The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team is much in the news lately, and for good reason. They won the women’s World Cup, they’ve been all over TV and their political opinions have made them, as New York Magazine so subtly put it, “A National Team for the Trump Era.”
And then there’s the one issue that’s turned the women’s team into a cultural flashpoint: equal pay in sports. Again, the team made that subtly clear when they chanted “Equal pay! Equal pay!” after the World Cup win. Oh, and they’re also suing U.S. Soccer for equal pay.
When it comes to the U.S. national teams in soccer, there may be a point to be made. The women’s team won the World Cup; the men’s team didn’t even qualify in 2018 after a cataclysmic loss to Trinidad and Tobago in the preliminaries.
For the past few years, gate receipts for the two teams have been roughly equal with the women’s team coming out slightly ahead. There are other factors at play, but the fact remains that in terms of national soccer — a sport that most Americans still feel a certain amount of ambivalence toward — there’s perhaps an economic argument to be made that pay ought to be more equal, if not necessarily completely equal. (After all, the men have generally earned more and the last few years have been outliers, particularly given the women’s success in the World Cup.)
Do you know where there’s not an economic argument to be made for equal pay in sports? Professional basketball.
Do you know where two Democrat senators have decided to argue for equal pay? Professional basketball. Oh, and hockey and tennis too.
“This week, the U.S. women’s national soccer team united the country and inspired generations by winning its fourth Women’s World Cup Championship title — making them the most successful team in international women’s soccer,” Rosen’s office said in a press release.
“Despite the women team’s extraordinary success, reports have highlighted the fact that USWNT players have made up only 38 percent of what players on the USMNT earned in previous years, and recent reports have made clear that disparities still persist. Klobuchar and Rosen point out that the gender pay gap is not just limited to soccer, but spans many sports in the United States. Meanwhile, despite the U.S. Soccer Federation’s assertions that the pay differential is based on difference in aggregate revenue generated by the two teams, the USWNT actually generated $900,000 more in revenue than the USMNT from fiscal year (FY) 2016 to FY 2018, according to an analysis by the Washington Post.”
I don’t know about that whole “uniting” part; I suppose if you’re a liberal and the USWNT’s members are saying exactly what you believe everyone else should, yes, this united you with a lot of other people who don’t get why socialism is such a dirty word. As for that part about aggregate revenue, both of the senators cherry-picked for years that the women’s team earned more; generally speaking, the men’s team has out-earned the women’s team by a wide margin.
However, if they stuck to the Women’s National Soccer Team, their letter to the head of the Senate Commerce Committee would have struck a relative chord.
They didn’t stick to that.
“The gender pay gap is not limited to soccer — it spans many sports in the United States. In 2017, the U.S. Women’s Hockey Team threatened to boycott the 2018 Winter Olympics over inadequate pay and support,” they wrote.
“The players were reportedly provided $1,000 per month during the six-month Olympic residency period and very little else throughout the four years between Olympic Games.”
Of course, the men’s hockey team comprises NHL stars who are risking their career — and million-dollar contracts — to represent the United States. As for women’s hockey, well, there isn’t a women’s professional hockey league worth noting.
There is a women’s professional basketball league, however, and Sens. Klobuchar and Rosen believe its players deserve equal pay too.
“Last year in the Women’s National Basketball Association, the maximum veteran player salary was $115,500, while the men in the National Basketball Association earned a minimum salary of $582,180,” they wrote.
Well, let’s look at the numbers here. Most of the revenue from professional sports these days comes from television contracts. The NBA’s most recent TV deal is worth $24 billion, according to Sports Illustrated. That’s $2.6 billion a year. The WNBA’s is worth $12 million a year. That’s 216 times less than what the NBA pulls in.
The numbers at the gate show this disparity as well. The average NBA ticket is $78 and the average attendance was 17,987 in 2018. The WNBA’s average ticket price is $17.42 and attendance was 7,716. This isn’t even beginning to count the NBA’s merchandising take or the fact that it enjoys worldwide popularity, while the top team in the WNBA’s Eastern Conference right now plays in a 9,000-seat arena at a casino in the middle of the Connecticut woods.
This is to say nothing of the quality of WNBA play, which, in the 20-odd years it’s been around, has gone from laughably bad to not really that great. Even if it improves, basketball is one of those sports where the inherent physical differences between men and women are clearly on display.
Sens. Klobuchar and Rosen also brought up tennis, where women “are earning only 80 cents on each dollar that men earn” — despite the fact that they’re paid equally in Grand Slam events and ticket prices, television ratings and revenues for women all lag behind those generated by the men’s game.
The push by these Democratic senators proves this has literally nothing to do with the economic realities of sports. Apparently, the NBA ought to subsidize women’s professional basketball even though the revenues are nowhere near what the men’s game generates. Either the senators didn’t give the numbers a desultory look before penning this letter, or they decided that nobody else would give them a look and it would make for good news.
The fact that the market has been unkind to women’s sports doesn’t have to do with inveterate sexism or rich white males sitting in back rooms with monocles and cigars, trying to figure out ways to keep money out of the hands of Megan Rapinoe and Serena Williams. It has to deal with the product and the attendant revenues.
The entertainment provided by sports is first and foremost about the physical prowess of the athletes involved. Yes, men and women are different. Strength, size and speed are all important qualities where there’s a notable difference between the genders.
No amount of wokeness can change that — and the revenues and ratings don’t lie.
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