Boost the Ratings, Boost the Pay
A few weeks ago, as we celebrated International Women’s Day, the US women of soccer reminded us both how far we have come, and yet how far we still have to go. In honor of women athletes everywhere, and particularly in their sport, the entire US Women’s National Team sued the US Soccer Federation, claiming they are not paid the same as their counterparts on the Men’s National Team—despite performing the same duties, and arguably—if we want to be real about it—even performing them better.
For example, even though it is not determined by US Soccer, but rather FIFA, let’s look at World Cup bonuses—where 32 men’s teams compete for a pool of $400 million, and 24 women’s teams play for $30 million.
But, in 2014, per the filed lawsuit, the US men’s team was awarded about $5.4 million by US Soccer after losing in the sixteenth round of the World Cup. In 2015, the women were given around $1.7 million for winning!
Remember the 1999 Women’s World Cup soccer tournament? It’s the only event to make the covers of Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, and People magazine the same week. Players featured were Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Briana Scurry, Kristine Lilly, and Christie Rampone. Their legacy lives on with the likes of Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, and Carli Lloyd, just to name a few.
For an extra oomph of perspective, the US women’s team has won three FIFA World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals. The men’s team has not made it past the World Cup quarterfinals IN NEARLY 90 YEARS!
And we, you and I, can be part of the solution for equality these women are seeking through the courts.
These women begin their World Cup quest in June. Tune in and amplify their voices. Make sure the men understand we are not only watching the women, we know they are a sports powerhouse worth paying—equally.
And maybe it’s kismet, or maybe just irony, this kickoff is happening in June. June—the anniversary of the passage and enactment into law of Title IX.
The following is the original text as written and signed into law by none other than President Richard Nixon in 1972:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
— Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute (20 U.S. Code § 1681—Sex)
It was co-authored and introduced by Senator Birch Bayh and Congresswoman Patsy Mink, and later, following Mink’s death in 2002, renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.
The funny part about this simple piece of legislation is it doesn’t actually mention the word “sports.” It’s a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in any educational program or activity that’s receiving any type of federal financial aid.
Thus, while Title IX is often referenced in discourse about sexual assault on college campuses or funding for college athletics, promoting equity in sports wasn’t the amendment’s intention. In fact, Bernice “Bunny” Sandler, who helped draft the law and is considered the “Godmother of Title IX,” told ESPN in 2012 that she had “no idea” that the legislation would impact athletics. “The only thought I gave to sports when the bill was passed was, ‘Oh, maybe now when a school holds its field day, there will be more activities for the girls.’”
And you know, Bernice Sandler was absolutely right.
A little empowerment, a taste of equality, goes a long way. An Ernst & Young and espnW survey found that among businesswomen now in the C-suite (CEOs, CFOs, etc.), a stunning 94 percent played sports, and 52 percent played college sports.
And yet, in a 2018 Forbes article we learn zero female athletes appear in the list of the 100 highest-earning athletes. That’s right, the top 100 highest-earning athletes are all men. Serena Williams, who tops the list of highest-earning female athletes, returned from maternity leave this year, most likely impacting her income. Still, no female athlete earned more than Serena at $18 million. The 100th-highest-paid male athlete, Nicolas Batum, a French basketball player, earned $22.9 million!
As for the LPGA? Stats show its ranks earn $274 per shot, while it’s $1,141 for males—approximately four times more per shot. Indeed, J.P. Fitzgerald and Austin Johnson out-earn all but the top four earners in the LPGA—and they’re caddies!
But bleak as all that sounds, there is tangible progress on our horizon.
In 2007 Wimbledon became the fourth of the Tennis Grand Slam hosts to offer equal prize money, closing all gender pay gaps.
And of the eight winter sports that reported their prize money in a 2017 study, seven offered equal purses to both genders, from snowboarders to skiers. Exactly half of the top-paid alpine skiers, including the top overall earner, are currently women.
So, this year let’s tune in and turn up! Let’s drive the all-important television ratings and remind the assorted governing bodies—we are a force, and we are watching! ▼
Stefani Deoul is a television producer and author of the award-winning YA mystery series Sid Rubin Silicon Alley Adventures, with On a LARP and Zero Sum Game.