The Gender Pay Gap and Sports

As I’m working on this post, I’m still reminiscing on the terrific performance that the United States Women’s Soccer Team put together at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. In spite of the challenges that teams like France, England, and the Netherlands posed, not to mention critics of their celebrations and some of their opinions, the U.S. Women still pulled it off!

There came a certain point, however, when the reminiscing turned to a different topic: the gender pay gap in sports. At times, it felt like the U.S. Women were fighting for more than winning the tournament—they were fighting for respect, and to be paid equally as compared to the men.

And, while I support the fight for the U.S. Women to be paid equally to the U.S. Men,[1] this conversation about massive gender pay gaps need to expand beyond soccer and to all sports.[2] Here’s the thing: while the focus has been on the glaring gender pay gap between the U.S. Men and the U.S. Women in soccer, this pay gap extends to nearly every other sport, with the possible exception of tennis.[3]

In terms of where the blame lies for this gap, I think that there is plenty of blame to go around:

  1. Some blame should go to a lack of advertisement and coverage of most women’s sports, as compared to men’s. There was, I thought, a good amount of advertisement for the Women’s World Cup and for women’s tennis. But outside of those two sports, where is the visibility of women’s sports in terms of TV advertising and coverage? I know—often, it wasn’t and isn’t visible. The visibility is just not comparable to the men right now. That, of course, affects revenue, because visibility leads to sponsorship opportunities, which leads to revenue.
  2. Some blame should go to us, the consumers, for just not caring as much about women’s athletics as we do about men’s athletics. Prize money and other money earned by athletes (through contracts, endorsements, etc.) is extremely dependent on the amount of revenue a sport generates. And the amount of revenue a sport generates depends on factors like ticket sales, merchandise sales, concession sales at games, and television ratings (which in turn helps determine the amount of money sports generate from advertisements, the amount of money sports generate from television deals, etc.). We as consumers simply haven’t invested in women’s sports at the level we often have with the men. It is no wonder, then, that the women usually get paid less than the men.
  3. In the absence of #1 and #2 (and oftentimes, even with the presence of points #1 and #2), blame goes to governing bodies for maintaining systemic gender inequality. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team falls into this blame group. They get the coverage, and they get the revenue, yet they don’t get paid equally. This has actually happened in other women’s sports before—tennis, which seems to have taken great strides towards pay equality at least in its major tournaments, had a situation for decades where they got the exposure and the revenue, but not the equal pay.

No doubt, women have come a far way with sports in the last 25 years. Just in that time, there has been the establishment of a women’s basketball league, multiple iterations of a women’s soccer league, increased attention on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, and an increased exposure of women’s sports in general. However, we have a long way to go until we achieve true gender equality in pay, and true gender equality in sports in general. May we not stop the push for gender equality in sports. May we take follow the lead of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, who are four-time World Cup champions and advocates for gender equality.


[1] Honestly, I would even be supportive of the women being paid more than the men. The women have earned more revenue than the men, plus the women won the World Cup while the men didn’t even make their World Cup (losing to the likes of Trinidad and Tobago in the process).

[2] It should expand beyond sports, quite frankly. But for the purposes of this post, I am sticking to sports.

[3] Though if I’m wrong, please correct me.

I was at the parade celebrating the U.S. Women winning the World Cup. I therefore saw Megan Rapinoe and others celebrating, amid chants of “equal pay.”

15 Replies to “The Gender Pay Gap and Sports”

  1. Good post. It seems to me that we need to recognize that sports, at the professional level, is entertainment.Pure and simple. If the team can attract viewers it should be compensated accordingly. The Women’s World Cup squad was one of the most entertaining I have ever seen.(And I have been a soccer fan for over 40 years, even coached a girls team at the JV level) Now, they go back home and play in the US and other nations leagues. Wish there was a team in my area.

    I know there is some dispute as to how much revenue they generate. There should be a formula for pay based on revenue. Period. If they generate more than the men, pay them more. If not, pay them less. But develop a formula so there is no discrimination.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely.

      The U.S. Women attracts viewers and (based on what I’ve read) have actually attracted more revenue than the men. It then therefore does not seem to make sense that the men earn more, in spite of their earning less, garnering less viewership, and frankly not being nearly as good as the women.

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      1. Why would anyone watch, US men’s soccer?

        They stink.

        Soccer, thankfully remains a sport in which the USA has a low profile and the American Sport as entertainment mentality has not entirely permeated.

        The World Cup, and the Americas Cup are better tournaments with the relative weakness of Team USA .

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, speaking as someone who does watch the men, our men’s team is not very good.

