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The hard truth behind equal pay and women’s soccer

October 18, 2019

This piece represents the opinion of the author.
Kyra Tan

This past summer, the U.S. women’s national soccer team (USWNT) won the 2019 Women’s World Cup, its second consecutive World Cup title. After shredding Japan 5-2 in the 2015 Women’s World Cup final, USWNT comfortably defeated the Netherlands 2-0 in 2019. In comparison, the U.S. men’s national team has had nowhere near as much success. In recent years, its greatest achievements were a Gold Cup victory back in 2017 and a fourth-place finish in Copa America the previous year. And in regards to the 2018 Men’s World Cup, the men’s team didn’t even qualify. The glaring success of the women’s team over the men’s has had many progressives, including USWNT stars Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, demanding that the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) and the Fédération Internationale de Football (FIFA) Association pay them as much, if not more than, the players on the men’s team.

I can definitely understand the argument of the women’s team in regards to equal pay from USSF. In terms of U.S. viewership for the 2018 Men’s World Cup final and the 2019 Women’s World Cup final, the former drew in 11.4 million viewers compared to the latter’s 14.3 million. However, these numbers are a bit deceptive. As I stated before, the men’s team did not qualify for the tournament, nevermind reach the final. While soccer is certainly not unpopular in the U.S., it still falls behind football, baseball, basketball and hockey. Considering the men’s team did not even participate in the 2018 World Cup, it is tough to imagine that many U.S. viewers would have tuned in to watch unless they were true fans of the sport. Conversely, U.S. viewers who were hardly soccer fans likely still watched the 2019 Women’s World Cup final just to be “patriotic.” To push a little further, what if the women’s team did not advance to the final? How many U.S. viewers still would have tuned into the Women’s World Cup final?

Granted, the women’s team still did demonstrate just how significant they are to American culture commercially by pulling in 14.3 million views, so for that reason alone, they should be earning just as much—if not more—than the men’s team from USSF. Yet when it comes to pay from FIFA, that is a much murkier argument that ultimately reveals the underlying truths behind the pay gap between men’s and women’s soccer.

In regards to the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the prize money the women’s team pocketed for winning the final was $4 million, which is quite meager compared to the $38 million awarded to the French men’s team for winning the 2018 Men’s World Cup final. Yet, this disparity in prize money is hardly surprising when you think about the global viewership of each as well as the level of play.

Looking back at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the tournament brought in a total of 764 million viewers, whereas the 2018 Men’s World Cup garnered 3.6 billion viewers. Again, this is hardly surprising given that men’s soccer is the most popular sport in the world and women’s soccer is still growing and developing globally. Nevertheless, viewership for the 2018 Men’s World Cup netted FIFA over $6 billion in profit, so for that reason alone, I think the disparity in prize money is understandable.

In terms of the level of play itself, as someone who grew up watching and playing soccer, the differences between men’s and women’s soccer are quite glaring. And if you watched both the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 Women’s World Cup, then it is likely that you also saw those differences. From a skills standpoint, I would argue that the women’s team is just as skilled as a top Major League Soccer (MLS) team. Yet from a physicality standpoint, a top MLS team is bigger, faster and stronger, because that’s simply the way humans were built. And in regards to the World Cup itself, there are really only a few teams that match the skill and physical prowess of the women’s team, whereas the men’s World Cup has eight or nine teams that are equal in skill, all of which are European or South American. This is a big part of why the men’s World Cup is much more popular. It is simply much more competitive. There were a handful of women’s World Cup games that I watched that did not include the U.S., and most of them were tough to watch for someone who is accustomed to watching European soccer. Not only were the games less entertaining because the play was much slower, but the players themselves simply lacked the skill and flair that make the sport so exciting to watch. The harsh reality is that until women’s soccer is more developed across the world, male players are going to be paid much more. Viewership is everything, and until the women’s World Cup is as popular as the men’s, the pay will reflect that.

Jared Cole is a member of the Class of 2020.

