Even President Biden is shocked: Caitlin Clark’s salary will be 0.7% of her male equivalent

The women’s basketball superstar’s paycheck highlights the huge pay gap between men and women in professional hoops

Caitlin Clark, durante un partido de marzo con su equipo de la Universidad de Iowa.
Caitlin Clark during a March game with her University of Iowa team.Jeffrey Becker (USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con)
Miguel Jiménez

Caitlin Clark continues to break records. On Monday, the women’s college basketball star was selected as the number 1 overall pick in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) draft, the broadcast of which was watched by 2.4 million people, 300% more than the previous record set in 2004. Her new team, the Indiana Fever, has already sold out the entire season a month before tip-off. The player is set to revolutionize the WNBA. Her arrival has raised a buzz comparable to that of Frenchman Victor Wembanyama a year ago. But while Wembanyama had a first-year salary of $12 million (about €11.3 million), Clark will have a base salary of only $76,500. Even U.S. President Joe Biden is outraged.

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,” Biden tweeted Tuesday from his official account. It’s time that we give our daughters the same opportunities as our sons and ensure women are paid what they deserve.”

The WNBA’s 350-page collective bargaining agreement sets the base salary for players joining the league. For the first four players selected in the draftthe best players in their class—the salary is $76,535 in the first year; $78,066 in the second year; $85,873 in the third year and, if the club decides to exercise the fourth year-option, $97,582. That is $338,056 over four seasons.

In contrast, the men’s basketball league agreement for the 2024-2025 season establishes a base salary of $10,504,800 for the first pick in the draft; that figure increases to $11 million in the second year and $11.5 million in the third year. In other words, whoever is chosen first in the NBA draft will earn the same salary in two weeks that Caitlin Clark gets in four years. The female star’s salary is 0.7% of that of her male counterpart.

In the NBA, that base salary can swing 20% up or down depending on the player in question. In Victor Wembanyama’s case, the San Antonio Spurs exhausted the margin and signed him to a $55 million contract for his first four seasons, about 160 times Clark’s benchmark.

Admittedly, the new Indiana player can increase her pay if she becomes a WNBA ambassador, for which she could earn an additional $250,000. She could add $100,000 more in prizes and marketing deals with her own team. Still, the difference is huge.

“These ladies deserve so much more..... Praying for the day,” tweeted Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Russell Wilson. “This is outrageous,” actress Jamie Lee Curtis wrote on Instagram.

As Clark’s salary came to light, social media was flooded with anonymous messages of outrage and memes calling attention to the absurdity of someone who generates such buzz and moves the masses being paid such a paltry salary.

Indiana Fever player Caitlin Clark
Artist Kwazar Martin’s mural of Caitlin Clark on the west side of Indianapolis.Michael Conroy (AP)

In college sports, there are rules to maintain gender equality, and in some sports such as soccer, female players have won equal pay for national teams. In professional sports, however, each sports association imposes its own rules. Clark is joining a 12-team league, the broadcasting rights of which are of local interest and generate only about $60 million annually. The NBA, which has become a global sport, has 30 teams and generates over $2.5 billion a year in television rights, plus additional revenue from box office, jersey sales, sponsorships and other products.

However, the traditional arguments about the business generated by male and female athletes break down in the case of Caitlin Clark. The NCAA college championship final on April 7 shattered the record for women’s basketball viewership. It averaged 18.9 million viewers, with a high of 24 million, nearly four times as many as the final two years ago, before the Caitlin Clark phenomenon emerged.

Not only did it surpass the 14.8 million viewers of the men’s final, but it was the most-watched basketball game in the U.S. in the last five years, even ahead of the NBA Finals (and, of course, any Wembanyama game). And it became the second most-watched women’s sporting event in U.S. history, excluding the Olympics.

Despite that, broadcasters paid $6.5 million for the rights to the women’s college tournament and $873 million for the men’s, according to The Wall Street Journal. The market doesn’t seem to have worked out very well there either.

Of course, Clark’s income will be much higher thanks to advertising and sponsorship deals. Brands are fighting over her, given her popularity and young, carefree and cheerful image. She is being showered with contracts: she is lending her image to State Farm insurance, Nike, Gatorade and Hy-Vee supermarkets, among other brands. It is estimated that she earns around $3 million a year.

Caitlin Clark merchandise
T-shirts commemorating Caitlin Clark's signing with the Indiana Fever in an Indianapolis store.Michael Conroy (AP)

In Indiana, it has sparked a ticket and T-shirt sales frenzy, and it also has retailers excited. “Caitlin Clark’s impact as an Indiana Fever will almost certainly have ripple effects from our Downtown businesses to our neighborhood playgrounds,” Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett tweeted after Monday’s draft.

Low salaries in women’s basketball explain why Brittney Griner and other stars have sought extra income by playing in Europe during the WNBA offseason. Griner was sentenced in August 2022 to nine years in prison for drug trafficking after being arrested months earlier by police at an airport near Moscow with cannabis cartridges for personal use in her possession. She was released in December 2022 in a prisoner exchange.

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