July 10, 2019

Equal Pay in Soccer

“The United States won its record fourth Women’s World Cup title and second in a row, beating the Netherlands 2-0 Sunday night.” AP News

“Three months before beginning their defense of their Women’s World Cup title, American players escalated their legal dispute with the U.S. Soccer Federation over equal treatment and pay. Players filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the federation… alleging ongoing ‘institutionalized gender discrimination’ that includes unequal pay with their counterparts on the men’s national team.” AP News

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From the Left

The left finds the disparities in pay to be deeply problematic.

“[The] close match against the otherwise undefeated Netherlands, the reigning European champion, is proof of this truth in women’s soccer: Invest in it and the trophies will come. Just a decade ago, the best women soccer players in the Netherlands didn’t even have teams to play on. There was no professional league in the country for women until 2007 and even in the youth system, many stars were left to play on boys’ teams. Until the 1970s women were banned from playing soccer by the Dutch federation (England and Brazil had similar laws in place for years). But since the Netherlands was forced by UEFA to field and pay a women’s team, the program has flourished…

“With multiple soccer powerhouses — especially in Europe — finally putting money into their women’s sides, building up domestic leagues and national teams at once, in another four years, the U.S. is going to have an even harder fight to stay on top… Some 1 billion people tuned in to the Women’s World Cup this year. That’s roughly one in every eight people on the planet… [FIFA] can no longer ignore the profit potential of women’s soccer, as it has for decades, or suggest women can’t compete, aren’t worth watching, or aren’t worth paying. And if the U.S. Soccer Federation wants another win from the women in the future, it will need to pay up, or soon be left behind.”
Maggie Mertens, The Atlantic

“The rallying cry has been ‘equal pay for equal work’ – but in fact the women have done more work. In a typical calendar year, they play more often than the men, to the point where [outside of the World Cup] the women bring in more money from games, the biggest single source of revenue for each team. That shoots a harpoon into the heart of the argument that the men should be paid more because they generate more money.”
Caitlin Murray, The Guardian

“Sportswear giant Nike reported the U.S. women’s team home jersey has become the No. 1 soccer jersey — male or female — ever sold on the company’s website in one season. According to the Wall Street Journal, the national women’s team’s games have generated more revenue than the men’s since their World Cup victory in 2015. This year, U.S. viewers watched the women’s team victory in record numbers. Despite this, FIFA will pay female World Cup teams a total of just $30 million, a meager award compared with the $440 million the 2022 men’s teams will take home in prizes… The U.S. women’s soccer team has more than earned equal pay.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

Some posit that while “much of the debate about the pay gap has focused on revenue… revenue is the wrong measuring stick. United States Soccer is a nonprofit, exempted from taxation because it serves a social purpose: ‘To make soccer, in all its forms, a pre-eminent sport in the United States.’ It should be obvious to the people who run the federation that the women’s team is fulfilling that mission at least as well as the men’s team…

“The women’s soccer team, like other national teams, also represents the United States. The women who wear the nation’s colors are ambassadors on an international stage. Their performances inform perceptions of the United States… The federation is making a statement about America by treating those women as second-class citizens. It has an opportunity to make a very different statement by rectifying the situation. Players should get the same rewards for the same achievements, without regard to gender.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

From the Right

The right argues that any disparities in pay are due to differences in popularity and thus not problematic.

The right argues that any disparities in pay are due to differences in popularity and thus not problematic.

One of the major factors that separate men’s sports and women’s is a not so little thing called revenue… Last year, the men’s World Cup in Russia generated more than $6 billion in revenue; the participating teams shared about $400 million. That is less than 7 percent of overall revenue. Meanwhile, the 2019 Women’s World Cup made somewhere in the region of $131 million, doling out $30 million, well more than 20 percent of collected revenue, to the participating teams.”
John Glynn, The Federalist

“The winning men’s [World Cup] players received only about four times as much as the winning female players, despite bringing in over 45 times as much revenue… The fact that the women win more [than the US men] is irrelevant, as they play in a different league against a different level of competition. It’s safe to assume the U.S. women would have trouble competing at a similar level as the men. It would be like comparing the earnings of a great Arena League football team to those of a bad NFL team.”
A.G. Hamilton, National Review

Dated But Relevant: “The U.S. women’s team is one of the best women’s teams in the world… But in 2017, an under-15 professional men’s academy team… beat them 5 to 2. Yes, that’s right: Teenage boys beat the women’s top players in the world, and the result wasn't even close. That’s not necessarily the women’s team’s fault, and in fact, they didn't take it as cause for alarm about the team's abilities. The loss did not mean they the U.S. women weren't highly skilled. It does illustrate that even the best women's soccer in the world doesn't feature the same level of speed, size, strength, and skill as men's soccer…

“Almost half the world watched the men’s 2018 World Cup, with nearly 3.6 billion total viewers tuning in to watch some part of the tournament… during the women’s last World Cup in 2015, 764 million viewers tuned in for some portion of the tournament. This is quite good, but it still pales in comparison to the men’s tournament's audience. Seeing as professional sports is an entertainment industry, it’s not at all unfair — let alone sexist — to pay teams more if they bring in larger audiences. With an audience five times as large, the men's World Cup is simply a bigger affair.”
Brad Polumbo, Washington Examiner

“It has been reported that the U.S. women’s team has been generating more game revenue than the U.S. men the past couple of years. This is telling, although not quite in the way that those who allege pay discrimination think. The women are celebrities and cultural heroes, winners of four Olympic gold medals and four World Cups. The men are nobodies who failed to qualify for last year’s World Cup. Yet from 2016 to 2018, according to the Wall Street Journal, the women barely out-earned the men, $50.8 million to $49.9 million.”
Rich Lowry, National Review

“Does the U.S. Soccer Federation have an obligation to ‘correct’ the inequities perpetuated by international market forces?… At the end of the day, although female athletes might be frustrated at the slow pace of change, it’s ultimately most beneficial to women that we recognize the important differences between men’s and women’s sports. Men’s natural physical advantages may often help them attract a bigger fan base, but they also make it necessary to maintain sex-separated sports leagues in order for women to have fair opportunities to compete.”
Hadley Heath Manning, The Hill

A libertarian's take

“The fans who avidly followed the men’s tournament certainly weren’t doing anything wrong. And it’s hard to argue that each of them had a moral obligation to be exactly as interested in women’s soccer. Even if we could stop them from watching the men more than the women, should we?…

“It’s tempting to answer that the fan choices aren’t innocent, they’re sexist. But since we can’t peek into their hearts, to say that definitively, we’d have to assume that men’s greater speed, strength and endurance definitely make nodifference to the sport’s quality. Fair enough, but then why do fans prefer to watch Megan Rapinoe play instead of the sedentary elderly who could presumably use some exercise? Alternatively, maybe pay should be equalized precisely because biology is unfair. But that seems to be an argument for curbing the pay of all top-level athletes, who have to hit the genetic lottery just to get on the field. It might be easier to focus on the distributions across society at large, rather than every individual industry, especially when fundamental biology is in play.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

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