Players nearing approval of new labor deal, including flexible salary cap

Updated: January 28, 2008, 5:43 PM ET
Associated Press

The WNBA players union neared ratification of a new six-year contract with the league Monday in a deal that includes increases in wages and a dual salary-cap system.

Approval of the contract by the league's 165 players, a large number of whom are playing overseas, was running more than 95 percent in favor among ballots cast. About half of the players have voted.

The collective bargaining agreement, reached Friday and announced Monday, includes an increase in the maximum salary from $93,000 to $95,000 this season, with $2,000 increases each year. Veteran minimums will increase by about $1,000 to $50,000, and rookie minimums will increase from $32,600 to $34,500 for the four-month season.

"We are happy with the way the deal turned out," said Pam Wheeler, executive director of the WNBA players union. "We made significant economic strides, we made some significant changes to the system, and enhanced the quality of life for players both during and after the season."

The contract through 2013 includes an annual increase of 3 percent in the basic cap, from $722,000 in 2007 to $750,000 this year. Teams will now be allowed to exceed that figure by a maximum of approximately 4 percent each year, with the cap increasing to $869,000 in 2013, and a 'flex' maximum of $913,000.

"We're extremely pleased to have long-term stability and to emerge from this process with a unified outlook among ownership and players," WNBA president Donna Orender said in a release announcing the deal. "The new collective bargaining agreement, coupled with our new television deal and increased activation on the part of our sponsors provides further affirmation regarding the growth, popularity and quality of our game."

Last July, the WNBA signed an eight-year deal with ESPN/ABC that begins in 2009 and will pay the league an undisclosed sum for rights fees for the first time.

The WNBA also announced the expansion draft will be held Feb. 6 for the Atlanta Dream, the 14th team in the league. The WNBA begins its 12th season May 17 when the Los Angeles Sparks play the defending champion Phoenix Mercury on ABC.

This is the third collective bargaining agreement for the league. In 2003, negotiations went into late April and the five-year deal was signed less than a month before the start of the season.

"I don't know if it was necessarily looking at that as the impetus to get things done early as much as just trying to get the deal done so the expansion draft can take place and other orders of business can be taken care of for the WNBA to run properly and be successful," Wheeler said.

Rookies will still sign three-year deals with team options for a fourth year, though players will see increases of 10 percent in the third year and 15 percent in the fourth. Players will still need four years of experience to be restricted free agents, and six years to be unrestricted.

Since 2003, teams have been able to designate two 'core' players, who automatically receive the maximum salary. That will drop to one player starting in 2009, and each player now will be allowed to have the core designation a maximum of five times. The core player also will receive $2,500 on top of the maximum salary.

"We feel very fortunate to have completed a deal that we think will help veterans and younger players alike," said Indiana Fever star Tamika Catchings, the president of the players association.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press