The Pay Gap in Football
Women’s football has experienced a large increase in popularity and participation in many Western countries in the 2010s. Each of the three World Cups that took place saw increases in popularity and the domestic leagues in Europe are beginning to see crowds of 30,000 plus to certain games, matching the men’s game for attendances. Considering that the women’s game only really began properly in the 1990s, this is a noteworthy achievement for the game to grow this much in the space of time.
This growth has now been accompanied by increasing calls for greater parity in terms of payment between male and female footballers; especially on the international stage. The US women’s team and their star striker Megan Rapinoe have been particularly vocal, with a gender discrimination lawsuit filed against the US Soccer Federation in 2019. The head of US Soccer Carlos Cordeiro last month responded to these claims by stating male players on the men's team "require a higher level of skill" than their female counterparts; the fallout from the comments led to Cordeiro stepping down from his position.
Many critics of the pay gap point to the differences in prize money offered to the winners of the mens and women’s tournaments. The USA received $4 million USD for victory in the 2019 Women’s World Cup, whereas France received an eye-watering $38 million for winning the Men's World Cup in 2018. Teams knocked out in the group stage of this tournament receive $8 million alone.
In terms of the female players’ perspective I completely understand where they are coming from; they work just as hard as many professional men’s players, are just as dedicated and some are the top players in the women’s game. The US Women's team in particular has a right to feel aggrieved, after all they have won the last two World Cups in a row and have the popularity to match the mens team that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
How does one justify such a gap in payment? A look at the finances points to the justification.
The most recent Women’s World Cup generated $131 million in revenue. The 2018 FIFA World Cup made $6 billion. The Men's World Cup has 5 sponsors that pay 32 million Euro’s each for the privilege of being associated with the tournament, with 5 more paying between $8-20 million. I could not find data for the Women’s World Cup sponsorship, however the sheer difference in revenues suggests that the sponsorship behind the Women’s World Cup is significantly lower than its male counterpart.
There’s good reason sponsors are willing to pay such money for the mens World Cup; the last two World Cup Finals have had a global viewership of over 1 billion people each. The 2019 Women’s final on the other hand had 260 million worldwide.
The stark difference in both viewership, revenue and sponsorship between the two World Cups highlights why the difference in prize money exists, the women’s game as it stands, as hard as it tries, it cannot keep up with the juggernaut that is the men’s World Cup.
The story is the same when it comes to the domestic leagues. In England, the Women’s Super League only recently signed a 10 million pound sponsorship deal with Barclays that would last three seasons; the Premier League makes 2.4 billion pounds per year that is distributed to each of the 20 clubs. Clubs earn a minimum of 35 million pounds just for being involved, even if they finish last. Disparities like this occur in almost every domestic league around the world.
Despite using the mountains of money the men’s game gains as the cornerstone for my argument, that does not mean I'm comfortable with it. At times the amount of money in men’s football in my opinion is abhorrent. Speak to most football fans and they will tell you that the widening money gap in mens football between the super clubs and the rest is causing football to change for the worst. And as much as the Coronavirus pandemic is having an impact on all levels of football, it's the smaller clubs and the women’s game that is in more peril than the top echelons of the mens game.
Yes, in an ideal world there would be much less of a pay gap between male and female footballers, and the best female footballers especially would receive a pay check that better reflects their standing in the women’s game. Maybe the men’s game would help out smaller clubs or the women’s game to help football as a whole grow. Sadly we live in a world where clubs are laying off staff and seeking government support to save around 1 million pounds during these unprecedented times, mere pocket change when their owners are worth billions.
It’s evident by looking at the numbers that the women’s game is in huge need of sponsors to inject money into clubs and tournaments. Admittedly my comparison of the World Cup's may not be a fully fair comparison. After all one is an up and coming tournament whilst the other is the biggest in all of sport. So let's make a fairer comparison.
Australia’s A-League and W-League are two competitions that started at roughly the same time in the mid-late 2000s. Despite the mens game domestically and internationally floundering in recent years, the attendances and availability of the A-League is still at a higher standard than that of the W-League. Despite average attendances dropping from 13,000 in 2013-14 to 9,000 this season, it is still much larger than the W-League attendances, which rely on double headers with mens games to reach even 2,000 spectators.
Additionally, the A-League has a TV Rights deal with Foxtel that provides it with much needed cash and exposure, ensuring all games are shown live. Combined with a $6 million per season naming rights deal with Hyundai, this allows mens players in Australia to be paid larger salaries than female players. It's also worth noting that there is no seperate membership for A-League and W-League clubs; in fact members of A-League clubs will often gain free entry to W-League games. Whilst this may help increase attendances at times, it's of a financial detriment to the W-League clubs.
It's evident that attendances drive sponsors which drives revenue. Therefore the best way to close the pay gap is to attend women’s games on a regular basis. This will lead to sponsors being more willing to invest larger amounts of money that will be invested back into the clubs and the players. This could lead to clubs introducing seperate memberships for W-League clubs that will give them their own revenue source.
It must be stressed that this is unfortunately a slow process. As mentioned before the women’s game from a professional standpoint is in its infancy compared to the 100 plus years men’s football has on its side, not to mention it being the most popular sport in the world. There have been some positive steps taken by some, such as the Football Federation of Australia pledging that the male and female players would receive the same pay when on international duty, certainly a landmark moment.
Once the Coronavirus pandemic stops and football begins again, the more people watch and engage with women’s football and are willing to invest their time into it, then companies and other sources of income will be willing to invest in women’s football, leading to parity in football as a whole.