Pay for USWNT: Why Sexism in Sports Isn’t Going Away

The U.S. Women’s Team winning the 2019 World Cup.

Sexism and social stigma have caused many to look down upon female sporting events throughout history, and it is high time that people started doing something about it.

Just recently, the United States Women’s National Soccer team won the 2019 Women’s World Cup, earning both praise and recognition from millions around the globe.

Following the victory, the Women’s National Team filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation On March 8, citing having experienced gender-based discrimination in terms of payment. The matter brought the issue of male-female pay discrepancies in the national teams into the light once again.

The most notable points of the lawsuit allege that the federation paid the men’s team over $5.375 million in bonuses in the 2014 World Cup, even after their Round 16 elimination. Meanwhile, the women received a sum total of $1.725 million despite having won the entire tournament in 2015.

This contrast is absolutely absurd, especially because training conditions for women prove to be much more rigorous. Women, on average, spend more time in competitive training camps and tournaments than their male counterparts, particularly due to previous success in matches and tournaments. From the 2015-2018 seasons, the USWNT played 19 more matches than the USMNT. Still, women have been consistently underpaid, with almost 38% of what men were during periods in which both teams won. 

With this, the lawsuit’s main argument claims that “there have been violations of the Equal Pay Act, which prohibits wage discrimination between men and women who perform similar jobs, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on sex, race, color, national origin and religion.”

The team has since demanded a jury trial for the case.

One question still lingers on many minds, however: how has this discrimination persisted for as long as it has?

The U.S Women’s Team winning the 2012 World Cup.

For one, a comment argument for women’s teams being paid less is that they do not bring as much revenue in, and that women aren’t as ‘entertaining to watch’ as men when it comes to sports. However, this is simply not the case. For one, the latter statement stems from the outdated notion that women shouldn’t be playing sports, thus disputing that one stance. And in fact, The Wall Street Journal, in auditing the federation’s financial reports, has found that U.S. women’s soccer games have earned them more than that of their male counterparts during the three years after the USWNT’s 2015 World Cup victory. 

Furthermore, from 2016-18, the “women’s team brought in $50.8 million in revenue, while the men’s team brought in $49.9 million. That’s a difference of less than 2% in the women’s favor.” In fact, 2016 actually saw the USWNT generating more revenue from tournaments and matches— $24.11 million, in comparison to $22.24 million for the men. In 2017, both teams brought in about the same revenue at $14.61 million, while in 2018, the men’s team managed to bring in $13 million, only barely trumping the women’s $12.03 million. With the current media attention centered on the USWNT, however, their revenue is only expected to grow from here.

Still, the question remains unanswered.

After all, the media has managed to laser in on the equal pay portion of the lawsuit, but have largely ignored other facets. In reality, the lawsuit is more than an ode to equal pay in the sports industry. An even larger issue lies in how the women’s team is not marketed or promoted as much as the men.

Due to an institutionalised sexism within the sports industry, women are subjected not only to unequal pay, but poor marketing tactics- which inevitably feeds into the latter. A prime example of this would be the WNBA, whose low marketing budget prevents them from securing a stable fanbase – and therefore revenue – to support its athletes.

September 26, 2009: The Phoenix Mercury play the Los Angeles Sparks at US Airways Center in Phoenix, AZ. The Mercury defeated the Sparks 85-74.

Washington Mystics player Elena Delle Donne had this to say last year: “We absolutely do not get promoted as our male counterparts do. Yes, I’m talking about the NBA. When you put millions of dollars into marketing athletes and allowing fans to get to know a player they develop a connection with someone or something you are more engaged and continue to want to see/learn more. How is anyone going to get to know me or any of my colleagues if we aren’t marketed as much?”

If women aren’t being given a concrete platform to build their profiles, it should be obvious that it would be hard for them to receive attention, no matter how much revenue they happen to be making. Because when marketing is taken out of the question, critics and bigots alike are enabled to claim that they don’t generate enough interest. It’s a perpetual cycle that cannot be broken unless tangible action is actually made against this from the federation’s end.

Overall, the highly controversial debate surrounding female athletes’ income has several nuanced factors that go unrecognized. This is more than an issue of equal pay, but this is definitely a great place to start off. With the facts all laid out, there is absolutely no reason to disagree with paying the USWNT the same amount as the USMNT. As highlighted prior, they historically been more successful- winning 4 World Cups and coming as 1st or 2nd runner up several times. The men’s team hasn’t won a single World Cup since 1930, and even then haven’t come close to winning since.

The Women’s National Team has already shown the world what they’re made of. It’s time to start paying them right.