The US Women’s national football team has accrued 4 Olympic gold medals and 3 World Cups. By comparison, the best ever result for the US men’s national team came in 1930 when they reached the semi-final of the world cup, closely followed by a final appearance in the 2009 Confederations Cup where they lost valiantly 3-2 to Brazil.
The last of their World Cup victories netted the US women’s national football team more than 23 millions viewers in the US. But the men and women representing their country on the football pitch are rewarded on very different scales.
- If you win the men’s World Cup you get $35m, whereas the women’s champions receive only $2m.
- US women take a regular salary from their national side that the US men don’t
- But US men are paid on a much higher pay scale from their professional clubs, some of them in European leagues, whereas women’s soccer on both sides of the Atlantic tends not to make enough to facilitate large pay packets.
Last year, 5 players from the US women’s national football team filed a lawsuit with the equal employment opportunity commission in the US. They accused the US soccer federation of discrimination. The fact they pointed out was that despite all the victories the women’s game has enjoyed, the men still get paid a huge amount more, only to show up.
The US federation’s argument is one perhaps familiar to women the world over, working on sport or elsewhere; the league simply compensates men and women differently.
US women receive a higher base salary than the men, close to $72,000 per year. Women only receive a bonus ‘per-game’ if they win one of the 20 friendly matches played. Men get the bonus just for playing, win or lose, and it gets bigger if they happen to win. Even if the US women’s national football team win all their friendlies, they’ll still earn less than the men do just for stepping onto the pitch.
The US men received more than $50k just for making their national World Cup squad. The women receive $15k. The US soccer federation points out that the men’s side produces more ticket sales and revenue, something close to double that of the women’s team. The fight for equality runs a little larger than just equal change in the account. It’s a general attitude, it’s a level of respect the women feel they’re missing out on. One of the biggest issues is astroturf instead of the grass the men use. Astroturf is a less resistant to challenging weather conditions and can lead to more frequent injuries. It’s gotten so bad that games have been cancelled and women’s teams have threatened strike action. Switching grass for astroturf costs money, though.
It goes on. The US women’s national football team don’t make any money at all from the World Cup unless they reach 4th place as a minimum. The US women’s national football team earned $2m for winning the world cup last year. The men’s team took home $8m for losing in the first round last time out. The winning side, Germany brought home $35m.
There’s a chasm widening between women footballers and the US federation and it’s likely to only grow quicker with threats of a strike on the horizon. Even when targets are met and even thrashed by the US women’s national football team, even when the men’s side is cast into the shadows, the way that’s happening now.
But what are the arguments for paying the women so much less despite success and commitment? In many respects it comes down to simple economics. Many have questioned that this the fault of US Soccer. How about if it’s the fan’s fault? Would this be an issue if more people watched women’s football? This would lead to higher revenues for the women’s teams, the women’s league as a whole, more ticket sales, advertising and higher salaries. It would mean women’s league games would be televised, most of them aren’t now. But, as one commentator said:
It’s like comparing a tech startup to Apple.
The men’s game has enjoyed decades of development, support and promotion. The women’s game has only recently begun enjoying the legitimacy it currently enjoys. But Zach Zill famously wrote that sexism is
built directly into the economics of women’s soccer,
It starts with the broadcasters and sponsors. Women’s coverage pales beside that of the men with 2% of ESPN’s Sportscenter devoted to women’s sports in general over a long run analysis. This can only lead to lack of investment, promotion and funding. The question might not even be that women be paid equally, some people say, but that they should be paid so very much less is what sticks in the craw. Why the titanic disparity? Why dismiss the women’s game as a lesser entity without even taking a proper look at the money maker it could be, and it really could. The number of girl’s in the US participating in sports has increased every year for the past 25 years and 42% of college athletes in America are now female.
As long as key decision-makers think critics are asking them to do something that’s the feel-good thing to do or that’s the politically correct thing to do, then it won’t happen,” she said. “But if it’s framed … in terms of a growth industry where those decision-makers will be repaid many times over in their self-interest, I think that’s the way we need to think about this.
Sports and TV are still old boy’s clubs, Sepp Blatter famously suggested women’s football might be more popular if they wore tighter uniforms, but they do tend to follow the money. The quest for equal pay would seem to be another stage in the long fight for wrangling sports away from a male dominated arena. The money potential is there and with it would flow all the other benefits to the world cup, to the women’s leagues and ultimately the players. But it will possibly take a little more commercial vision than a law suit to finally capitalise the women’s game so it can fight on equal terms and, who knows, even surpass the men. Endorsements of female targeted brands, video games for female gamers (another burgeoning demographic) not to mention the males, sportswear, and coverage in blogs (blogs like this one for example, which has noticeably not run any women’s soccer pieces prior to this… hopefully to change soon).
The potential is there to grow the women’s game to the point that it punches its weight. It will take the people behind the game having a little vision to see the huge potential there for when it does.
What do you think?
Feature image: Youtube.com