaking during the playoffs and the NBA Finals.

In the 2019 NBA Finals, an average of 15.14 million people watched. That number does not include the Canadian television audience.

While the numbers for the WNBA season have not been made available yet, they are trending in the right direction. From 2017 to 2018, viewership for WNBA matches on ESPN increased by 35%.

With 231,000 viewers in 2018, the WNBA climbed to a viewership high not seen since 2013.

Where Else Is the NBA Broadcast (Outside USA)?

The NBA is a global league, to say the least. In part, because they broadcast across the globe.

96 countries across 8 continents broadcast the NBA. From Canada to the Philippines, Andorra to South Africa, the NBA’s reach is truly global.

Is there an International Market for the WNBA?

The broadcast market for the WNBA is significantly smaller than that of the NBA, but not irrelevant.

The WNBA is broadcast in 24 different countries outside of the United States, on top of four different pan-regional channels.

NBA vs WNBA: Attendance

Who Had More Fans Last Season? The NBA or the WNBA?

Attendance at NBA games is much greater than attendance at WNBA games. On average, approximately 18,000 attend live NBA matches every night.

The Philadelphia 76ers have the highest attendance in the league at 20,441 while the lowest attendance is owned by the Brooklyn Nets who average 14,941 in attendance.

Attendance for the WNBA is the lowest it has been in league history. In 2018 the average attendance of a WNBA regular-season game was 6,768. Far below the historical league average of 7,400 attendees per game.

Much of that drop has to do with constant moving schedules of teams. The Chicago Sky have played in three different arenas since 2010.

In an extreme case, the New York Liberty were moved to Westchester upon being sold. After averaging over 10,000 fans per game, they were moved to Westchester County Centre which holds a maximum of 5,000.

Which Has the Highest Average Ticket Price: NBA or WNBA?

The NBA. An average NBA ticket during the 2018-2019 season cost approximately $89 USD. Up 14% from 2015.

Prices have become even steeper on the secondary market, almost matching the cost of a new ticket at $88.90 USD. Up 27% from 2016.

In 2018, the average reported ticket price in the WNBA is $17.42.

NBA vs WNBA: Ratings

Which League Has Better Ratings?

The 2019 WNBA season started off with a bang to its rating season. The third game of the WNBA season delivered a 0.6 rating, which was up 200% from the same time last year.

After expanding its coverage to 16 different regular-season telecasts, the WNBA seems to be taking a step in the right direction.

The NBA, on the other hand, is a juggernaut in the ratings department. They set an all-time ratings high in 1998 when the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz garnered an 18.7/33, reaching 29.04 million unique viewers.

The 2019 NBA Finals were a different story, as it boasted an average rating of only 8.8 reaching only 15.14 million viewers. However, those numbers don’t take into account Canadian viewership, as one of the competitors in the 2019 NBA Finals were Canada’s Toronto Raptors. Averaging about 7.4 million viewers per game, which is approximately 20% of the Canadian population.

Does that Mean the NBA Has More Viewers?

The NBA has a wider reach in terms of broadcasting compared to the WNBA.

While the WNBA has increased its broadcast to sixteen different telecasts, the NBA still dwarfs them in that regard.

The NBA is shown on national broadcast channels such as ABC, ESPN, TNT, and NBA TV. On top of that, they broadcast over nine different regional networks for its thirty clubs.

Conclusion: It Is Still Complicated

The NBA and the WNBA are a comparison unlike many others in professional sports. It is one of the few sporting comparisons that transcends gender.

Basketball is played the same throughout, but compensation is significantly different.

Considering the NBA owns the WNBA, and many WNBA teams are owned by their NBA counterparts, it will be long before the two products will ever meet the same ground.

Basketball players are some of the most recognizable in the world – due to their media personalities and on-court presence, as well as the fact that they are devoid of significant advertisement and equipment masking their image.

Growth seems natural for both the NBA and the WNBA going forward. Basketball is amongst the sports that have the highest enrolment at the youth level, due to its safety, organization, and ability to play regardless of weather and equipment.

How the WNBPA goes forward with its CBA will play a huge role in how the WNBA grows going forward.

The NBA reigns supreme at this moment, but the ladies are coming for their due. Should they reach a CBA similar to their male counterparts in the NBA, we could be seeing a whole new era in basketball.

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Christian Jope

Expert on NBA

Christian Jope is a writer, social media strategist, and data analyst. A Queen’s University Alumni, Christian is an author and social media strategist with Raptors Cage, while also working closely with MLSE and Canada Basketball through community-driven events.

Email: [email protected]