ⓘ Gender pay gap in sports looks into the persistence of unequal pay in sports, particularly for female athletes who do not receive equal revenue compared to thei ..


ⓘ Gender pay gap in sports

Gender pay gap in sports looks into the persistence of unequal pay in sports, particularly for female athletes who do not receive equal revenue compared to their counterparts. According to the research conducted by BBC, "a total of 83% of sports now reward men and women equally". However, it does not mean that the wage gap in sports has narrowed or disappeared. In 2018, Forbes released the list of the top 100 highest-paid athletes, and they are all male athletes. A similar situation also occurred in 2017, where there was only one female athlete - tennis player Serena Williams - who joined the list and ranked No.56.


1.1. Factors Endorsement deals

The first factor is the fewer chances for female athletes to negotiate with endorsement deals. Assuming a male and female athlete receives equal prize money, generally speaking, the top male athletes earn more due to better sponsorship and endorsement deals. Research conducted by a United Kingdoms organisation shows that sponsors are more attracted by male athletes as male athletes tend to be more marketable. A study has found that female athletes are rarely employed as the spokesperson by companies. The imbalance of endorsement deals expands the income gap between male and female athletes. Comparison of Roger Federer’s income with Serena Williams income based on their prize money shows that Williams earned 2 million dollars more than Federer. However, Federer is the most lucrative athlete endorsement and makes $58 million, which is three times than Serena Williams.


1.2. Factors Media coverage

Media coverage takes forms such as news reports, television programs, and social media articles. Media coverage does not only enhance the popularity of athletes but also reveals the commercial nature of sports. Male’s sports have higher production values and are going to seem more exciting. Novak Djokovic, the former world No.1 in mens single tennis said that male players deserve to be paid more than female players because "statistics are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches", which means male athletes have gained more interests and attention. The economic logic is, the viewership determines the commercial value of a sport, as the media producers hope to attract more audiences to make profits. This factor may affect the media coverage of female athletes. In Australia, females sports make up 7% of all sports media coverage, the same as the United Kingdom. Similarly, in the United States, nearly 40% of athletes are female, but they own 2%-4% media coverages. Except for the quantity, the quality of media coverage also matters. The media portrayal of female athletes tends to be less professional, and sometimes involve entertaining or sexualised contents instead of portraying their athletic abilities.


1.3. Factors Economic return

Economic elements also affect the pay equity sports. In 2018, the WNBA team attracted 7.716 fans per game, which is more than 10.000 fans below the audience attracted by NBA teams per game. Female teams attracted fewer fans compares to male teams, indicates female teams sold less ticket and hence generated less revenue. The highest-paid female wrestler Ronda Rousey says she thinks how many female athletes get paid should relate to how much revenue they bring in. The different marketability of athletes affects the corresponding earnings of male and female athletes. The economic benefits will occur as long as female athletes generate outstanding revenue as their male counterparts do.


1.4. Factors Biological difference

Female athletes do not have the same level of athletic performance as male athletes. The study has shown that compares to females, males have more muscle, higher blood volume, and more red blood cells, and those differences can be 30% in individuals. Currently, male athletes have better world records than female athletes. Take the case of running, swimming and skating; each sport reveals the fact that male athletes world record was about 10% more than female athletes record. It is difficult for female athletes to compete against male athletes. In 1998, Karsten Braasch - the male tennis player who ranked at No.203 in the world beat Serena Williams 6-1 and Venus Williams 6-2 after the Williams sisters claimed that they are capable of beating any male player ranked outside the worlds top 200.


1.5. Factors Others

Motherhood also reduces the earning of female athletes as they miss many chances of attending tournaments due to their physical condition. After the labour, it still takes time to train and rebuild the body shape. Pregnancy brings a commercial difference, and this mainly reflects through endorsement deals. The beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh once said that she was told to hold off on starting a new family by sponsors. The professional snowboarder Kimmy Fasani also faced the fear of losing her endorsement deals when she found she is pregnant.

WNBAs low ticket sales and low salary may be due to marketing, as more resources are devoted to the NBA than the WNBA. Top NBA players are encouraged to appeal to female viewers.


2. Impacts

Gender pay gap in sports links to the broader world and causes wider imbalance. In the financial point of view, this issue may cause the loss of financial revenue, as the pay gap in sports may lead to the less incentive of the female athletes to push themselves and to actively participate in sports because they feel unsupported. Except for professional athletes, other female participation in sports may also be affected. Ruth Holdaway, the chief executive officer at advocacy group Women in Sport, says if the public aims to close the pay gap in the long term, the public should be working with young girls to let them understand that sports are worth participating. Closing the pay gap in sports helps to create an environment where all female participation can enjoy equal rights as males.


