Why do WNBA players go overseas to play in the off season?

Why do WNBA players go overseas to play in the off season?
  • 28 Jul 2023

Understanding the Money Game

When it comes to the world of sports, money is a major player, pun intended. If you take a glance at the highest paid athletes in the world, the majority of them are from the men's leagues. So, does that mean the women don't bring in money? Absolutely not. The discrepancy in pay is a great issue in sports, but that's a different road altogether. We're veering here towards the path of why WNBA players venture overseas to play in the off-season. Believe me when I say the answer is not a simple, one-word response. It's a complex and multi-dimensional issue, just like a well-executed game of basketball itself.

Seeing WNBA players take their talent across the pond might seem a little odd to the casual onlooker. But it's actually quite common, especially within the last few years. The primary reason, as in many areas of life, comes down to good ol' Uncle Sam, or in other words, cold, hard cash. Simply put, they can make more money playing overseas. Now, before you start shaking your head in disbelief, let's look at some numbers. As of 2020, the maximum salary for a WNBA player was around $215,000 per season. In contrast, players can earn up to $600,000 per season overseas, sometimes even more. Even players at the beginning of their careers can often earn up to four or five times their WNBA salary in foreign leagues.

Finding Balance with International Exposure and Benefits

As a professional with a craft to master, one of the attractive aspects about playing overseas is the level of competition. Many European and Asian leagues have quite high standards that genuinely compete with the American counterparts. As a result, skilled players have cited competitive play as a determining factor for their off-season work. WNBA player, Diana Taurasi, once proclaiming that her international experience played a significant role in her development as a player. She famously sat out a WNBA season after her Russian club, UMMC Ekaterinburg, offered to pay her WNBA salary if she rested during the summer league.

Moreover, by competing on global platforms, WNBA players not only gain international exposure but also create opportunities to expand their brand. They connect with international fans, thus broadening their reach, and open the doors for potential endorsement deals. The overall gain goes beyond the physical cash in hand. It makes great sense, if you ask me. You get to play the game you love, gain a leg up in your skills and increase your marketability? Talk about hitting a three-pointer!

The Overcoming of Geographical Hurdles

Playing abroad, however, isn’t as glamorous as it may sound always. While some see these foreign contracts as an opportunity to explore new lands and cultures, there are also downsides to the deal. The constant traveling and living out of a bag can take a toll on the players both physically and mentally. Add in the language barriers, and sometimes cultural differences, it poses a real challenge. But these women have grit. They are warriors on and beyond the court. Dealing with language barriers might seem trivial compared to bouncing a basketball while simultaneously five opponents try to block you.

Once upon a time, I had the chance to interview Lindsay Whalen, a former WNBA guard who'd spent many off-seasons playing overseas. She shared this hilariously heartrending story about ending up in the wrong city on her first solo trip thanks to language confusion. Last I heard, she's still laughing about that mishap and using it to warn new players about the importance of language skills or at least a trustworthy translator!

Fan Views and WNBA’s Future Plans

While some fans express dismay over their favorite WNBA athletes playing abroad, others actively follow the global games, staying loyal to their stars no matter where they're playing. I've even heard of fans going on so-called 'basketball vacation', catching their beloved players in action in far-off countries in between sampling exotic cuisine and exploring foreign lands.

The WNBA understands the reasons why players opt for overseas leagues during the off-season. The current agreement 2020-2027 with the WNBA Players Association includes increased player compensation and travel improvement. However, the discrepancy between domestic and international earnings remains significant which highlights room for improvement. Perhaps if these changes go into effect, we might see fewer players making the jump across the pond during the off-season.

In the end, we really can’t begrudge these players the chance to maximize their earnings, develop their skills, and build their brands. Nobody gets into professional sports without an unwavering passion for the game. But at the end of the day, a career in professional sports is still a job and everyone wants to get paid what they’re worth. So while we may miss seeing our favorite stars on the home turf during the off-season, we can’t deny that the worldliness they gain from their international experiences only adds to the dynamics of the game when they return to the WNBA.