Why do female athletes earn less than men across most sports and How is the monetary payment for males in dominated sports vs the women’s monetary pay in dominated sports? Why do males get paid more than females in sports? What’s the difference in the pay gap between males and women in the UFC or MMA?
The gender pay gap spans almost every industry, and sports is no different. But between particular sports, there are vast discrepancies in pay for men and women, ranging from tennis, where pay is comparable, to basketball, where players are in entirely different zip codes.
Tennis players are the only female athletes to rank among the overall top earners over the past decade, with Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Li Na all having appeared multiple times on Forbes’ list. Excluding men’s star Roger Federer, elite female tennis players compare very well with their male counterparts in terms of endorsement earnings.
The most marketable tennis players made four times as much from endorsements and appearance fees as they did from prize money over the last year. Among the 10 highest-paid female athletes in 2018, nine were tennis players. Women in male-dominated sports such as racecar driver Danica Patrick and UFC and WWE star Ronda Rousey ranked among the top earners in their sports when they were active.
In team sports, though, the picture for women is bleak. The top WNBA salary was $117,500 last season, compared with $37.4 million in the NBA. The team salary cap for the National Pro Fastpitch softball league is $175,000; the Boston Red Sox will split $227 million in 2019. “The Yankees bat boy salary is more than my professional softball contract,” NPF player and U.S. women’s national team member Delanie Gourley wrote in a since-deleted tweet.
“In team sports, it’s more difficult to stand out,” says Scott Minto, the head of the MBA sports program at San Diego State University.
Women used to rank more prominently among the top-earning athletes, but over the past 25 years, media companies have spent billions on TV deals for live sports content. The result is an explosion in player salaries in the major men’s sports leagues. Team sport athletes represent 82% of Forbes’ highest-paid athletes list.
The gulf in TV money between men’s and women’s sports leagues is massive. Major League Baseball is a $10 billion-in-revenue giant while the NPF players make an average of $5,000 to $6,000 because of the league’s low revenue. The WNBA generates roughly $25 million annually from its TV deal with ESPN; the NBA’s TV revenue from ESPN and TNT is 100 times that.
The WNBA did recently add a multi-year partnership with CBS Sports Network to air 40 games next season, and the new pact is in addition to the league’s existing deal with ESPN. More TV exposure for the players will lead to more visibility, and more visibility could lead to major deals with endorsers in the future. Nike hasn’t made a signature shoe for a WNBA player in over 20 years.
When the WNBA players’ union opted out of its collective bargaining agreement in November, Los Angeles Sparks star Nneka Ogwumike, the president of the union, wrote for The Players’ Tribune: “This is not purely about salaries. This is about small changes the league can make that will impact the players. This is about a six-foot-nine superstar taking a red-eye cross-country and having to sit in an economy seat instead of an exit row.” The current deal with the league ends in October.
The pay disparities in baseball/softball and basketball come down almost entirely to the revenue their leagues generate. The case is a bit murkier for the U.S. women’s national soccer team, which is on the prowl for a second straight World Cup title and faces Spain tomorrow after sweeping its three pool-play matches.
The team filed a complaint against U.S. Soccer in March that states: “Female WNT players would earn a maximum of $99,000 or $4,950 per game, while similarly situated male MNT players would earn an average of $263,320 or $13,166 per game.” The players claim they face discrimination when it comes to where and how often they play, how they train and travel, the medical treatment and coaching they receive, and obviously their salaries.
The U.S. women’s soccer team’s games have generated more revenue than the men’s team over the past three years, according to a review by the Wall Street Journal. Fox Sports say the pool-play game versus Chile had record viewership for a Women’s World Cup group-stage match. U.S. Soccer appears to have gotten the message, and the two sides will pursue mediation after the World Cup to resolve the gender-discrimination lawsuit instead of going to a courtroom.
As women and girls continue to fight for equal opportunity in the workplace, the fields, arenas and courts have been, and will continue to be, no exception.