Politics fascinate me, but I know almost nothing about sports. That started to change after the United States took the Women’s World Cup last Sunday. Tens of thousands of soccer fans watched the game at BP Place Statium in Vancouver (Canada), and another 26.7 million saw it on screen. New York City is giving the women athletes a ticker-tape parade along Broadway thought the Canyon of Heroes—the same route taken by the New York Yankees when they’ve won the World Series and the New York Giants when they won the Super Bowl, most recently in 2012. The last time any female athlete received this honor was in 1960 after Carol Heiss Jenkins won the Olympic gold in figure skating.
As people cheer the players, we also need to consider the way that these women are treated. The most overt discrimination is their pay. As winners, they received $2 million dollars. A lot of money, some people might say, but the U.S. males got $8 million—not for winning but just for participating. And they were 27th compared with the women’s 1st! The U.S. women’s team has won the World Cup three times. The U.S. men have never won the tournament. It’s not even women earning $.25 for each $1 that men do because the men didn’t even have to win to get its money. And they were 27th compared with the women’s 1st! Winners from Germany got $35 million—17.5 times as much as the women. That’s a little over $.06 for each $1 that German men received.
Looking at the overall payment for the World Cup is even worse. The total payout for the men’s World Cup last year was $576 million, 40 times more than the $15 million for this year’s Women’s World Cup this year. Women’s pay just shrank to $.03 for the man’s $1. FIFA paid $24 million to $35 million for its self-aggrandizing fiction film, United Passions, a box office bomb that was panned by critics. Salaries in the National Women’s Soccer League range from $6,000 to $30,000 with a cap of $200,000 for each team. The MLS salary cap was $3.1 million in 2014, 94 percent more than that for women.
Massive inequality is also evident for individual players. Most high-profile players on the U.S. women’s squad make less than $1 million a year and have fewer opportunities for sponsorships. In comparison, international men’s star Lionel Messi could earn over $70 million in the next year.
A common excuse for less pay is that no watches women’s games. Consider the 25+ million watching last Sunday’s game—more people than either the NBA Finals, or the NHL Stanley Cup. In 2007, Wimbledon equalized prize money to 26.7 pounds for winners whether male or female.
Pay isn’t the only way that FIFA demeans the women. When the men played in Brazil last year, FIFA shipped in grass seed from Canada for their playing field. The women played in Canada this year on artificial turf, slippery and hot, that increased injuries during play and increased the temperatures on the field by 20 to 30 degrees. During tournament, field turf temperatures reaches 120 degrees. U.S. player Sydney Leroux said playing on the turf was like running on “cement.” Her internet posts of her ripped up legs caused male allies like Kobe Bryant, Tom Hanks, and Kevin Durant to rally behind the women’s team.
Before the women were able to accept their awards, they were subjected to a procession of medal-bearing models dressed in skimpy black dresses. For the past few years, the alluring women brought out during the trophy ceremonies were flight attendants for Emirates Airlines, but the corporation pulled its sponsorship after FIFA’s recent corruption scandal. The women in their khaki uniforms and jaunty red hats didn’t cause the stir that this year’s low neckline did. The attending FIFA officials were booed, but disgraced president Sepp Blatter didn’t appear because he was afraid of being charged and extradited if he did.
As humorist John Oliver scathingly pointed out, Blatter has a record of obnoxious, sexist comments. In answer to the complaint about the artificial turf:
“Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men—such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?”
Last week, a FIFA article about Alex Morgan called her a “talented goal scorer with a style that is very easy on the eye and good looks to match.” After England’s team returned to London after beating Germany in the third-place game, the English soccer league tweeted, “Our #Lionesses go back to being mothers, partners, and daughters today, but they have taken on another title: heroes.” Protests caused the tweet to be removed.
As Anna Diamond wrote, “Sponsors Missed a Prime Opportunity at the 2015 Women’s World Cup.” Advertising on Fox would have given them more exposure than at “the final game of last year’s World Series, more than the average number for this year’s NBA and NHL finals, and more than any single men’s World Cup broadcast in history.” Fox received $17 million in ads for the elite women’s matches while ESPN got $529 from last year’s men’s tournament in Brazil.
A study shows that televised news programs provide less coverage of women’s sports that they did in 1989 while girls’ and women’s participation has dramatically increased. Men’s sports, primarily football, basketball, and baseball, monopolizes the news broadcast time with 75 percent of one sample—dominating television news sports even out of season. The style of reporting men’s and women’s sports is also different with the latter given with much less excitement and far fewer high production values such as interviews, music, and graphics as well as vocal inflection and exciting action descriptors. Although sexualization of women athletes has dropped, an increased emphasis on families such as motherhood still demonstrates the sexist approach toward reporting on female sports figures.
The women’s soccer win caused a serious bump in ticket sales for the remaining five women’s soccer games of the season. The Seattle Reign (Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo) is seeing an increase in ticket sales from an average of under $2,000 to $51,000 in the past three days. Its first game after the win on July 11 could sell out the 6,000 seats instead of its average of 2,300 that includes complimentary tickets. The Houston Dash (Golden Ball winner Carli Lloyd) may open up additional seating. Managing director Brian Ching hopes for 12,000 fans instead of the average of 3,500 to 4,000 per game.
The U.S. women’s soccer team’s first match after their win last Sunday is against Costa Rica at Heinz Field on August 16. Eleven years ago, the game drew just 6,386 fans; thus far over 30,000 tickets have been sold for the upcoming match.
Sponsors are starting some changes. For the first time this year, Nike sold men’s sizes jerseys for the winning team of the Women’s World Cup after selling men’s team jerseys in women’s sizes for years. Also for the first time, Video-game giant EA Sports will include women’s national teams in its latest edition its best-selling video-game franchises, FIFA 16. There’s still a long way to go. FIFA 16 will feature 12 women’s teams compared with over 600 men’s teams and more than 16,000 male players in FIFA 15. Adidas was a no-show in this year’s tournament although it heavily invested last year in ad blitzes and social media. The company was replaced by ads for grooming, personal-care products such as Tampax from companies like Clorox.
Media encourages people to continue the socialization that the male gender is dominant—and more interesting. With the sexist approach toward representing women athletes and the market refusing to accept them, they will receive far less attention and a tiny portion of the money put into sports. Another problem is the investors’ need for instant gratification. If sponsors don’t see immediate results, they desert teams and leagues. They need to realize that women’s soccer has a market: the 2015 Women’s World Cup had almost 50 percent more viewers in the United States than the men’s version.
The eighth Women’s World Cup is scheduled for 2019 in France. Start getting your tickets! As for FIFA, here’s a petition that protests its gender discrimination.