Updated: Aug 20, 2019
The title is obviously outrageous, but if you read through to the end you might get the point.
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After the US Women's Soccer team won the 2019 FIFA World Cup, a chant of "equal pay" could be heard in the crowd. In addition to the emotionomics chant heard by the crowd, numerous news outlets including Vanity Fair, CNN, VOX, Splinter, and Business Insider led with misleading headlines about viewership in the Women's World Cup vs. the 2018 Men's World Cup. Let's break down the numbers to understand why this is another manufactured, and completely baseless complaint.
The basic idea is that the US Women's team is being paid less for the same (or more) viewership as the US Men's soccer team. The official statement was that women's team is making only 40% of what the men's team is paid.
Let's talk about viewers
"The Women's World Cup ratings top Men's 2018 Championship Game by 22%"
Here's the big difference. By big, I mean it is a massive, un-ignorable difference. The 22% win by the Women's team is talking about the viewership in the United States. This year, the Women's Cup garnered almost 15 million TV viewers inside the US. That is, in fact, higher than the US viewers for the 2018 Men's cup. The problem? The Men's US soccer team was not in the 2018 World Cup Championship. Actually, they didn't even qualify for the 2018 World Cup tournament itself. The 2018 Men's World Cup Championship was between France and Croatia. These websites are actually comparing US viewership for the Women's game that featured a US team playing, and a game that did not involve the US Men's team- to make the case that the US Women's team is comparable to the US Men's team in TV audience.
FIFA has estimated that total worldwide viewers will come in around one billion people.
The last time the Men's US team made a notable run into the World Cup tournament was in 2014. What was the viewership that year? Thank you for asking.
In 2014, total US viewership came in at 26 million. The worldwide number hit 3.5 billion. Half of the world for the men, vs. one-seventh of the world for the women.
It's probably important to note that in 2014 the Men's US team only made it to 15th place, while the 2019 US Women's team made it to first. That means that US viewership in 2014 was not even for the Men's US team in the Championship game, unlike the case with the women's.
Let's look at 2018 vs. 2019, since those are the years currently in question.
Even if we just looked at attendance, the Men's World Cup won handily. The average attendance for the Women's Cup was 22,000. The average attendance for the Men's World Cup was 47,000. The total attendance for the Women's Cup in 2019 was slightly over one million, while the total attendance for the Men's 2018 was over three million. It's difficult to quantify, but it's also important to note that the 2018 Men's cup was in Russia, and the 2019 Women's was in France. Nothing against any of our Russian readers, but it was probably much harder to get people to an event in Russia vs. an event in France- and they still did it.
If the ticket prices are the same, you can clearly see that the ticket revenue for the 2018 Men's Cup was three times the ticket revenue for the Women's. That's if the ticket prices were the same. In reality, the average price for a 2018 Men's Cup ticket was $200. The average price for a Women's Cup ticket was $75. The Men's Cup sold three times as many tickets at over twice the price. That's roughly eight times more in ticket revenue for the Men's Cup.
How about the FIFA prize pool?
This years prize pool for the Women's Cup was $30 million, with the champions taking $4 million. In 2018, the Men's prize pool was $400 million, with the champion taking home $38 million. I could make the argument that the men were done a disservice based on these numbers, considering the fact that the men took home 9% of the prize pool while the women took home 13% of the prize pool. There's an obvious glaring figure staring us right in the face, though.
Why is the men's prize pool so much bigger?
These figures are difficult to find, but I do have totals from the Women's last win, which also happens to be the year they broke all the records for US TV viewership of women's soccer with 26 million in the US watching the championship game. In 2015, the Women's Cup brought FIFA a total of $131 million in net revenue. In 2018, the Men's Cup brought in $6 BILLION. I had to caps lock that number. Now that I type this, I'm also realizing that the women's prize pool represents a much higher percentage(27%) of the total revenue for FIFA, compared to the men's(7%).
The Women's team is being paid 40% of what the Men's team is paid, although they are bringing in a much smaller percentage of the revenue. If the pay was represented solely by the revenue, we might end up of a pay scale that pays the women only 15% of the men, and it would still be economically "justified."
We've arrived at a point where the public is fast to chant "equal pay" any time a woman is paid less than a man. Some of the time, it's due to sexism. Most of the time, it's due to about 20 different factors, one of them being sexism. It isn't fair, or logical, to only choose one of the reasons women might be receiving less money.
In this situation, I feel the economics has to back up the claim that the Women's team is not receiving equal pay for "equal work." Equal work can be a very subjective claim. Sure, the women are working as hard if not harder than the men's team. That does not mean that the economics backs up an equal pay scale.
This is left in the hands of the public. Pay for sports stars, musicians, or actors/actresses is based on the amount of money those performers generate from ticket sales, or ad revenue. It's basic economics, not based on feelings, hard work, or anything else of that nature. It's a pay based on the amount of money you are bringing into the business, and in this case, the women are simply bringing in less money.
If the women want to be paid the same as the men, they are doing the right thing. Make a bunch of noise. Do as many things to get media attention as you possibly can. Keep being really, really good.
All of these things should continue to grow the TV viewership for the women's team. Bring in the same revenue as the men, and then you can discuss getting paid the same as the men. Sounds harsh, but economics is economics.