As former Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert, CPA, took on a role leading the US Women's National Basketball Association, her first major, public test was negotiating a labour agreement with the league's players. She cleared that hurdle after six months on the job when a historic deal was announced in January.
The eight-year agreement includes higher pay and improved travel accommodation and benefits for players, especially those with children. For instance, the new deal guarantees players with children a two-bedroom apartment. The league will also have a child-care stipend and pay during maternity leave.
Several of the league's top players can make more money in other countries and, as a result, would play two seasons — one overseas and one with their WNBA team. Engelbert said on a media conference call that the enhanced benefits are one way the league hopes to encourage more players to prioritise the WNBA amid other opportunities. The top players are eligible in the coming season to earn more than $500,000 in total compensation, and average compensation for all players will be $131,000 for the 2021 season, Engelbert said. "We're betting on the future through this long-term agreement," she said in the mid-January conference call with the players union announcing the deal, acknowledging the scope of the investment. "Our teams, owners are very supportive. But they're betting as well."
The same day the labour agreement was announced, the WNBA made public a collaboration with three companies, a partnership that is one of the ways the league will augment player pay.
"Not only are partners providing financial investment, but they are further lifting the league and players through marketing amplification and close strategic collaboration," a news release said.
Two of the corporate partners have been mainstays with the league — AT&T and Nike. The new one, named the league's official professional services provider, is Deloitte.
Clearly, Engelbert's leadership and finance background are having an effect on the league, which announced a new, expanded schedule for the 2020 season. Even players on the other side of the negotiation have praised her value.
"To our WNBA commissioner, Cathy Engelbert, recognising you in this role, watching the leadership you provided to your team, immediately elevates our profile across the professional sports landscape," said player Nneka Ogwumike, president of the Women's National Basketball Players Association.
In the months leading up to reaching the agreement, Engelbert said she was relying strongly on relationship-building skills in her new role. In an October article for FM magazine, Engelbert said: "One thing that's very clear to me is sports is business and business is about relationships. So I think the best thing that prepared me at Deloitte, especially as I stepped into a number of leadership roles, was how to build relationships, how to nurture the relationships, and how to deepen these relationships." (See "The Former Deloitte CEO on Career Agility," FM magazine, 24 October 2019.)
Neil Amato is an FM magazine senior editor. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact him at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.