600,000 Reasons

Swish Appeal linked to ESPN’s article by Kate Fagan on Mercury Center Brittney Griner’s decision to follow after Maya Moore and other pro stars to China. What do the Zhejiang Golden Bulls have that Phoenix does not?


To be more precise $600,000 for a four-month season. That’s enough to cover the entire first round draft picks’ salaries for an entire year of play! Chump change by men’s pro standards, but still remarkable for the rookie WNBA star and number one draft pick from Baylor. Without attendance data for the Chinese team it is difficult to make comparisons between the market for women’s basketball in Zhejiang and Phoenix. However, we do know US attendance has been holding steady overall in the WNBA with about a 1% increase in 2013 over the prior year. In particular, Phoenix saw almost 10 times this improvement in 2013 while averaging over 80% capacity for the year.  David Berri and Tony Krautmann reviewed some of the obstacles womens’ basketball faces.  Curious observers might join in and wonder:  Why is there such a demand for female professional players internationally when the league is treading water over here?

True, there are other markets in Russia and Europe where the quality of play is arguably better. But, China is the “it “market for newer talent. And, since each team is limited to one non-Asian player, the economics of the short supply of tall people comes into play. How did Griner do? The Golden Bulls went 15-7, Griner averaged 24.1 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks for the season and was awarded MVP of the leagues’ all star game.


To put this in perspective, Griner’s Wins Produced is about 7.3 for her first pro season. Take a center from the men’s game with a similar Wins Score (say DeMarcus Cousins of the Kings). He is making just under $5 million this year and has a $62 million contract over 4 years. By wagesofwins standards, Cousins might be slightly overpaid. No one is claiming WNBA players are entitled to what the men receive, but perhaps there is something to be learned from the densely packed, frigid, smoke-filled arena in Zhejiang provence: there is a market for women’s basketball.

You just have to take a slow boat to China to cash in on it.

– Jill Harris

Quick note (from DJ): Jill and I are working on a paper looking at the WNBA draft.  So look for more posts on the WNBA soon!

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