History of Professional Women’s Basketball in the US

Professional women’s basketball in the United States is fairly new compared to men’s basketball as to only existing for the past 25 years. The first professional league for women was the American Basketball League (ABL). The ABL was founded in 1995; playing the first official season in 1996. Steve Hamms, Anne Cribbs, and Gary Cavalli wee the owners of the women’s basketball league. The league signed majority of the players from the 1996 USA women’s national team which included players like Jennifer Azzi, Teresa Edwards, Rebecca Lobo, Nikki McCray, Dawn Staley, and Sheryl Swoopes. These profound players made the ABL at the time, more competitive than their rival league the WNBA.

The WNBA  was founded on April 24, 1996 as the NBA Board of Governors approves the Women’s National Basketball Association to play in the summer of 1997. Former UVA standout Val Ackerman was the first WNBA president. Before anyone was signed to be a part of the league, it announced that NBC, ESPN and Lifetime Television would be its broadcasting partners. The WNBA season would be played in the summer because the sports calendar was less crowded which would give them more televised games. The WNBA began with eight teams: Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, Houston Comets, New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Sacramento Monarchs, and the Utah Starzz. The WNBA was the only professional women’s league receiving full support from the NBA.

Even though the WNBA was supported by the NBA, the ABL provided higher salaries. The two leagues did not compete for coverage either. The ABL was played during the winter and the WNBA was played during the summer. Even though the ABL could give their players more money, the WNBA over powered them with their financial resources.

Most of the ABL’s problems were internally caused. The league was a single- entity structure so they could control costs. Although the league could control its cost, all minor decisions that needed to be made had to go through the league office in California. Majority of the time, league officials were more focused on the sponsorships from the national level which created problems with organizations trying to connect with and market themselves locally. With all of these issues and the constant reminder of the financial burden, the ABL dismantled. The WNBA is now the only professional basketball league in the US for women. The WNBA has existed for last 22 years; 1996 being their first inaugural season.

History of Professional Men’s Basketball in the US

Before the NBA was ever in the picture, there was two leagues that were dominant in the US. The Basketball Association of America (BAA) and the National Basketball League (NBL) were the two leagues that were constantly competing against each other. The NBL was first established in 1937. The original name of the league was the Midwest Basketball Conference (MBC). The BAA was later founded in 1946. The league played in major cities and big arenas. The BAA gave the NBL problems when it came to fan support. On August 3, 1949, the BAA and the NBL came out with a deal to merge both leagues which created the profound NBA. The National Basketball Association (NBA) has been around for the last 72 years and it keeps getting better and better every year.

As the NBA continued to grow for their first 40+ years, the Association was in a position to approve the WNBA an assist in financial and media coverage support.

Even though these two leagues highlight the BEST talent in the world in the sport of basketball, there is a lot of inequality between the men and the women. There has always been a difference between the NBA and WNBA, being that the WNBA is only 22 years young.When we look at the differences of the two profound leagues, the three areas where we can find a significant gap between the professional athletes are revenue, exposure and salaries.


In 2017, the WNBA brought in $52.4 million dollars. On the other hand, the NBA brought in 7.37 billion dollars.

That is a big difference.

In regards to ticket sales, the WNBA has 7,716 fans a game. Tickets are around $17.42. That means the WNBA averages $134,412.72 a game from only tickets. To compare, the NBA averaged about 17,830 fans a game. Tickets are on average $89.00. That is $1,586,870 off of just ticket sales on average. This number is subject to change as the ticket prices vary from thousands of dollars to just $50.

Ticket sales play a big part in revenue, but this is not the only way these leagues make money. They also make money off of television time, exposure, and sponsorships.

The WNBA sponsorships on average give the WNBA close to 1.1 million dollars.

As far as percentages given to the players, the WNBA gives only 22% of revenue to its players.

The NBA on the other hand, gives there players 50% of their revenue.

Let that sink in.


Women sports only get 5% of all sports media coverage and 95% of coverage belong to men. Out of that 5%, the WNBA only gets 2% of coverage on television.

 2%                   77%

(WNBA coverage)                     (NBA coverage)

The numbers speak for itself.

The WNBA is more than likely shown on ESPN2, ESPN3+, or NBA TV. The NBA games are shown on ABC, NBC, ESPN, TNT, and ESPN2.

ESPN pays the WNBA 25 million dollars for the right to broadcast their games. Only 6 of the WNBA games are played on ESPN, 3 on ESPN 2, and 5 on NBA TV. There are 34 games played in the WNBA season, not including the playoffs.

Exposure impacts the amount of money the league generates and ultimately impacts the salary players receive.

Salary has been a common issue most people are more familiar about. The pay gap between the WNBA and the NBA are a crucial part of their differences.

One of the best in the WNBA Diana Taurasi, WNBA champion and won MVP of the league multiple times, only receives $758,072. A well decorated player in the league and well known around the country receives as much as a bench player in the NBA.

The average bench player in the NBA makes $900,000.

Imagine if you were not a Diana Taurasi.

A rookie coming into the WNBA averages makes $110,750 in their inaugural season. In 2017, the first draft round pick of the NBA, Markelle Fultz made 7 million dollars in his rookie season.

7 million dollars. 

Is this the only sport that has a big gap in many areas? No, there are a lot of sports dealing with a gender gap. Soccer and tennis are the other two sports that have a clear distinct line between men and women. The conversation is still on going with a lot of athletes, both men and women, standing up for the equality in pay and coverage for women in sports. Women like Serena Williams, Candace Parker, Skylar Diggins have been a part of campaigns, spoke out about the inequalities that they face as women in the sports realm everyday.

So, we wonder why women speak out about equality. Why do women think they should get paid as much as the men? The numbers show that even though the revenue generate is not as much as the men, the women still generate a nice amount of money. The only big difference between the two leagues is that the NBA gives their professional athletes 50% of their revenue earnings. On the other hand, the WNBA only gives their professional athletes 22%. 

In addition to all of these problems, the NBA could help the WNBA tremendously. Advertising the upcoming WNBA games during the NBA games. Having star players from the WNBA talk about the hardworking these women put out on the floor. The NBA could spark interest in the WNBA and change their outlook exponentially.

The WNBA has received better ratings, more fans, raised more money as the years have gone on. In regards to equality, there is still a lot of work to do.












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