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Gap between Caitlin Clark's WNBA salary and her male counterparts' draws outrage

Clark will pocket $338,056 over four years under her contract with the Indiana Fever. In contrast, last year's No. 1 NBA draft pick secured a $55 million four-year contract.
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College basketball superstar Caitlin Clark is set to soar to new heights in the WNBA — but her rookie contract means she will pocket a fraction of the millions her male counterparts have made on the court.

Clark, the University of Iowa legend who has already made history as NCAA Division I basketball’s overall top scorer, sealed a contract with the Indiana Fever after she was selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft Monday.

Clark will earn $338,056 over four years, according to the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement.

Under the 2024 WNBA rookie scale for the No. 1-4 draft picks, she'll earn a base salary of $76,535 for her first year, $78,066 the second year and $85,873 the third, with a fourth-year option of $97,582.

Caitlin Clark
Caitlin Clark of the Iowa Hawkeyes during the 2024 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament National Championship against the South Carolina Gamecocks on April 7, 2024 in Cleveland, Ohio. Steph Chambers / Getty Images

Despite Clark’s unprecedented star power, her salary is a sliver of the eye-popping amount male athletes make in the NBA.

WNBA draft picks No. 2-4 — Stanford’s Cameron Brink, who went to the Los Angeles Sparks, South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso, with the Chicago Sky, and Tennessee’s Rickea Jackson, also with the Sparks — will make the same pay as Clark.

For comparison, San Antonio Spurs rookie star Victor Wembanyama — the No. 1 pick in last year’s NBA draft — secured a $55 million four-year contract under which he pocketed $12.1 million in his first season, according to the athlete contract tracker Spotrac.

A WNBA spokesperson said Wednesday that the $76,000 sum is just a part of what Clark will make in the league.

“Caitlin Clark stands to make a half million dollars or more in WNBA earnings this coming season, in addition to what she will receive through endorsements and other partnerships, which has been reported to already exceed $3 million," the league spokesperson said.

Beyond the rookie base scale salary, she'll also make earnings through league and team marketing agreements.

Though Clark is likely to rake in much more through endorsements and sponsorships, outrage simmered on social media over the glaring salary disparity between the WNBA and the NBA.

Hoda Kotb, host of NBC’s “TODAY” show, said Tuesday morning: “They’ve already sold out games. She had the highest ratings, her teams and the Final Four had the highest ratings — higher than the World Series, higher than the NBA. So I was like, what is she going to get paid? Because finally, you can get a real paycheck. Then I saw it and was like, this can’t be right.”

Co-host Jenna Bush Hager added: “Honestly the gap is so jarring. ... We’re talking about equal pay. That ain't even close.”

They said things are likely to change in the future as games have already sold out and viewership, which has historically lagged behind the NBA, has soared, partly on account of Clark’s celebrity.  

President Joe Biden said on social media Tuesday, "Women in sports continue to push new boundaries and inspire us all."

"But right now we’re seeing that even if you’re the best, women are not paid their fair share," he said. "It’s time that we give our daughters the same opportunities as our sons and ensure women are paid what they deserve."

Male athletes also chimed in.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Russell Wilson shared a post about Clark's pay on X, adding: “These ladies deserve so much more … Praying for the day.” 

One user wrote on X, “To the people saying it doesn’t matter what Caitlin Clarks salary is because she will be making millions through endorsement, it actually does matter.”  

Another wrote, “Presumably she’ll make bank on endorsements but Caitlin Clark’s WNBA salary is less than that of a union nurse, teacher, or cop.”

Journalist Lisa Ling wrote on Instagram: “Steph Curry makes more per game than what Caitlin Clark is making for 4 years! With the toll sports and travel take on women’s bodies, is this even a living wage? I know WNBA games have not brought in comparable numbers by any stretch of the imagination, but this is disgraceful. Do better for all of our women athletes!” 

There are some key differences, though, with the leagues. The WNBA plays a shorter 40-game, four-month season compared the to NBA’s six months. The NBA has also existed longer (and has more teams) and is now finishing its 78th season, while the WNBA is in its 28th. 

A big chunk of the money behind the game comes from media rights. The NBA’s national media deals see the league cash in $2.8 billion this year, while the WNBA will make around $65 million this year for its media rights. 

The fight for more equitable pay in women’s basketball has been a long one. 

“From a salary standpoint, it’d be great for the women to be able to make more money,” WNBA legend Lisa Leslie said in a conversation with fellow basketball stars LeBron James and Draymond Green on an October 2022 episode of “The Shop: Uninterrupted.”

“It’s a lot of work — it’s a lot of hard work. I think I saw something that said one player that makes maybe $12 million on an NBA team can cover the whole WNBA’s salaries. And so that’s kind of crazy,” she added.