Is Monica Abbott the Most Valuable Woman in North American Team Sports?

Monica Abbott recently signed a 6-year, $1 million contract. This signing makes her the highest paid women’s athlete in a team sport- but should she be?

According to her online bio, Abbott was a star pitcher with the Tennessee Volunteers, setting NCAA records in career victories, career strikeouts, career shutouts, and single season strikeouts. She also pitched 23 no-hitters in college, 6 perfect games, and ended her college career as the Collegiate Player of the Year in Softball.

After graduation in 2007, Abbott joined the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) league. Her career highlights include

  • NPF Champion in 2007, 2011, 2013, and 2015

  • NPF Pitcher of the Year in 2011, 2013, and 2015

  • Led the NPF in ERA in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015 (she may have done this in other years but NPF data is hard to find for all seasons)

In addition, Abbott was a 2008 Olympic Silver Medalist and a 2010 gold medalist at the World Championship.

It is not a stretch to say Abbott is the best pitcher in NPF history (yes, better than Cat Osterman). I hesitate to say best ever because I am a strong believer in the great Jennie Finch- but that’s a story for a later time.

And now Abbott is the first woman in the NPF to land a million-dollar contract. In fact, she is the first woman in any North American team sport to be paid so well.

The typical player salary in the NPF is no more than $20,000. In fact, teams within the league must keep a roster of at least 18 players and have a salary cap of $150,000. Abbott, though, will be able to earn much more by qualifying for bonuses. The bonuses will come from attracting at least 100 fans for a few games, home or away, no matter if she pitches or not.

Once again, she landed this contract because she has been the best pitcher in the NPF. And there are no signs that she is slowing down. She finished the 2015 season with a 0.31 ERA, 13-1 record, and 149 strikeouts in 90.1 innings. No other pitcher in the league compared to Monica; in fact, the pitcher who had the second-best ERA only pitched 27.2 innings.

Though Monica brings a lot to a team in the NPF, everything from fans to publicity, one could argue that she is not the most valuable female player in North American team sports. This can be seen if we compare the best player in the NPF (Monica Abbott) to the best player in the WNBA (Elena Delle Donne).

To see this, we need to do just a bit of math:

  • Let' s start by noting the WNBA reportedly earns at least $35 million each year

  • If the WNBA gave 50% of its revenue with its players -- as is done in the NBA -- then the WNBA would be paying its players about $17.5 million per year

  • With 204 regular season games, each win is worth $85,784

  • Last year league MVP -- Elena Delle Donne -- produced 8.31 wins for the Chicago Sky

  • And that means Delle Donne -- if she was paid for each win -- would be worth about $713,000

If Delle Donne kept up this production and revenues did not change (it is likely revenue will increase), then in six years Delle Donne would be worth more than $4 million.

Yes, Delle Donne is worth four times what Abbot is being paid.

So why isn't Delle Donne getting paid this? Well, the WNBA caps the salaries of individual players. In 2013-14, this cap was $107,000 (or less than $650,000 for six seasons).

Like the WNBA, the NPF also limits player salaries. But the NPF found a creative way to get Abbot more money. Perhaps the WNBA -- which has a problem with its players earning much more money in other countries -- could do the same.

Looking league to league, the women in the WNBA bring in more money and fans (which is what pays players), meaning the women in basketball should be making more than their current salaries and more than any other player on a professional women’s team. That doesn't mean the WNBA players are trying harder than the NPF players; it simply means that right now, the WNBA is the more popular league and therefore earns more revenue.

That being said, we need to take a moment to celebrate what Abbott has accomplished. Abbott has created a name for herself and her team. Having her name plastered all over newspapers and TV shows will help create recognition for her and the NPF, hopefully generating more revenue and giving all softball players the chance to earn more than what their salary cap allows. Though this will take time to implement, the NPF has a chance to utilize stars like Abbott to increase their fan base and make more money.

So in time, it may be the case that the best player in the NPF will be the most valuable team player in women's sports. But although Abbott signed a ground-breaking contract (one that all softball players can strive for one day) and is currently the highest paid woman in team sports, she is not currently the most valuable team player in North American women's sports.

You can follow the author of this article on Twitter at @CamiMathews27.


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