TicketManager | WNBA Should Agree That Las Vegas Players’ Deal Is Good for All

The WNBA is investigating the contracts signed between the Las Vegas Aces’ twelve players and the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority that will see each athlete receive $100,000 this season in exchange for promotional work and appearances.

If the league wants to do what’s right for itself, its teams and its players, not to mention women’s sports in general, it will conduct the examination quickly and conclude that the personal services sponsorship agreements are in everyone’s best interests.

The athlete sponsorship program is an example of the classic win-win-win scenario that good sports partnerships embody. It benefits the brand through unique and powerful marketing assets, in this case the members of the reigning two-time WNBA champions. It directly benefits the players—Aces guard Sydney Colson termed it “life-changing” on social media—which in turn should benefit the team’s fans.

The degree to which the LVCVA deals impact the athletes involved should not be ignored. Half of the players on the Aces roster make less than $100,000 each season, according to Sportrac. Colson’s base salary is $76,535, while rookie Kate Martin’s is $67,249 this year. The team’s two highest paid players have a salary of $200,000.

Thus the deal is not only good for the parties involved, but it also addresses and shines an additional light on the issue of pay disparity between men’s and women’s pro athletes.

So what’s the problem? While the WNBA hasn’t commented beyond acknowledging its investigation, there appear to be two issues of concern. The first is whether the sponsorships violate the spirit of the league’s salary cap rules. Those who have raised the issue see the deals as giving an unfair advantage to the Aces over other teams in player recruiting and retention.

But that argument doesn’t hold water. Players on other teams are free to negotiate similar deals. (The teams cannot be involved on behalf of players under WNBA rules; the Aces had no involvement in the LVCVA’s dealings with player agents.) Disallowing these deals would be akin to the NBA penalizing the Lakers because LeBron James and Anthony Davis have more lucrative endorsement deals than players on other teams.

Without question, other brands are now looking at these dozen new deals in Las Vegas and considering whether they would benefit by being the next marketer to do something similar. If fairness is the priority, the WNBA must let the LVCVA deals stand and create opportunities for players in all of its other markets.

The second issue could be related to confusion over remarks made by LVCVA president and CEO Steve Hill during his surprise announcement of the deals to the players on Friday. In a video posted to X, Hill says, “The offer is really simple. We want you to just play. We want you to keep repping Las Vegas. And if you get a three-peat, that will be icing on the cake.”

While all other details released about the sponsorships support the idea that these are standard promotional agreements that are fully compliant with the WNBA collective bargaining agreement, it’s possible the league wants to assure itself that despite the offhand “We want you to just play” remark, there has been no violation of the CBA’s prohibition of a “sponsor, business partner or third party” paying compensation for basketball services.

That is something that should be easy to clarify and then we can hope to see similar deals benefiting women’s pro athletes in due course.