3.1. Public response Female athletes actions

Some professional female athletes take steps forward to oppose the pay gap. One of the most noteworthy cases happens in tennis. In 2006, American tennis player Venus Williams wrote an open letter to the London Times after won the championship of Wimbledon but received lower prize money compared with her male counterpart. In that letter, Williams questioned that the disparity in prize money disregards females hard work and Wimbledon conveys a faulty value. Williams letter had drawn the attention of the public. Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at that time, started to focus on the issue of the pay disparity in sports. In the followed year, Wimbledon adjusted the prize money structure and offered an equal amount of prize money to male and female athletes.


3.2. Public response Introducing regulations

Introducing official regulations also plays an essential role in closing the pay gap in sports. The Male Champions of Change MCC is an Australian institute which redefines mens role in "taking action on gender inequality and encourage men of power and influence to contribute to gender equality issues in the communities". In 2019, MCC released the report of Pathway to Pay Equality, which aims to create new systems and cultures which can breed pay equity across all elite sports. The report details the specific actions and supports need to be taken to close the gender pay gap in sports. Pathway to Pay Equality assembles 17 Australian sporting chief executives as the signatories, to ensure female athletes have the same rights and opportunities in sports by evaluating and reporting their performance annually. The report introduced by MCC is considered to be the first time that the sports organisations have united globally to address the issue of unequal pay in sports, this can be a role model for other countries and institutes to emulate.


4. Statistics

Some popular and widespread sports still retain a significant pay gap. The following statistics show the income disparities between female athletes and their male counterparts.

In football, the United States womens national football team is paid almost four times less than the mens team. The womens team won the 2014 World Cup tournament but was paid $7 million prize money less than their male counterparts who failed in Round 16. In 2016, the two-time Olympic gold medallist, American football player Hope Amelia Solo files lawsuit against the U.S Soccer Federation for disregarding pay equity with her teammates.

The pay gap in basketball also exists. In 2014, 5 teams of the Womens National Basketball Association WNBA out of overall 12 made a profit. In 2017, the WNBAs average salary was $71.635, while the minimum salary for the National Basketball Association NBA is $838.464. The WNBA player who received the highest income is nearly one-fifth of the income of the lowest-paid NBA player.

The gender pay gap in golf is far from over. According to Golf Support, the prize money disparity between male and female athletes is 83% in professional golf. If a male and female golf player both wins a tournament, the male player can earn 6 times more than the female player. The Professional Golfers Association offers female athletes $50 million of prize money, far less than $256 million which devotes to male athletes.

The income disparity in professional skiing is outstanding, too. The U.S Olympian ski racer Lindsey Vonn points out that to those female ski racers who are not at the top, many of them have to give up their practice time to do part-time jobs to increase their income due to the insufficient prize money they receive. For Vonn, although she has won Olympic medals and World Cup titles, a large part of her income comes from endorsements instead of prize money.

Despite the disparity, statistics also show the equity of income in sports. Global research conducted by BBC Sport found that in the total of 44 sports that have been surveyed, 35 sports reward the same prize money to male and female athletes which shows an improvement compares to previous years. The following examples are sports which offer equal prize money.

Tennis has been considered as the leader of pay equity in sports. In 1973, the American tennis player Billie Jean King moved into areas of pay equity in tennis. Her efforts led to the change of the prize money of the United States Open. Starting with the United States Open, up to now, all of the four Grand Slam tournaments offer the same prize money to female and male athletes. The list of the top 10 highest-paid female athletes in 2018 released by Forbes shows that tennis is the best-paying sports for female athletes as eight tennis player joined that list. In 2019, Serena WIlliams is the highest of all womens tennis players on the Forbes Worlds Highest-Paid Athletes list. She currently is sitting at number sixty-three. Williams is the highest of all female athletes on the list.

Volleyball is also one of the pioneers of promoting pay equity in sports. The International Volleyball Federation FIVB rewards the same prize money to both female and male athletes since 2004. Specifically, in 2015, the winning male team and female team were all rewarded the equal prize money of $60.000.

The World Surf League WSL has altered the prize money structure and announced that female and males athletes would be paid the same amount of prize money from 2019 season in all the range of events that WSL controlled. This announcement also says that equal prize money campaign will also be managed to introduce to the second-tier surfing matches.

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