SBJ/March 24-30, 2014/Labor and Agents

WNBA CBA includes bonus/fine system tied to overseas play

Liz Mullen
The new WNBA collective-bargaining agreement contains a provision in which players can be fined if they miss games, something that agents and the union say could force WNBA players to choose between playing overseas or in the WNBA.

The new CBA, agreed to earlier this month, contains a new “time-off bonus,” in which players can be paid extra money if they limit the amount of time they play for another professional team to 90 days or less. The amount of the bonus is $50,000 a team, and that amount can be split among the 12 players on a team.

But players can now also be fined, up to 20 percent of their salary, if they miss games while playing in a professional league overseas.

Many of the league’s best players play during the WNBA’s offseason in Europe and Asia, where they can make anywhere from the mid-six figures to more than seven figures. The maximum salary in the WNBA is $107,500 this year.

“My hope is by offering the time-off bonus, there will be women who choose to limit their overseas play,” WNBA President Laurel Richie said. “That is my hope, that it goes on the incentive side.”

Richie acknowledged that some players may have to make a choice, but noted that a number of high-profile WNBA players, notably Elena Delle Donne, Skylar Diggins and Tamika Catchings, chose not to play overseas this past offseason.

Agents and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association director of operations, Pam Wheeler, said there is a chance that some players will opt to play overseas and not in the WNBA because of the new fine structure.

“I think there is a risk, a significant risk involved when you start actually penalizing and disciplining players for playing overseas,” Wheeler said. “They are making much more money overseas than they are in the WNBA.”

Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Wasserman Media Group vice president and agent to many WNBA stars, including Delle Donne and Brittney Griner, said the time-off incentive is a good idea, but the money offered to players isn’t likely going to be enough to persuade them to pass on much bigger overseas contracts. “The reality is, most WNBA stars would make more money over their career by only playing overseas,” Colas said.

Both Colas and Boris Lelchitski, founder and CEO of Sports International Group, which represents 28 WNBA players, including Candace Parker and Lindsay Whalen, agreed that many WNBA stars play in the league for more than the money. For many of the WNBA’s players, the U.S. is home.

“It will be a situation where you have to make a decision and choose,” Lelchitski said. “Sure, they want to play in front of family and friends. But the paycheck is one of the most important things in life — to provide for your family. You cannot pay your bills with hugs.”

A big issue in the negotiations for players was adding an additional roster spot to the 11-woman roster. Under the new CBA, clubs may add a 12th spot but are not required to do so.

The deal runs eight years, but the players and the owners each have a right to opt out of the agreement after six years.

“I think that all of us were looking to create an agreement that puts us in a position to continue to offer great competition to our fans and a great experience whether they are coming to watch in the arena or on television,” Richie said. “I think we were really focused on creating a solid, long-term foundation for growth and for a great product.”

> CAA SPORTS RE-SIGNS TY LAWSON: Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson has rejoined CAA Sports as a client.

At CAA Sports, Lawson will be represented by a team led by agents Ty Sullivan, Aaron Mintz and Steven Heumann. He was formerly represented by Relativity Sports. CAA Sports represented Lawson from 2009 until 2012, when he signed with Relativity.

> TLA SIGNS EBRON, RICHARDSON FOR MARKETING: The Legacy Agency has signed two NFL draft prospects, University of North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron and University of Colorado wide receiver Paul Richardson Jr., to exclusive marketing representation agreements.

Agent Dave Maryles will lead Ebron’s representation, and agent Jon Salant will lead Richardson’s representation. Ebron is represented by BC Sports and Richardson by Terra Firma Sports Management.

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

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