The subject of equality between men’s and women’s sporting teams has always been a sensitive topic, but add money to the mix and the debate over equal pay for women’s teams becomes downright ugly.
Now, five players from the American squad (the FIFA Women’s World Cup Winners), are taking their fight for equality to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But do they deserve it?
Let’s take a look at the arguments involved.
The US Women’s National Team’s Claim
Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn and Hope Solo are demanding payments equal to the men’s national team. They have made their claims based on two criteria:
1. They are far more successful, having won three World Cups and four Olympics
2. The lower quality of pitches that they have to play international football on.
The accounts show that in the 2017 Fiscal Year, the Women’s Team is projected to make $8m more in revenue than the Men’s, and yet, will be paid less. This is up from 2016 where the gap is $2m.
It should also be noted that the US Men’s team get bonuses for playing a game, whilst the Women have to win to receive one. The gap here is so large that the men get paid more for one game than the women do for winning a major tournament. Female players are paid $30,000 each if they are in the World Cup squad, compared to $68,750 for male players.
The accounts can be viewed below1:
The Science Between Men and Women
Let’s start by looking at this from the point of view of the physical differences between male and female athletes.
Kevin Netto, an Associate Professor of Physiotherapy and Exercise at Curtin University, wrote an article for The Conversation2 in which he states that the biggest difference between muscles in men and women, is that women have fewer muscles in the upper body – this can be as big as 30% less muscle mass. This explains why the women’s javelin record is about 30% lower than the men’s.
With the physiological differences, men have a greater blood volume and lung capacity, and they are on average 15 cm taller and 10kg heavier than females. Whilst this is closer when looking at athletes, it is still a considerable difference.
In non-contact sports, women tend to have more knee and shoulder injuries which are believed to be due to a wider pelvis and the smaller upper body muscle mass. Astonishingly, women also suffer twice as many whiplash injuries as men. Put that into the context of everything a travelling athlete goes through, women athletes are at greater risk of injuries and need to put more effort into their sport.
As with all athletic sport, a battle takes place between mind and body – and eventually, the body gives in. So, looking from a purely scientific perspective, an argument can be made that women should be paid more. If, for example, an average football career lasts between 18 and 35, it is more likely that a woman will not be able to play all the way to 35, due to the increased risk of injuries. Arguably, this means that as compensation for a shorter playing time and increased physical risks, a female footballer should be paid more. This is not the strongest argument, but it is worth remembering.
Generally, objectors to equality use three arguments:
• Men get more viewers on TV
• Men sell more tickets
• Men are more successful
Let’s break down each point:
At the 2015 Women’s World Cup, 4 million more Americans watched the US win the final compared to when the USA was knocked out of the 2014 Men’s World Cup by Belgium3. This, in my opinion, is the vital point.
Tickets. Comparing two finals, the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final where USA beat China on penalties and the 1994 FIFA (Men’s) World Cup where Brazil beat Italy – both finals on penalties. Both were played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena –the capacity figures are taken from the Rose Bowl website4.
Men first. The stadium then had a capacity of 100,184. The attendance was 94,194 meaning they filled 94.0% of the venue.
Now the women’s match, which was played when the Rose Bowl had a capacity of 98,636. The final’s attendance was 90,185 – filling 91.4% of the stadium. The men outsold the women – but the percentages are remarkably close when comparing the two matches. This was only the third ‘official’ Women’s World Cup whilst it was the men’s fifteenth.
This is despite the men’s tournament having a Hollywood-esque marketing approach compared to the women’s more independent style.
Futheremore, the key question is success. How many major tournaments have the men won? Zero. The women have won four Olympics and three World Cups.
In the case of the USA Women’s National Team, it seems obvious that they deserve equal pay to their male counterparts.
Now to turn this conversation towards the general fight for equality in women’s football.
Despite the baffling irrational behaviours of markets, there is a term called market rules. They state that supply and demand affect prices.
An example is the Tulip Crash in the Netherlands. As the demand for tulips increased and supplies reduced, the prices went up and up. If there are too many products, then prices go down. If the local supermarket needs to get rid of produce because it’s not selling, the price will plummet. Vice versa, if a product is selling well, prices will remain high.
In this day and age, it’s about equality. It’s about equal rights. It’s about equal pay. We’re pushing for that. We believe now the time is right because we believe it’s our responsibility for women’s sports and specifically for women’s soccer to do whatever it takes to push for equal pay and equal rights. And to be treated with respect.
Hope Solo, the US keeper, speaking to NBC’s ‘Today’.5
There is another principle that for ease of reference will be called market democracy. Simply put, the public decides the best product. The classic example of this in action was the battle between VHS and Betamax. The experts decided Betamax was the best product, the public preferred VHS – and VHS won.
