Saturday, October 10, 2009
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.