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W.N.B.A. Makes ‘Big Bet on Women’ With a New Contract

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The W.N.B.A. and its players’ union have signaled a radical shift in how female athletes are to be compensated with a tentative contract agreement that would sharply increase salaries and provide generous maternal benefits in a move Commissioner Cathy Engelbert called “a big bet on women.”

The implications of the agreement stretch far beyond basketball at a time when women around the world are demanding increased pay and benefits, on their own merit and as a challenge to historically unequal pay that leaves them earning less than men for similar work. The pushback has been most visible in soccer, where the United States Women’s National Team has sued its governing body, and star players like Megan Rapinoe have spoken out. But the fight also is going on in tennis, hockey, track and field and other sports.

The proposed W.N.B.A. contract, which still must be approved by the league’s board of governors and the union’s membership, would enable top players to earn more than $500,000, about triple last season’s ceiling and far more than had ever seemed possible since the league’s first season in 1997.

But amid a broader cultural reckoning over disparities in how society regards women and men, the league’s 12 teams have attracted increased attention, and its players have felt more empowered to push for better pay and benefits.

“What we have here is a multidimensional pay structure as well as benefit structure,” Engelbert said in a phone interview. “We’ve really gone all out here. We’re making a big bet on this league, a big bet on women, and that in professional sports, that the W.N.B.A. can lead the way.”

Low salaries and limited or nonexistent maternity benefits have been two of the most-discussed issues in the debate over compensation for female athletes. Under this deal, the maximum W.N.B.A. salary would increase almost 83 percent, to $215,000 from $117,500. And while some people think that the players, in pushing for better pay, have been asking to earn the same multimillion-dollar salaries as their counterparts in the N.B.A., the union’s leaders have insisted that what they want is a comparable share of their league’s revenue, which this agreement would allow.

The N.B.A., which created the W.N.B.A. in 1996 and shares ownership with the women’s teams, splits its revenue about 50-50 with the men’s players. In the W.N.B.A., the players are estimated to receive just 20 to 30 percent of league revenue. By 2021, if the league reaches certain revenue markers in broadcast agreements, marketing partnerships and licensing deals, the W.N.B.A. and its players could be splitting revenue equally. The contract would last for eight years, through 2027.

This agreement also would provide maternity leave with full salary, a dedicated space in arenas for nursing mothers and a $5,000 child care stipend. Veteran players also would be able to seek reimbursement for up to $60,000 in costs directly related to adoption, surrogacy, egg freezing and fertility treatment.

“We have several mothers in the league, and we had players that talked to us about what they realized they needed while they were playing,” Nneka Ogwumike, the W.N.B.A. players’ union president, said in a phone interview on Monday.

In exchange for these and other benefits is a new requirement that will be gradually phased in: Players must be in W.N.B.A. training camps from the start. No more reporting late, or even after the season begins, to finish commitments to clubs overseas, with exceptions built in only for national team play and players in their first three seasons. Players, from superstars to rookies, have long supplemented their league pay by competing for clubs overseas during the off-season.

“We had to be incredibly innovative with this,” Ogwumike said. “And to be honest, with what the league wanted, we understood that it would take some novel change to get the league where we want it to go. We wanted to ensure that it is still allowing players the opportunity to get the salaries that we are used to getting in both markets while also phasing in a system that will hold the league as a certain priority.”

The year-round play of some players has had its consequences. Last year, Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart ruptured her right Achilles’ tendon while playing overseas and missed the entire 2019 season while she was the reigning Most Valuable Player Award winner.

That and other examples of players returning fatigued or injured have prompted the league and union to find ways to encourage players to stay stateside more.

The league has agreed to add $1.6 million annually in what are being called league marketing agreements, up to $250,000 for any one player, Engelbert said. For a top player, this new deal could mean a single-season salary of $215,000, another $250,000 in a league marketing agreement, plus bonus incentives for things like All-Star appearances and awards that could push her total compensation above $500,000.