So does football follow the rules of the free market? I don’t think so. Let’s compare football to mobile phones. This century has seen dominance go from Nokia to Blackberry to Apple and then to Android. Basically, each of these models has improved on and made changes to the product that came before it. There is a certain percentage of each company’s customers that are ‘fanatics’ – those that would buy the product no matter what – but in sport, the majority of the supporters are fanatics for their teams.
While there are some who are Glory Hunters (those that follow trophies rather than clubs) the majority pick a team for emotional reasons and support them all their lives. For example, I’ve supported Everton since 1997 and East Stirlingshire since 2003 – I couldn’t begin to support the second if I took notice of market forces!
And then, look at the (English) Premier League. Fans are still turning up to Aston Villa games. That is akin to using a laptop that shuts down every twenty minutes and deletes the work each time. So, if sport followed these market rules, then no one would be at Villa Park.
This is not to say that sport can get away with murder. But, because of the emotional connection with their fans, it is harder for these rules to be enforced.
TV rights is a more complicated issue, and there’s an argument that it is more of an endorsement. The reason for this is that normally, audiences are higher on ‘free-to-air’ channels like the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 than ‘subscription-based’ BT Sport and Sky Sports. So it seems that sports are selling their rights based on income, rather than audience figures. Talking about endorsements.
Revenue: TV vs Tickets
Which brings more money?
Between April 2013-14, Manchester City made £47m from match-day income (e.g. tickets, programmes, food etc).
From TV, they made £133m.
Endorsements add a complicated nature to the equation. To be clear, this is ignoring those that are dependent upon their club contracts. This means that if they appear in an advert for the club’s shirt sponsor – that is simply because they play for that club.
So, what are defined as endorsements? Basically, any personal deal that the player makes with another business. For example, David Beckham’s deals with Calvin Klein or Pepsi.
There’s an argument that men should earn more because they sell more shirts. People in Afghanistan are more likely to have heard of Lionel Messi than Carli Lloyd?
So let’s look at the endorsements part of the equation, and the realisation that they don’t always look at sporting achievements. In fact – this is the part of sport where it can be said that it obeys market forces.
I’m using tennis as an example of this because it is a sport where there is nearly equality between the genders in the way that both men’s and women’s tennis get reasonably the same amount of media attention, as well as equal prize money at Grand Slams. So, in tennis, two-time grand-slam winning Li Na may be a better prospect for advertisers than a six-time grand slam winning player – if it helps to break into the Chinese market.
Endorsements could be linked to ranking, but there’s the feeling that no matter who the female number one is, Serena Williams will always be the most relevant for advertisers because she is on track to become the most successful women’s player of all time as well as being a prominent female African-American.
In football, Paul Scholes is generally accepted to be a better player than David Beckham, whereas it was Beckham who had far more endorsements. This is down to the personal decision of both players.
The reality is that endorsements are not decided solely on performance; rather it is the ability the player gives the company to sell new products. And this is where the ridiculous nature of the markets can be seen. In football, the big new market that is opening up around the world is the female one, so even if Lionel Messi has greater recognition, women footballers should be getting far more endorsements.
There has been recent progress here, with the popular computer game series FIFA introducing female footballers in FIFA ’16 – admittedly, only within the ‘Women’s Invitational Tournament’. Hopefully, this will expand in FIFA ’17, allowing women’s leagues to be introduced.
Should there be wage equality in football? Yes, with a catch – at least in the short-term. The men’s game needs to be capped. And this is where things would get tricky. It is a ludicrous suggestion to say that wages should be equal and not reduce the levels in the men’s game.
But is that going to happen? Sadly, no. There are too many forces within the sport that need to keep these wages high. Agents want to keep their percentages of contracts, it shows the strength of clubs and players aren’t going to want lower wages. Before getting angry about this, it must be remembered that sport-stars’ careers can end with a terrible injury. And if they fall out with their manager, they can suddenly find themselves without a club.
It’s an interesting separation from ‘real life’. Sport seems to have been able to get away with something that say, politics would struggle to justify.
An argument often heard is – “ah, yes but male players bring more fans in.” Well, this isn’t always the case with wages.
Let’s take Club A with forwards Player X and Player Y. X earns £250,000 per week, whilst Y earns £25,000 per week.
During the season, X scores 1 goal with no assists and Y scores 30 with 20 assists. Do the wages really match the impact or value to Club A? The fans are more likely to be turning up to watch Y than X, which suggests that wage levels do not equate to performance or affection from fans.
This is not to claim that the higher paid players are not the better performers. There is a reason why they are highly paid.
