July 8th, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 27
Money and the Women’s World Cup
50 Shades of Black by Ezra Black
On Sunday, I stopped off at a bar in Fernie to watch the U.S. Women’s National Team beat a highly skilled Japanese side 5-2 to win their first championship in 16 years.
I really meant to watch more of the Women’s World Cup this year but I didn’t make the time. It’s a shame because I saw a high quality performance.
It really looked like these athletes were playing for the love of the game because they certainly were not in it for the money. The wage gap between men and women’s soccer is cartoonishly huge.
According to Politico, the Americans will split $2 million in prize money. FIFA’s total payout for the women’s world cup will be $15 million but the payout for last year’s Men’s World Cup was $576 million; that’s about 40 times more. The American men’s soccer team won a cool $9 million during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and that was after making it to the round of 16. When the German men won last year’s World Cup they won $35 million.
Why is the pay gap so stark? Could it be that men’s soccer is forty times faster? Forty times more interesting?
The answer, as always, is that the internet has ruined everything. The web has increased the value of broadcast rights for sports. As consumers, we’re much more likely to watch the Stanley Cup Final live than we are to watch, say, Game of Thrones, which we stream and watch at our leisure. This makes airtime for sports events a hot commodity and is why Pepsi will pay millions for a Super Bowl commercial.
But broadcasters do not value women’s sports as much as men’s.
More than a billion people tuned in to watch the 2014 men’s World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that 25.4 million people tuned into the women’s final, but those are just American figures.
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So how can the wage gap in soccer be addressed? Sepp Blatter, former president of FIFA, said the ladies should play in sexier uniforms:
“Let the women play in more feminine clothes, like they do in volleyball,” Blatter said in 2004. “They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men, such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?”
Nota bene – women do not in fact play with a lighter ball.
If NHL commissioner Gary Bettman were in charge, I bet he’d suggest opening many franchises below the Mason-Dixon line and making the nets bigger.
We could ignore the wage disparity, like I ignore the engine light on my 2001 Chevy Cavalier, and hope the problem fixes itself.
Maybe we should have a war? Back in World War Two when all the menfolk went overseas, the ladies got their own baseball league. It was called “A League of Their Own” and Madonna was there along with Rosie O’Donnell, Geena Davis and Tom Hanks. It was a classic.
In all seriousness, a recent study by Kuang Keng Kuek Ser of Public Radio International found a correlation between a country’s success in the Women’s World Cup and its gender equality score. With the notable exception of Brazil, which has a decent women’s soccer team but scores low on the gender equality index, the most successful teams come from the more equal countries.
So maybe if underlying gender equality issues are addressed, women’s soccer programs will improve. More women will take up the sport, the on-field product will improve and the ad dollars will follow.
And there are indications that the market for women’s sports is growing. The final was the most watched soccer game in U.S. history; male or female and FIFA doubled the purse for the Women’s World Cup this year, which is a start.
July 8th ~ Vol. 85 No. 27
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