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WNBA investigating $100,000 annual sponsorships for Aces players from Las Vegas tourism authority

The WNBA is investigating whether the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's $100,000 annual sponsorship to Aces players for this season and next is allowed.

A league spokesperson confirmed Saturday that there is an open investigation looking into the deal. The sponsorships do not violate the WNBA's salary cap because the Las Vegas authority did not orchestrate them with the club. But other teams likely were raising questions about the fairness of the sponsorships and whether they violates the spirit of the cap rules.

"I'll put it to you real simple. Most of sponsorship people go after the top two people," Aces coach Becky Hammon said. "This situation from what I understand is, they wanted the whole team. They called individual agents. I don't know the details. I have nothing to do with it. The Aces don't have anything to do with it. That's what happened."

Los Angeles Sparks v Las Vegas Aces
Head coach Becky Hammon of the Las Vegas Aces talks with Jackie Young in the first quarter of their game against the Los Angeles Sparks at Michelob ULTRA Arena on May 18, 2024, in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Aces defeated the Sparks 89-82.  Getty Images

This isn't the Aces first run-in with the league over the last few years. Last year, the WNBA suspended Hammon for two games and took away the Aces' 2025 first-round draft pick because the franchise violated league rules regarding impermissible player benefits and workplace policies.

"Just another day in the life of the Aces. We can't just ever start normal," star A'ja Wilson said. "There's always going to be something and that's OK. When we're talking about growing the game or taking the next step it can't always be investigated. It has to be like we're trying to make things better for franchises, for players for teams."

The head of the authority feels they did nothing wrong.

"We did this the right way," authority president and CEO Steve Hill told The Associated Press on Saturday. "We did something that we think works for Las Vegas and I think great for the players. We did this without the team. It was our idea and any questions they ask they'll find that out."

The authority posted a video on X of Hill telling the players in the locker room the news on Friday.

"We have 100 influencers we pay to represent Las Vegas," Hill told the AP. "This isn't any different then that. All of these ladies are completely eligible to have sponsorships. We are just asking them to represent Vegas."

The players were thrilled by the move.

"The city of Vegas I've always said, it's a big small town and they just want the best for the people here," point guard Chelsea Gray said before the Aces' home game Saturday against the Los Angeles Sparks. "They're investing in us and so they put their money where their mouth is. We've done so much for the city and having fun doing it.

"It was a great moment for me and my teammates, of somebody actually putting funds behind, saying that they're supporting and they want to have our back."

According to the website Spotrac, which tracks player salaries, the sponsorship is higher than the earnings of six Aces players.

"Definitely more than my salary," said rookie Kate Martin, who makes $67,249, according to the website. "I'm super thankful. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming, but this is very much real life and that is what all these players deserve. I wouldn't be getting this crazy bonus if it weren't for how great all of these players have played in the last few years."

The $100,000 also is a big addition even to what the top players make. A'ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum are the highest-paid Aces at $200,000 each and Gray is right behind at $196,267.

"(For) the LVCVA to see our value and to help close that pay gap, it says a lot about the character of the people that are there," said Alysha Clark, whose salary is listed at $110,000. "So I'm extremely grateful. I'm honored to be able to represent this organization and this city and be able to put on for the city, give back to this city and pour into the community, and that's what they did for us. It was really, really special."

The issue of WNBA salaries as compared to those of NBA players has received renewed scrutiny after it was revealed last month that No. 1 overall pick Caitlin Clark, who has emerged as one of America's most popular athletes, would be earning just over $76,500 her rookie year with the Indiana Fever, and roughly $338,000 over the four-year deal she signed. 

While the former Iowa State star is expected to earn lucrative sponsorship deals as a professional, for comparison, San Antonio Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama, the No. 1 pick in last summer's NBA draft, made more than $12 million in salary this season, according to Spotrac.

The issue even prompted President Biden to weigh in, who posted on social media April 16 that "women in sports continue to push new boundaries and inspire us all. But right now we're seeing that even if you're the best, women are not paid their fair share. It's time that we give our daughters the same opportunities as our sons and ensure women are paid what they deserve."

The WNBA has made strides in promoting pay equity in recent years. While NBA players collectively receive roughly 50% of the league's revenue, WNBA players previously took home less than 23%. But that figure jumped to 50% under the latest labor deal with the league.

Megan Cerullo contributed to this report. 

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