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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on the WNBA: ‘It’s not where we hoped it would be.’

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, center right, arrives with former NBA Commissioner David Stern prior to the enshrinement ceremony for the Class of 2015 of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., last Friday. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

The WNBA is not living up to its potential, according to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who spoke on Thursday at a Sports Business Journal Game Changers Conference panel that focused on women in sports.

“It’s not where we hoped it would be,”  he said (via BuzzFeed). “We thought it would have broken through by now.”

Silver said the women’s league had yet to figure out how to become profitable enough to pay players what they deserve.

The starting salary in the WNBA compares to minor league pay in other sports. According to Fansided.com, rookies make a minimum of $36,570 per year, a low number for which many players compensate by playing abroad in the offseason, much to the chagrin of many.

[So you want to be a pro athlete? You might not get paid well.]

In some cases, talented players have decided to forego the WNBA entirely due to money concerns. Earlier this year, Diana Taurasi, who was the league’s highest-paid player with a $107,000 salary, announced she would skip the WNBA season altogether at the request of her Russian Premier League team, which did not want to risk her getting injured. Taurasi makes around $1.5 million playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg.

Right now, the WNBA cannot offer players anywhere near that sum, but it does allow teams to offer players up to $50,000 in off-season bonuses if they remain stateside and for other reasons, according to the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement.

While Silver said on Thursday that he supports players’ going abroad to make a living, he added that he does not want them to give up on the WNBA, which he referred to as an “incredible league.”

“I think we can do a much better job at marketing,” Silver said (via ESPN “SportsCenter” producer Jasmine Alexander).

Silver insinuated he was not pleased with the lack of coverage the league receives in the press, save for one unlikely source: the Players’ Tribune, a Web site founded by Derek Jeter that features first-person essays by athletes.

“Who would have thought a Web site created by Derek Jeter would have the best WNBA content?” Silver quipped.

The WNBA-related content, however, is not always positive. Former University of Connecticut standout Maya Moore, who now plays for the Minnesota Lynx, used the platform in May to lament the league’s current state. Her views were not dissimilar to Silver’s.

[Maya Moore isn’t happy about the state of the WNBA]

She complained that the league lacked “visibility,” comparing her experience at U-Conn. — where she practically had to dodge media attention — with her experience with the Lynx, during which it has seemed as if she almost had to beg for it.

“In college, your coaches tell you to stay focused on your team and the game — not the media attention. But you know you’re on national television. You know people are following you. You can feel the excitement,” she wrote. “And then as a professional, all of that momentum, all of that passion, all of that support — the ball of momentum is deflating before my eyesGone.”

Like Silver, Moore was unsure of why or how the WNBA has failed to garner ratings that are even equivalent to NCAA women’s  basketball, but she agrees with him on the solution: People, and particularly sports marketers, must begin to celebrate the game.

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