The W.N.B.A. also will partner with other leagues — the N.B.A. and its developmental league and college basketball — to promote its own players for potential coaching openings. And Engelbert said players coaching in the N.B.A. could be paid market rate, even if the men’s team was affiliated with a W.N.B.A. team. This became an issue last season when Mystics guard Kristi Toliver, because of pay restrictions in the expiring collective bargaining agreement, could earn just $10,000 as an assistant coach for the Washington Wizards. That is no longer an issue, Engelbert said.

The W.N.B.A. season itself also will change in some dramatic ways, if the deal is approved. A 34-game campaign in 2019 will become a 36-game slate this season. And the games themselves will be different, thanks to another innovation: the Commissioner’s Cup.

Certain games on the 2020 schedule will be designated as Cup games, with separate standings for this in-season competition. The two teams with the best records in Cup games will play for the Commissioner’s Cup title. Starting in 2021, the prize money for in-season tournaments will be a minimum of $750,000.

The players’ experience, too, will be improved in ways that reflect both their day-to-day priorities and lifestyle choices.

The league’s teams, which provide housing, will now guarantee two-bedroom apartments for players with children. Travel, long a source of frustration among players, will now include individual instead of shared hotel rooms for every player. But players will still have to fly on commercial, not charter, planes to games, though they will receive economy-plus flight accommodations.

Player movement, too, will become easier, echoing an N.B.A. trend to give players more opportunities to change teams or sign new deals. In the last W.N.B.A. agreement, players could not reach unrestricted free agency until they had played six full seasons. That number would become five. The leagues will, over the next several years, reduce how many times a team can designate someone as a core player and thus prevent them, even as an unrestricted free agent, from leaving the team.

The sum of new investment, accounting for league and team-specific initiatives, is nearly $1 million per team per season.

Engelbert said she expected unanimous approval by the league’s board of governors. This was not, Engelbert emphasized, simply a question of fairness. Rather, she said she believed that a greater investment would pay off in ways that reflected both the rise of women’s sports, and the W.N.B.A.’s position to lead on that front.

“We believe this is the best deal to drive a return on investment during the term of this agreement,” Engelbert said. “But no doubt, a lot of these elements are setting up the future for the next generation of players to be in a great place — for the current stars to leave behind a legacy for the next generation.”

Ogwumike said she had been too busy negotiating to think about her legacy, but she saw the definition of women’s professional basketball changing in a deal she expected to outlast her playing career.

“We wanted to create a league in which it is clearly a viable option to play in the W.N.B.A.,” Ogwumike said. “So we’re providing a new starting line for those who come after us.”



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Rob Gorodetsky, popular sports gambler, charged with defrauding investor of nearly $10 million

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Federal prosecutors allege that illegal activity was behind the luxurious lifestyle of high-stakes gambler Rob Gorodetsky. Charges filed to the U.S. District Court in Chicago on Tuesday, state that Gorodetsky is being accused of defrauding an investor of almost $10 million.

The 27-year-old got his fame through putting large bets on sports games– “$350,000 on NFL Sundays, $100,000 on MLB games and tens of thousands of dollars on the NBA, WNBA, tennis, soccer and high school sports,” according to a 2017 profile in USA Today — while palling around and gambling with celebrities like Drake, Scott Disick and Dan Bilzerian. He’d also flaunt his wealth on Instagram and often wear a hat with a GAMBLR logo on it.

But federal documents say that this lifestyle was all thanks to a scheme he hatched up where he defrauded an unnamed investor from 2014 to 2018 for $9.6 million. While a lot of the money was used for his exorbitant gambling habits, approximately $2 million was used for cars, jewelry, travel and living and entertainment expenses. The scam itself is not made clear.

Gorodetsky is not only being charged with wire fraud, but also for filing a false tax return. He allegedly filed a return in 2017 that falsely claimed his total income for the year was $10,520. For reference, that was the same year as the USA Today profile that reported he had “wagered well over $1 million on a range of sporting events and tens of thousands of dollars more on blackjack and roulette.”

