Breanna Stewart Reacts to WNBA Salary Discourse: ‘Not Something That’s Going to Change Overnight’ (Exclusive)

The WNBA star tells PEOPLE that she hopes that the league will reach another "turning point" soon to increase player salaries

<p>Ivan C. Rodriguez/NBAE/Getty</p> Breanna Stewart

Ivan C. Rodriguez/NBAE/Getty

Breanna Stewart

Amid the discourse surrounding player salaries in the WNBA, New York Liberty star Breanna Stewart says that realistically, change for the women's basketball league will take time.

Stewart, 29, speaking to PEOPLE at the U.S. Olympic Committee's Media Summit in New York City, says, "I think that the changes have been happening. The WNBA has been around for 28 years, which is really small compared to any other league in professional sports."

The WNBA hosted its first season in 1997, while the NBA has been playing games since 1946. The NFL was founded in 1920 and the MLB played its first game in 1876.

"And before 2020, when we played in the bubble, we had to sign a brand new CBA, which increased the pay and had more benefits for moms and those types of things," Stewart, a mother of two, adds.

According to the WNBA and NBA Players Associations, a CBA, also known as a collective bargaining agreement, "sets out the terms and conditions of employment for all professional basketball players," to "get the best deal possible for all players."

"A new collective bargaining agreement is negotiated approximately every four years," per the WNBA.

With a new CBA on the horizon, Stewart, who is almost guaranteed to be playing in her second Olympics this summer in Paris, says, "Hopefully soon again, we'll be at another turning point where we'll have another CBA and that'll also increase player salaries."

Related: Breanna Stewart Wants the WNBA to Charter Flights Next Season, NBA Stars Agree: 'No Matter How Much'

But the WNBA star, and many who have followed the WNBA before the increased attention on the league in the last year, says the process of paying players isn't an overnight fix.

"You can talk about opportunities for pensions and charters and all these things, but it's not something that's going to change overnight, and it's the mix between us continuing to be great on the court and taking advantage of the things happening off the court," says Stewart.

<p>David Sherman/NBAE via Getty</p> Breanna Stewart #30 of the Seattle Storm plays defense on Napheesa Collier

And the revenue between the NBA and WNBA is vastly different, making comparisons between the league's player salaries arguably irrelevant.

According to Forbes, the NBA brings in $2.6 billion each year from roughly 165 games on Disney's ESPN/ABC and Warner Bros. Discovery's TNT under their current streaming rights agreement.

In comparison, the WNBA will bring in around $65 million total this season in its media deals with ABC-ESPN, Amazon Prime Video, CBS and ION, per Front Office Sports.

Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty WNBA Commissioner, Cathy Engelbert poses for a photo with Breanna Stewart #30 of the Seattle Storm during the WNBA Commissioner's Cup Game on August 12, 2021 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty WNBA Commissioner, Cathy Engelbert poses for a photo with Breanna Stewart #30 of the Seattle Storm during the WNBA Commissioner's Cup Game on August 12, 2021 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert spoke to PEOPLE about the topic just before the start of the 2023 season.

“People ask why we aren’t in the same place as the men’s league...What will help is expanding the number of teams. I haven't been shy about talking about expansion," Engelbert told PEOPLE, citing gripes from fans and players regarding commercial travel and the shortage of roster spots forcing top draft picks out of the league.

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“You’ve got to build an economic model to fund everything they want; higher pay, travel benefits, etc. It’s important our players understand where we get our revenue, where all the expenses are going and their questions around that,” the commissioner continued.

"We're trying to change the narrative — that we are a sports, media and entertainment property, growth property, that will deploy this capital and marketing stars, building rivalries and globalizing the game," she said.

Related: Breanna Stewart Is 'Ready to Start a New Chapter' with the Liberty as She Balances Basketball and Motherhood

With new faces like Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, Kamilla Cardoso and Cameron Brink entering the mix this season, the league is certainly on track to increase viewership and sales in tickets and merchandise.

The reigning champion Las Vegas Aces announced they're moving their preseason matchup with the Indiana Fever from Michelob Ultra Arena's 12,000 seat capacity to T-Mobile Arena to accommodate an additional 8,000 fans looking to see Clark play in person, as did the Washington Mystics over to Capital One Arena.

<p>Sarah Stier/Getty</p> Caitlin Clark poses with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert at 2024 Draft

Sarah Stier/Getty

Caitlin Clark poses with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert at 2024 Draft

And the Fever, who only had a single game televised during the 2023 season, will play 36 of their upcoming 40 games this season to a televised audience. Additionally, the Fever confirmed to ESPN that they've seen a "surge" in ticket sales since Clark joined the team.

What's more, fans who have been following players like Clark and Reese, 21, have begun campaigning for fans to support their favorite WNBA players with jersey sales.

A post on X (formerly known as Twitter) from former LSU star Reese promoting her jersey has over 40,000 likes and 2.7 million impressions. "Had to cop that Big Reese jersey," one user wrote.

"My jersey already being sold is crazy," Reese wrote after fans began posting photos in their Reese jerseys.

And after Clark was drafted, Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin told Arash Markazi of the Sporting Tribune that her Indiana Fever jersey sold more than any player in any sport in the company’s history.

The WNBA 2024 season officially kicks off on May 14 after all 12 teams compete in preseason games. Clark will play her first preseason game with the Fever on May 3 against the Dallas Wings.

On May 4, Reese, Cardoso and the Chicago Sky will take on the Minnesota Lynx in their first preseason matchup.

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