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9 comments:

  1. N says:

    Wow, ok! Some fun facts:

    FIFA doesn’t actually know how much money the respective tournaments make. The rights are sold as a package: “Specific commercial revenues for the FIFA Women’s World Cup cannot be distinguished from the overall commercial revenue from FIFA competitions”

    The 2019 tournament drew 1.12 billion viewers worldwide, a ~30 percent increase from 2015. That’s an audience of around 30 percent that of the mens’ 2018 tournament. The women’s total prize money was 7.5% percent of the mens’ ($30 million vs $400 million). The mens’ tournament’s viewership has been stagnant for years.

    The WWC has only been in existence since 1990. The mens’ tournament has been in existence since 1930.

    FIFA chronically underinvests in and underpromotes the women’s tournament, making it near impossible to know the actual commercial value it brings.

    FIFA is a nonprofit. It’s mission is to grow the game globally.

    Of US professional soccer teams, men’s and women’s, the NWSL’s Portland Thorns had the 10th highest attendance, with an average home crowd of 20,098.

    • 2019 says:

      Thank you for pointing out some of the obvious flaws in this poorly researched exercise in vanity.

    • Nick says:

      You really see FIFA passing on money? If FIFA could make more money with women’s soccer, they would.

      FIFA gives only 7% of their revenues to the men’s team. They’re greedy! If they gave as much as NBA to players, the men would share 3Billions$ !

  2. Lauren Hickey says:

    Jared,
    While women’s soccer clearly needs to be developed worldwide, this is a systemic problem for which FIFA is in large part responsible. As the previous comment mentions, there is a chronic underinvestment. FIFA need to schedule more international friendlies outside of the World Cup and Olympics. They need to invest in advertising. But the good news is that in the meantime, things are slowly changing from the bottom up. Because of the hard work and courage of the USWNT and female football players across the world raising their voices, more people are tuning in. And you should too! Let’s start by catching the NWSL semi-final games this Sunday on ESPN2.

  3. Andrew Turner says:

    The women should be paid the same as men the women play better and they are more fun to watch they play with more heart ??

  4. Wiley says:

    “There were a handful of women’s World Cup games that I watched that did not include the U.S., and most of them were tough to watch for someone who is accustomed to watching European soccer.”

    Interesting phrasing of “European Soccer” here instead of “Premier or Champions League.” Am I the only one who found this part very problematic?

    • Jared says:

      I said “European soccer” because I watch leagues outside of the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League. I also pay attention to the Italian Serie A as well as the Spanish La Liga, which are not as popular as the EPL globally but are just as competitive in terms of the talent levels of the players and the intensities of the games. The German Bundesliga and French Ligue 1 also have world class teams along with the Dutch Eredivisie and the Portuguese Primeira Liga. That’s why I said “European soccer,” because all of these leagues are involved in the UEFA Champions League and I didn’t want to list all of them because there is a word count.

  5. C says:

    As someone who grow watching and playing both men and womens soccer, I can say with 100% honesty and factuality that your assertions and “opinions” (which you tried to conceal as facts), are mis-informed and come from a place of misogyny. I played soccer on my high school’s men team, after playing the nearly ten years prior on various girls’ teams in the area. From experience I know that your final statements are wrong. What you call “slow play” is actually watching the women showcase their skills in the game, and not just their athleticsm. When the men play, sure, the game might be faster paced, but you can’t say with honesty and fact that this means that the women lack skill. That’s the opposite of what it means. Since I actually experienced both (which I highly doubt you did or else you would not be making these frankly offensive claims), I know that general athleticism is what got me by in men’s soccer, whereas I had to spend way more time refining my actual soccer skills in women’s soccer.
    As for the rest of your article, I am out of words to comment, but I implore you to rethink.

    • Jared says:

      I completely disagree, and that’s alright because this is my opinion and you have yours, and clearly we have different experiences which shape our opinions. I played recreational soccer when I was very young and fast, which brought me great success on the field. However, when I began playing club soccer, I realized how much skill I lacked on the ball as well as passing, so club soccer is what gave me the skills I needed going into high school soccer. Not all female players lack the skill of men’s players. Growing up Marta was hands down my favorite female player to watch due to her amazing skill and the flair that she played with as she would constantly take on defenders. The problem is there are not many female players like that in the world today because women’s soccer is still a growing/developing sport. If you want to call me a misogynist though, then clearly you don’t know me and you’re not going to know me from one article. You do seem to forget that I stated the US women’s team should receive the same pay if not more than the men’s team if they garner more views.


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