His arraignment and plea hearing have been set for Feb. 5, and he faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.





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A Rare Good First Week at a Grand Slam for the American Men

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Sandgren, who unlike Paul stayed under the radar by playing college tennis, said Paul deserved patience as he developed. “When you’re young you sometimes don’t make the most optimal decisions; everybody’s guilty of that to some degree,” Sandgren said. “The more disciplined you can be, your odds are better.”

Sandgren has been more disciplined, but has streaky results. For a player of his low profile, never reaching the Top 40 in the ATP rankings, Sandgren has amassed a remarkable collection of big wins at Grand Slam events, including a run to the quarterfinals here in 2018. His win over Berrettini was his fourth victory against a top-10 opponent at a Grand Slam in six matches, a winning percentage few others could touch. Calling himself a “realist with a pessimistic bent,” however, Sandgren sought ways to play down his win over Berrettini.

“I’m thinking, ‘Well, it’s early in the year, and I don’t think he’d played an event,’” Sandgren said. “So that’s in the back of my head, that he’s not match tough. I’m searching for my own asterisks so I can pin myself down a little.”

Sandgren was particularly proud of his physicality against Berrettini, never flagging in the five-set match. After a toe injury last fall, Sandgren spent his off-season in the gym, improving his stamina and adding the muscle he said he needed to justify being the only man other than Rafael Nadal to wear sleeveless shirts here.

“Well, I’ve been working out — I think I can pull this off,” Sandgren said.

Reinventing his image among tennis fans may prove even harder work. During his 2018 run here, Sandgren drew scrutiny and criticism for his social media posts, in which he engaged with several far-right political figures and theories. After he was eliminated, he opened his news conference with a statement railing against the news media for “demonizing” him.

Sandgren said he now followed politics “less passionately.”

“I’m relatively good at one thing, which is playing tennis,” Sandgren said. “I wouldn’t want another interest I have, or a hobby — and following politics is a hobby — to bring that side of me down.”



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Las Vegas Doubles Down on Sports, Live and Broadcast

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At the Park MGM, the recently updated Moneyline Sports Bar & Book looks more like a neighborhood sports bar — albeit with bigger and more numerous screens — with large booths where groups can gather and a “tailgate menu” offering cheeseburgers and nachos. The teller area, where the betting takes place, is in the entry foyer.

Up the street, The Linq Hotel + Experience has updated its sports book to include “Fan Caves,” living room-style areas available for rent with 98-inch televisions guests can control, video games and nightclub-style bottle service. The resort is also building a studio for the sports network ESPN overlooking the Strip, to be completed next spring. (Its sibling resort, Caesars Palace, now has a Bleacher Report Studio producing content for the popular sports app and steaming service.)

“We wanted to create an actual living room experience where fans can be social together,” said Chris Holdren, the chief marketing officer for Caesars Entertainment, which runs The Linq, Caesars Palace and several other resorts. “In traditional sports books, you were lined up and if you wanted to high-five after your team scored, it meant going down the aisle.”

Making casinos more game-day friendly may expand their appeal. Research by the American Gaming Association found that sports bettors are generally younger, more affluent, more ethnically diverse and better educated than the general population of the United States.

In terms of live sports, Las Vegas has the W.N.B.A. Aces, pro soccer’s Lights, and Triple-A baseball’s Aviators, as well as pro hockey. Major League Baseball exhibition games have been held in Las Vegas nearly every year since 1991 and will take place again in February and March 2020 in the newly constructed Las Vegas Ballpark. Still, only 4 percent of visitors attended a sporting event in 2018, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Operators here expect that to change given the popularity of football, America’s favorite spectator sport, according to a 2017 Gallup poll. The Raiders organization said that it has already sold 99 percent of the licenses to buy season tickets. Leading up to the team’s debut, Las Vegas will hold the NFL Draft, April 23 to 25.



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