On Monday, the WNBA announced its plan for a shortened 2020 regular season in which players will receive 100 percent of their salaries and benefits. The season was scheduled to begin on May 15, but the COVID-19 pandemic postponed it.
Every team will play 22 regular-season games at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., beginning in late July. The traditional playoff format of single-elimination in the first and second rounds and a best-of-five semifinals and finals will follow in October. The regular season is normally 36 games long.
Teams will report to IMG in early July for the beginning of training camp. Players who are seen as high-risk can opt out of playing if they inform the league by June 25 and will still receive their full salary and benefits. Players who aren’t seen as high-risk can still opt out with no penalty, but they wouldn’t receive their full salary.
Back in January, the league and players’ union agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement which dramatically increased players’ pay. It was important to the players that they receive their full salaries this season, as they felt the agreements in the new CBA should be honored and not pushed back to the 2021 season.
“It’s not just about the money, it’s symbolic in a lot of ways,” Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, who doubles as the president of the players’ executive committee, said to ESPN. “It’s a symbolism that carries on from our CBA. We asked our league and others to bet on women, and our league has shown they are doing that. It’s huge on an individual level for players, but also on the grand scheme.”
The initial proposal brought forward by the league had the players earning 60 percent of their normal salaries.
According to ESPN’s report, players will live in “multiroom villas, which have kitchens and hotel rooms.” Players can bring their children and a caretaker to stay with them, and players with five years of experience may bring a plus-one, but the player will be expected to cover that person’s costs (lodging, testing, meals, etc.).
With no fans being allowed at IMG, the league will have to bank on its TV partnerships with ESPN, ABC and CBS and investments from Nike, Deloitte and AT&T for most of its financial backing this season.
The 2019 season was the most watched in league history, and February saw the most active free-agency period in league history. Not only that, but star players such as Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird, and Diana Taurasi are all returning from injuries. In addition, number one overall pick Sabrina Ionescu will make her professional debut this season.
There was a lot of buzz leading up to the season, so it was vital to the league to form a plan so that they could capitalize on their rising popularity and continue to drive fan engagement.