Before getting to the topic at hand, allow me to join the rest of the chorus in congratulating the USA women’s soccer team on winning the world cup. I neither know nor care enough about the sport of soccer (for either gender) to comment on the performance, but I’m assured it was masterful. Also, I’m always ready to cheer for a U.S. team kicking the butts of any other nation’s teams in any sport. Well done, ladies.
Unfortunately, the celebrations were immediately embroiled in political disputes, and I’m not talking about the widely publicized spat between the President and one of the star players. No sooner had the team secured their victory than the cheers of the crowds shifted from “U.S.A!” to “EQUAL PAY!” And from that moment on, I would estimate that I saw as much coverage of the equal pay issue on cable news as I did of the back to back victories.
It’s been established as fact that the female professional soccer players earn less than their male counterparts. And particularly now, because the American women’s team is producing more victories than the men’s team, this is seen as a call to action. Why shouldn’t the women be paid as much, if not more, than the men? (That’s an actual question I heard asked on CNN yesterday.) As A.G. Hamilton points out at National Review, it’s not a matter of how many goals you score. It’s a question of how much revenue the two leagues generate.
In reality, relative to the men’s World Cup, it was actually the women’s teams that were being paid a much larger share of what they brought in. While these articles noted that the U.S. women’s team brings in more money than the men’s team, they all managed to ignore the more-relevant disparity in revenue: The men’s tournament brought in over $6 billion in revenue in 2018, while the women’s tournament is estimated to only have brought in $131 million in 2019. The prize pools are taken from those revenue totals. In other words, the women’s prize pool was approximately 23 percent of their total revenue, while the men’s prize pool consisted of approximately 7 percent of revenue.
There are a number of moving parts in this puzzle and not all of them are equally relevant. For example, I think Hamilton goes a bit astray later in the article where he (I’m assuming “he” because Hamilton is anonymous) delves into the relative skill levels of the men’s and women’s teams, stating that the ladies wouldn’t do very well against the men. That’s not the point here.
What’s truly relevant is the fact that the women’s league pays out 23% of its total revenue into the prize pool. The men’s league, by comparison, puts just 7% of its revenue into the prize money. The reason for this is that the men’s league attracts a vastly larger global audience, hence bringing in far more ad revenue and endorsement deals. If you started paying the women’s league teams the same amount as the men’s teams in the interest of “fairness,” the women’s league would soon be bankrupt and there would be no games.
We see similar arguments in other women’s sports. The most glaring example is probably found in basketball. There might legitimately be a gender pay gap there because the NBA pays roughly 50% of its revenue to the players while the WNBA pays out 25%. But at the same time, the total revenue of the NBA is a staggering 7.4 billion dollars while the WNBA brings in around 25 million. You’re never going to reach equal pay when facing that sort of revenue disparity.
There’s probably some confusion over this in the United States because, at least for the moment, there are more people here watching and talking about the women’s soccer team than the men’s. But you probably don’t need me to tell you why that is. Americans love a winning team and don’t display much enthusiasm for losers. And our men’s team, I’m sorry to say, generally falls into the loser’s category as compared to their competition on nearly every other continent. (Though I’m pretty sure we could kick the butts of any Antarctic teams out there.)
But a string of victories by the American women isn’t going to do much to keep the rest of the world eagerly tuned in. Unless and until you can figure out a way to drive up revenue in the women’s league, you’re not going to solve the “gender pay gap” in professional soccer.