        The biggest reason I can give for watching is that we do seem to have a collection of exciting young talented individuals (Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Zack Steffen, to name a few). But the problem is that I only mentioned three players, and you need 11 of them (plus some decent subs) to have a good squad.

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  2. My daughter was a basketball power forward in an NCAA school with a big following for its teams.

    Her games were always before the men’s games, and were easy to get in to and we could often just walk in without a ticket.

    The men’s games, conversely, were crowded, tickets were a a big score if one could get them.

    She graduated in 2004, in the last basketball season at her alma mater,last year, things hadn’t changed.

    Everyone wants to get on the bad wagon of an American women’s time who simply out class EVERYONE else who go on the field with them. Even in an off day for them, the USA women;s soccer team are so much better conditioned and drilled than ALL of their competitors, the training just crushes the opposition.

    I am very ambivalent about this degree of conditioning in sport and don’t pay much attention to professional sports because the men engaged are wasting their lives, however high their salaries are.

    I really would like to see sport become far more competitive, with semi-amateur contests giving part-time athletes the chance to keep developing their lives outside of sports.

    I really hate to see the grotesque culture which has grown up around professional sports expanded.

    Sport should be for all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely agree with everything you said, Robert.

      One of the things that I wanted to make sure to highlight in my post was the fact that there is more to the issue of the gender pay gap in sports than simply entities (like the US Soccer Federation) just not wanting to pay them (though that is a factor). Apathy on multiple levels–your example being one of many of apathy–is a major factor too. And it seems to take a great team, such as Geno Auriemma’s UConn or Pat Summitt’s Tennessee, to break through that apathy.

      I don’t know about the U.S., but some of this exists in at least some of the European soccer…emmm…football leagues. The top 2-4 tiers of these leagues are professional leagues, but once you get below that there are semi-professional leagues where players do get paid a small salary for playing but also have an opportunity to develop their lives outside of sports as well. Of course, the quality of play in those leagues is not as good as in the professional leagues, but these are players who as you said can develop their lives outside of sports. I think an argument can be made for more development of semi-professional leagues.

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  3. Not being a sports-minded person, never having even seen a soccer match, I wasn’t aware of the gender pay gap until the Women’s team won a week or so ago. Even then, I might not have noticed had it not been that a certain person made such a stink about it. Now that I’m aware, I fully agree … but I think part of the problem is more broad than even sports, it is that there remains in this nation a degree of misogyny that, while women have made progress in the past couple of decades, has not completely gone away. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, there is quite the pronounced pay gap.

      You are definitely correct about the role that misogyny plays in pay inequality in sports. However, I think it is worth asking why the gender pay gap in sports (tennis notwithstanding) is much more pronounced than in other fields.

      Diana Taurasi, the WNBA equivalent of a LeBron James (in terms of stardom), made about $115,000 in 2018. LeBron himself made 35.65 million. While women in most of the workforce earn 80ish cents for every dollar a man earns (not where it should be, by the way), Taurasi earned about 3 tenths of a penny for every dollar James earned.

      It has to be asked why the pay gap is so much more pronounced in sports than other fields.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I suspect because people think of most sports, perhaps except tennis, as a ‘man’s game’. Do you see any women in the NFL, or in major league baseball? Nope … for the big-ticket games, it’s still very much a man’s world. Games that require physical strength and endurance are seen as for ‘men only’. It’s a mentality that we haven’t overcome yet.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Absolutely. You are correct.

        And even in sports that aren’t exclusively men, such as basketball and soccer, there is this mentality that women are weaker than men and inferior to men at those sports. That doesn’t help, in addition to the fact that the NFL and MLB are viewed as a “man’s game.”

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, have you ever been up close to an NBA player or an NFL player? They are in top one -tenth of 1% of all humans on Earth in terms of size, strength,speed, etc. Especially in the NBA they are well out of the range of normal physical abilities for men or women. If there was a 7 foot 3 inch 245 pound woman who could dunk a basketball, run like a gazelle and could power lift 200 pounds you can be sure she would be recruited to play. There is not a single team that would not welcome a woman who could play. Just think of the fans that would draw in. The revenue would be astronomical. The biological fact is that there are every different physical traits at the pro level.
    Now, in grade school, where kids are more level in development, there is no reason that girls should not be playing with boys in competitive sports. But at the adult level, the physical differences are very great. It is not a matter of discrimination, it is just biology.

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  5. Yes i support that…..why if men cant deliver ….no world cup trophy from them(men), yet they are paid more than the ladies, i think women deserve equal pay like men, or more

    Liked by 1 person

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