Former professional WNBA athlete Sue Bird anticipates a sweeping collective bargaining agreement (CBA) for women’s basketball players when they next negotiate their contract in the WNBA.
The retired and winningest American basketball star sat down with the team behind “Sue Bird: In the Clutch” for an interview at TheWrap’s Sundance Portrait and Interview Studio presented by NFP on Saturday.
“Our last CBA, was signed in right before the pandemic, so maybe technically 2019, but early 2020. I always joked it was the CBA before the CBA. This was the CBA that we needed to get done to start over, to set a foundation because the next one was going to be the one that was going to blow everything open,” Bird told TheWrap. “I think we achieved a lot in that CBA and, rightfully so, people applauded it. Whether it was — we talk about this in the doc — the maternity leave and things around family planning, so much more was in that that was beneficial to the players.”
Directed by Sarah Dowland, and produced by Emily Chapman and Jay Ellis under his production banner Black Bar Mitzvah, the documentary captures the last two seasons Bird played before retiring from basketball, as well as how her story ties into the fight for equity that women’s sports continue to wage.
“This next CBA, the players right now are uniquely positioned to go after everything. We now have data around viewership. We now have the media rights deal com[ing] up soon,” Bird said. “You could see in 2020 we had a bubble season similar to the NBA and we knew the viewership numbers, but sometimes it takes a year or two for people to see that it wasn’t just a one-off. So, now, there’s actual data. There’s tangible things that we can take into the CBA [that’s] negotiated with the players. They’re in a great spot, but it’s only gonna get better.”
An opt-out date approaches for players where they can renegotiate if they opt out of the current contract. Otherwise, they have to stay for another couple of years until the next opportunity arises.
“What we did in the last one, one of the most pivotal moments of the last CBA, is we put in a trigger to have a 50/50 rev[enue] share. It had to get to a certain amount of money and then that kicks in and now we split, and that’s where the media deal really comes into play,” Bird said. “So, in two years, when that gets renegotiated — and I’m sure if the NWSL, if women’s college basketball is an indicator — it’s going to be 60 plus million per year. When that comes, it kicks in that rev share [and] salaries go up. So that’s what I mean by the CBA setting up this next one.”
The documentary points out that some WNBA players only make $90,000 a year. The minimum is around $80,000, but the highest is a quarter of a million dollars. Bird stressed that in women’s sports the minimum salary is often brought up first compared to men’s basketball where the highest deals, like LeBron’s, are immediately discussed. The basketball star shared that she and her wife Megan Rapinoe, retired USWNT soccer player, huddled up about their respective CBAs and swapped ideas to take to their sports.
“It’s part of changing that narrative is when this money does go up, naturally and deservedly so, we’re going to be sitting here having a different conversation about how they’re making millions of dollars, which is wonderful. I can’t wait,” Bird said. “Changing the narratives around how people speak about women’s basketball, that’s really important. I would love for the WNBA to be so successful that players don’t have to go overseas anymore. And, by the way, that doesn’t mean that they’ll stop going. It’s actually a wonderful experience and you learn a lot. So, the option is always there, but I don’t want it to have to be what you have to do anymore. That would be a true marker of success.”
“Sue Bird: In the Clutch” is a sales title at Sundance.
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