It is simply to illustrate that the relationship between the fans and the players is not based on the size of their wages, but more about their performances on the pitch.
This is where – in my opinion – things get simpler. Let’s compare the UEFA Men’s and Women’s Champions Leagues.
One often hears people saying that the men’s teams deserve more money because of the attendance. The truth is; attendance doesn’t matter.
Does a club that only sells 30,000 home tickets get less prize money than a club that sells 60,000? No. Do TV figures come into things? No.
Prize money is worked out on the basis that if a club reaches a certain stage, they earn an agreed amount of money.
The reality of the situation is that prize money should not look at performances because how is that quantified. Look at two 1-0 wins. One, the winning team has 30 shots on target, and the opposition has 1% of possession. The second, the winning team has 1 shot on target and the opposition has 99% of possession. How do you differentiate between those two wins?
To examine the inequality, compare Chelsea’s men’s and women’s teams who both participated in the UEFA 2015-16 Champions League. Assuming both sides went on to win their respective tournaments and for argument’s sake, that the men win every single group game (the women’s format is different).
The respective prize money figures are in the table below:
The outcome of this inequality gap is this. Chelsea’s Men will get roughly 132 times the prize money as their Women’s Team. And the Women’s Team would have to win their tournament 29 times in a row to earn more than a Men’s team that loses each of their group games 10-0 over those 29 years.
Now, it should be acknowledged that UEFA help with flight costs, but there are stories where clubs make a loss. In an interview with The Independent published on 11 November 2013, Glasgow City’s Club Manager Laura Montgomery said: “If we get to the last 32 we probably lose about £22,000 every year playing in Europe.”6
It must be said that this was when Glasgow City had to participate in the Qualifying Round, but this is the premier club competition in the world. Clubs should be making money, just by turning up.
Rose Reilly – the only Scottish player who has won the (unofficial) World Cup. She would also win the Scottish Cup in the third season for Westthorn United, and play in the first two English FA Women’s Cup finals.
To make a living from football, she moved first to Reims in France and Milan in Italy. In the 1978-79 season, she would play in Italy for Lecce on the Saturday and France on the Sunday at first. During her club career in continental Europe, she would win: eight Serie A titles, French League once and for Italian Clubs.
Internationally, she played first for Scotland and then for Italy for whom she won the 1984 (unofficial) World Cup – despite having no links to the country.
She also played for Italy against the USA – the first ever appearance of the American international side.
Facilities refer to the training ground, gym, academy, stadium; or anything that helps players play football.
There are staggering fees involved in building world class facilities. For example, the (English) FA’s St George’s Park National Football Centre was completed in 2010, at an overall project cost of £105m. The 33-acre site is used for all English National Football Teams, as well as being used for coaching training.
I could try and count the number of stadiums dedicated to men’s football in the whole of the United Kingdom, but instead, let’s ask another question. How many stadiums are solely dedicated to Women’s Football in the UK?
None. Well, pending, one. Glasgow City is currently in talks with East Dunbartonshire Council to construct the country’s first purpose-built Women’s Football stadium.9
Now, whilst I agree that if the English FA had built a separate St George’s Park just for female footballers, it would be pointless – the stadium imbalance is worrying. Running a stadium can be costly, but in a country (UK) where football is so popular, it should be possible for a Women’s Football Club to operate their own stadium.
There’s no legalese in this article, but it is going to look at the differences between part-time and full-time footballers. It should also be mentioned that the vast majority of female footballers playing in Scotland are not paid. Unless it’s Queen’s Park, whose founding principle of football being an amateur sport still means they don’t pay their players, it is generally agreed that footballers should be paid.
I think it’s a conversation that needs to be linked side-by-side with commercialising the women’s game and if that happens, and there is growth and there are more revenue streams, I’m sure there will be more pay for women in all sports.
Emma Hayes, the manager of Chelsea Ladies, speaking to Sky Sports News.10
But, there are often female footballers on part-time contracts rather than full-time. It is one of the successes of the English Women’s Super League (WSL) that means the top-flight sides can afford to give their players full-time contracts.
The benefit is one of time management. Taking a simple week, Sunday to Saturday, where the Sunday is a game day, means that if a club has full-time players, they have six days of preparation. There is normally a rest-day, but generally there are four days of training. Part-time reduces that to two days.
In part-time contracts, there is the added issue of the ‘day-job’. An unexpected mid-week game may mean that some players are unable to get time off work. It also means that players have to balance a highly demanding athletic career with a second job.
Now, there will always be a sliding scale where the level of football means part-time contracts are required. But, this should not be the case in any top-flight league in the world – especially if the male counterparts are able to offer their players full-time contracts.
