Saturday, October 10, 2009

Does Euroball Really Pay Better?

On RebKell, uptochallenge asked this question about European leagues:

I find it hard to believe that the average players in Turkey, Poland, Greece, Czech Republic and Armenia make more that they do in the WNBA. I have a friend with daughter who played in Poland last year and the last I heard she was having trouble getting paid. The SI article also noted that even the teams in Moscow play in front of crowds half the size of the WNBA. How can this work in the long term?

I wanted to write a long post about this that I've been putting off for a long time, but I'll just come up with the short version.

You see, there are 13 teams in the WNBA....and a similiar number of teams in Europe. If you look at each of the national leagues of Europe, you will find that the same teams dominate their national leagues over and over again.

Go to the Eurobasket Basketball Rankings for women, which rank all teams. It's going to be the same teams every year. Ros Casares is so loaded that it virtually is a WNBA team. Ekaterinburg is always going to be good. CSKA could always be counted on for a good team.

Once you get beyond a certain point, you find teams that just aren't competitive, the ones that can't contend and really, never will contend. These teams can't afford to pay big players, and they then hope to grow local talent and keep it long enough to at least compete. They might have one or two WNBA washouts or big college names, but that's about it.

And then you have the lower teams of the major national leagues, which are usually in financial difficulty of one kind or another and struggle just to get by. They're like Chamique Holdsclaw's former team in Slovakia - they either have a bunch of 15-16 year olds that are ill paid or they're like Aris Holargou in Greece, where the player went to strike because they weren't getting paid at all.

So for the big teams, how can they afford to pay the teams so much despite even lower attendance than the WNBA? First, these teams usually have some sort of government subsidy. In Europe, there's usually a Ministry of Sports which is a cabinet-level position - the Europeans believe that sports participation promotes health. (I agree, but I don't believe that giving money to pro sports teams promotes anything.)

Second, these sports are heavily subsidized by corporations. The teams become corporation home teams, and if you decry the advertising associated with American sports, well you ain't seen nothing yet. Some of these teams are named after their corporate sponsors. Euroleasing, I believe, is a truck and vehicle leasing company; the corresponding women's power in Hungary is called Euroleasing Sopron. Wisla Can-Pack Krakow is named after Can-Pack, a company that offers metal packaging. It would be as if you had the Phoenix Lifelock or Farmers Los Angeles as official names.

And finally...there's no salary cap as in the WNBA. In Europe, you can buy your way to the top. If you're a mogul and you want to own the best women's team in Europe...there's nothing to stop you. All of the above is why the best players can earn around $250K for a top European team.

13 teams in the WNBA - and really, 13 teams in Europe, if you think about it.


Anonymous said...

Looks like even Tamera is having a hard time getting paid...

@ tyoung11 #thisisit If I dont have my money by the 15th I will be back in the states not playing and still getting paid.. YUP... Dont play with me

pt said...

I thought Young was playing in Turkey, which is really surprising as Turkey has become a hot-spot for WNBA players: there don't seem to be as many restrictions in Turkey as to how many non-Turks can play on a team. If Young's Turkish club (I think this is the Pankup TED Kayseri team, which finished 8-12 last year) is late in paying her, that's a bad sign.

If I were Young, I would be calling my agent and getting this pay problem taken care of - that's what agents are for. If the agent had no luck, I'd be out of there before October 15th, the start of the TBBL season.

utc said...

Do you have any idea of how many WNBA players get contracts to play in Europe? I keep hearing that W players go to Europe because they make more money in Europe. From what I have seen documented, e.g. SI, and from what you seem to be implying..only the elite players...maybe 20 out of 143 make more money in Europe. The vast majority probably make less money.

I doubt that Holdsclaw would still be in the top 20 considering her knee history and her age. She has been a pro for 10 years and played practically year round for many of those years. She has a degree and I assume some smarts. She should have a sizeable bank account by now. There are others like her in the WNBA. I just don’t understand why these women don’t take some time off and give their bodies some well deserved rest for three or four months.

Corporations subsidize sports to make money. If very few are attending the pro games in Moscow where the big bucks seem to be, it is not hard to guess what is going on in some of the other countries. If people are not attending the games corporations are not going to make money..haven’t the Russian figured this out yet.

pt said...

Russia is sort of a bizarre situation when it comes to sports.

Russia has always been a sports-crazy culture and sports and sports development was heavily subsidized by the state. When the old government fell in 1991, this apparatus was in trouble. Putin eventually came to run the government and "asked" the various oligarchs to put more money in sports.

I was talking with a friend last night about Euroball and he agreed that in Europe, you could simply buy yourself championships. If you want notoriety in Russia, having a championship team is a great way to do it. Whenever salaries aren't capped, salaries are always going to go up.

Regarding Holdsclaw: I'm in agreement there.

As for the ratio of WNBA players in Europe to those not in Europe, you can look at last year's off-season roster.

Assuming 182 roster spots - 13 players x 14 teams - I listed 133 players that played overseas on that page, or 73 percent: almost 3 out of 4.