Pay Gap Within Women’s Sports
Anne Chen (PPS ‘24)
Female athletes competing at a professional level should be paid equally to their professional male counterparts. For as long as women have been able to compete on a professional level, there has been a sizeable pay gap, less coverage, and limited power. These outcomes contribute to the gender inequality women face. Society’s assumption that women are the “weaker gender” or that women are “too fragile” to play a sport exacerbates this inequality. The disparities professional women encounter steers junior girls away from sports, lowering the importance of women’s sports and restricting women from reaching their highest potential as an athlete and person.
The soccer World Cup is perhaps one of the greatest sporting events all over the world. Alongside the Olympics, the World Cup is the most watched sports events internationally. In 2014, the U.S. Men’s National team was paid $9 million for coming 11th place. In 2015, the U.S. Women’s National team won the World Cup and received $2 million. The men finished 9th earning 4.5 times more than what the women received for placing first. To make matters worse, the Germany’s Men’s National team won the 2014 championship and went home with $35 million.
The 2019 Women’s World Cup drew 82.18 million in-home viewers which is 56% more than the 2015 final. The U.S. National team won in 2019 and received $2.53 million, only $530,000 more than 2015’s victory. Viewership had increased tremendously and yet their pay barely increased. The U.S. Women’s team has won four World Cups, 2019 being the most recent. The men’s team holds zero victories, recording their best finish in third place in 1930. This demonstrates the unequal pay women face no matter how well they perform. Statistically, most professional women’s sports generate lower ticket sales, interest, and revenue than men’s sports. Women are paid according to these numbers they bring in, so it is understandable why their wages are lower. However, females are given significantly less coverage than men and are labeled as trivial which draws away viewers. This pay gap can only be addressed when women are given equal opportunities as men.
Consequently, the gender inequality in professional sports sets a substandard example for the junior and collegiate level. During the 2021 Division 1 Women’s basketball March Madness, Sedona Prince, a basketball player from Oregon University, tweeted a video of the women’s weight room in comparison of the men’s weight room. The women’s set up was one small rack and a singular table compared to the men’s set up, which emulates a full weight room. Jane McManus, director of the Center of Sports Communication at Marist College and a former ESPN writer, discusses the cultural valuation that men’s sports are more important than women’s sports. Even on one of the biggest stages for collegiate athletes, female athletes face inequality as they are unfairly compared to men.
Title IX ensures everyone cannot be discriminated or excluded from any education program or federal financial assistance, high schools are still 1.3 million opportunities short for young women. According to Gatorade’s Girls In Sport study, girls at the age of 14 quit sports at 1.5 times the rate boys do, and by the age of 17, more than half completely stop playing sports. This stems from the fact women feel like they have no future in sports. Young women miss out on the chance of learning from hands on experiences, leadership roles, and the truth behind hard work.
Although laws such as Title IX have been passed to eliminate gender inequality on a junior and collegiate level, professional athletes still face heavy discrimination. To rectify this issue, large streaming networks such as CBS Sports, ESPN, and NBS Sports must provide equal coverage for women’s sports to reach a larger audience. Congress should pass a law to incentivize big named-streaming channels to increase coverage for professional women’s sports. This can happen by providing tax cuts, extra funds, and promotion of their companies. Cross-over events where professional men and women compete together will boost coverage and allow female athletes to advertise their names to gain sponsorships, fans, and press. Sports, such as tennis, now offer professional men and women equal pay for Grand Slam tournaments. As more sports begin to grant equal paychecks, others will follow suit. Professional sport’s tours can also apply for funding to provide equal prize money for both genders. These solutions can be implemented to provide equal pay for professional women’s sports.
Anne Chen (PPS ’24) is a Public Policy Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ’22 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.