On April 15, 2024 the twenty-ninth Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) Draft took place in New York. The draft was highly anticipated after a historic season for women’s college basketball, with the championship game of the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) garnering a record-breaking nearly nineteen million viewers. 2024 women’s basketball—on the collegiate level, specifically—has attracted an audience beyond comparison to prior years. With star players such as top-pick Caitlin Clark and Paige Bueckers headlining a rapid rise in popularity of the game, it seemed the recent draft would bring an equal amount of excitement for the next WNBA season. The numbers, however, did not quite match the occasion. News of Caitlin Clark’s poor first-year salary emphasize a long overdue need for increased funding for women’s sports.

Most daunting about Clark’s rookie salary is how it compares to that of last year’s top-pick for the National Basketball Association, Victor Wembanyama. Clark will make around 76,000 dollars her first year; Wembanyama will have made at least twelve million. Though the gap in their salaries is extreme, the gap between their skill levels relative to their respective leagues is not: Clark and Wembanyama both represent the next faces of the WNBA and NBA, respectively. As Clark broke the scoring record for the NCAA this season, Wembanyama averaged more than twenty-one points in the NBA while being crowned the league's Rookie of the Year. Clark and Wembanyama’s pay disparity is testament to the striking underfunding of the WNBA.

When it comes to the pay gap in sports, there are certainly other factors to account for in addition to player statistics. The NBA has received an average of 1.6 million viewers per game across three networks in the past three years (TNT, ESPN, ABC). On the other hand, the WNBA received an average of 627,000 viewers per game from ABC, the sole network covering the WNBA, which is the most in over a decade. Additionally, the WNBA is projected to make up to 200 million dollars in revenue next season, compared to the ten billion dollars made by the NBA in the 2022 season. These are staggering numbers, no doubt, especially considering the NBA helps fund the WNBA and holds 50 percent ownership. Contrary to how they are presented and perceived, however, the WNBA’s statistics juxtaposed to the NBA’s only make a more compelling argument for increased funding on all fronts in the league.

The more money invested in a sport, the more that sport will grow, particularly in sports that have long been neglected, such as women’s basketball. In 2019, the NCAA allocated a budget two-times greater for the men’s game than the women’s —that is how viewership and revenue has become so lopsided in recent years. On a personal note, I have been closely following women’s soccer for over a decade. In that time, there has always been discourse about if the players deserve equal funding. Often, the argument of those who oppose equal funding hinges on the skill level and revenue of the women’s side in comparison to the men’s. But undeniably, as more money has been invested into girls’ and women’s soccer programs, skill level and revenue alike have increased immensely. If anything, the explosion of women’s soccer in recent years is proof that the same is possible for the WNBA—but the league needs money for that to happen.

Women’s basketball is at somewhat of an inflection point. Not only has the WNBA been making significant strides in recent years, but more significantly, the women’s NCAA has developed both a major fanbase and a casual audience. If we really want to see continued growth for women’s basketball, we need to invest more in the players on all fronts. The fact that the sport is growing in spite of underfinancing makes for a powerful case for how it will develop with proper financial support. The more funding the WNBA receives, the more it will be able to sufficiently pay players like Clark—and inspire others like her to pursue their own dreams as well.