The choice of a second job, or further studies should be a choice for the player to make, not a decision forced upon them in order to make ends meet.
Sir Clive Woodward led the England (Male) Rugby side to World Cup glory in 2003. His famous maxim was “Rather than improving teams by 100%, he improves ‘100 things by 1%’.” 11
This signifies the importance of equality in terms of facilities and coaching. The key to improving as an athlete is making small changes that have a large cumulative effect. This includes having personalised training and dietary regimes.
I became interested in women’s football through an unlikely channel. I like to think of myself as a ‘football nerd’. I know far too many facts about it, but there is one place where this is helpful – pub quizzes.
A while ago, a question asked: “Which team won the 2007 Women’s World Cup without conceding a single goal?” I didn’t know. Logic narrowed it down to USA and Germany. I chose USA, and got it wrong. It irritated me enough that I decided to do further research, which led to a wealth of information I’d never heard of.
Now, I don’t claim to be the biggest football nerd in the world, but if I was barely aware of it (and I read football news every day), then it is likely that the majority of people don’t know about Women’s Football.
This is changing. For the first time ever, the BBC showed every single game of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Trust me, I watched every single one, and wrote a match report for each of them. The English Women’s Super League is broadcast on BT Sport and the BBC now have a dedicated highlights show.
Scotland, however, doesn’t offer any of this. This has to change. Whether via a free-to-air channel like the BBC, or a subscription-based channel such as BT Sport – SWPL matches have to be televised.
UEFA Women’s Euros 2013 Stats
Hosted by Sweden
• The Final was watched in Germany by 8.824m, more than the FIFA Men’s Qualifier against Kazakhstan.12
• 133m watched the tournament on TV.12
• 15.9m around the world watched the Final – 59% higher than 2009.12
• 41,301 attendance in Final12
• 8,676 average attendance, higher than the Swedish men’s top flight since 200712
• Average TV Ratings in Britain: 870k (BBC 3) – only showed England games12
2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Stats
Hosted by Canada
• Made CA $493.6m in economic activity.(46% higher than predicted)13
• England v France: UK TV average 1.5m14
• 764m Worldwide TV Ratings15
• Broadcasters showed 7,781 hours of coverage, 31% increase from 201115
• Second most watched FIFA Tournament Ever15
The Path to Equality
One of the big issues relates simply to the fact that women’s football is remarkably under-reported by the media. Scottish Women in Sport estimate on their website that they receive just 5% of coverage.
The ideal is to see a top-flight female footballer playing in Scotland earning a similar wage as a top-flight male footballer in Scotland. How to get there is the challenge.
Wages rely upon the strength of the clubs. It is unreasonable to ask a women’s football club to pay wages that will bankrupt the club. But to get there, the club must be allowed to develop their infrastructure: their training facilities, their ground, their backroom staff, and so on. Equality in prize money is one way to make that happen.
The statement that men’s football is a better standard than the women’s game, ignores an important aspect.
The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup was held on artificial pitches, the first time this had ever happened for a senior FIFA tournament. This led to complaints over sexism, as artificial pitches change how the football bounces and reacts on the surface, as well as claims from players that this leads to more injuries.18 While this is disputed, there is even a claim in Britain that it can cause cancer. This claim, which has yet to be tested, is that the rubber pellets used are full of carcinogens.19
Remember those market forces? Using the example of designing a new mobile phone and making up some figures for the situation, let’s look at a hypothetical example.
The competition is Apple, and for a new model, they spend $1m on research and development. Company X spends $10k. Surprise, surprise, Apple outsells them and the board sits and wonders how they can change. Someone, being an intelligent sort of person suggests – “increase investment to $1m?” But the board says no. How can they possibly improve the phone? The answer is they can’t, because there’s no money to make the improvements.
There must be investment in Women’s Football. There are examples time after time in men’s game of this working and yet, perhaps because they’re not men, this is ignored for the women’s game.
It has to be remembered that both FIFA and US Soccer are registered as non-for-profits. Their existence is based upon the development of the game, and not to make as much money as possible.
The next generation of female players must have the same training as their male counterparts, the same help in calculating the perfect diet and training regime, without the requirement to balance working a second job against playing football. They need to be able to dedicate week after week to their sport.
So, do the US Women’s Team deserve equal pay? Yes. But that is an easy argument to make. The challenge is to get an equal distribution of investment throughout the sport.
That is the way towards equality.
Fifa would never dream of hosting a men’s World Cup on artificial pitches so why the women’s? It makes you wonder if the women are some kind of guinea pigs.
Faye White, ex-England Captain talking to BBC Sport.20
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