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WNBA salaries in focus as Finals tip off

Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, the president of the Women's National Basketball Players Association, and other players on site at the WNBA Finals say they deserve a bigger cut of revenue. David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

MINNEAPOLIS -- It's no secret that WNBA players are paid significantly less than their NBA counterparts. The NBA generates far more revenue than the WNBA, and the NBA collective bargaining agreement (CBA) stipulates players receive 50 percent of revenue.

But according to a Forbes article earlier this week, the WNBA pays out significantly less in salary than the NBA based on percentage of revenue -- less than 25 percent and shrinking.

Though based on incomplete revenue assessments, the article prompted provocative conversation among the players from Minnesota and Los Angeles, which meet Sunday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals.

The players say they deserve a bigger cut of revenue.

"That's definitely something we have to work on in the next CBA, because we talk about that all the time," Lynx veteran Seimone Augustus said after practice Saturday at Williams Arena.

The WNBA collective bargaining agreement runs through 2021, with both sides able to opt out in 2019. Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, president of the Women's National Basketball Players Association, wouldn't say whether the players would opt out. But she called a 50 percent share of revenue something to shoot for.

"Knowing how far we need to go, that's a good marker," she said. "If you just think of it from a principle standpoint, it makes sense. Hopefully we can work toward that.

"Right now, my main goal is get players to read the CBA and understand what it takes to get exactly what we want in order to progress."

This season league attendance reached its highest level since 2011, averaging 7,716 per game, with Los Angeles, Connecticut and Minnesota showing at least 12 percent increases. And ESPN more than doubled its payment for broadcast rights, from $12 million to $25 million.

Yet under the current CBA, according to Forbes, the maximum veteran's salary will rise only slightly, from $113,500 to $121,500. Most players make significantly less, and augment their WNBA salaries by playing overseas.

"The work that we do as professionals is world-class. We always want our salaries to reflect that."

Lynx forward Maya Moore

Augustus, 33, turned down a lucrative overseas deal last winter to rest for the WNBA season.

"If we are able to make a little bit more money than what we make right now, a lot of players would decide to stay home and enjoy their families in the offseason as opposed to going overseas," Augustus said.

"Think about the quality of basketball that you have, players coming in from overseas or coming late from overseas or whatever the case what be. Little things like that are something we need to start focusing on, as far as bettering the quality of the game for both the players and this league."

Sparks forward Candace Parker believes year-round play hurts the WNBA, leaving players too worn out to perform at their best when they finally return home.

"That's something we're going to discuss going forward," she said. "Everybody has a voice. I think everybody is going to take that article and read it and other pieces of information, because sometimes an article doesn't tell the whole story.

"But I think definitely the players are going to have a voice going forward and work with the league. We want to be able to share our voice and opinions and work together."

Accurate revenue totals for the WNBA are difficult to determine. Multiplying tickets sold by average price doesn't take into account tickets that are discounted or given away, numbers that clubs are reluctant to reveal. And unlike most major men's pro sports, the league typically doesn't release player contract details.

Neither Minnesota's Maya Moore nor Los Angeles' Alana Beard read the article, but they support higher salaries.

"The work that we do as professionals is world-class," Moore said. "We always want our salaries to reflect that.

"We're getting more TV time. Things are being done so more people can watch us, because there was a demand there. The quality we're putting on, attendance is going up, it's getting more popular. You have to think salaries will go up. But I haven't sat down and looked at the breakdown of everything compared to the men."

"My main goal is get players to read the [collective bargaining agreement] and understand what it takes to get exactly what we want in order to progress."

Nneka Ogwumike, president of the WNBA players' union

Added Beard: "With this league, the product is what brings the fans out. If you're asking me if we need to be paid more, absolutely. I would never say no to that, because I understand the preparation that goes into being an elite athlete."

Ogwumike anticipates meeting with league officials after the season to discuss this and other issues.

"I look forward to seeing what changes I can make in my tenure," Ogwumike said. "The NBA, they had to put their foot down at times. They're 50 years ahead of us. To have a big brother to look after, to see how they handled things, that's going to help us, too. I'm all about enhancing the player experience, and that's part of the player experience."