The U.S. Soccer Federation recently took large steps in ensuring equal pay for its women’s and men’s national teams.
The equal compensation of both national teams is only the start of the fight for gender equality in sports.
BY HADLEY LEVENSON
The United States Soccer Federation recently made a landmark decision to push for gender equality on the playing field.
Last May, the U.S. Soccer Federation reached a collective bargaining agreement with its female players to compensate the men’s and women’s national teams equally. This decision came following years of women soccer players receiving significantly less than their male counterparts. Women soccer players previously received 44 percent of what men’s players earned for making the World Cup roster, and made about 30% less than their male counterparts for each match. In addition to giving equal pay going forward, the Federation agreed to pay the women’s soccer team $22 million to make up for lost funds, as well as compensate both teams equally in their next union contract.
“We made the same sacrifices, we shed the same amount of blood sweat, and tears, we’d left it all on the field for decades with the same ferocity, talent, and commitment – but our retirements wouldn’t be the same at all,” World Cup winner Abby Wambach said in a 2018 Barnard commencement speech. “Because [accomplished male athletes] walked away from their careers with something I didn’t have: enormous bank accounts,” Wambach said.
Despite the positive changes by the U.S. Soccer Federation, the highest-paid male soccer player makes almost 250 times their female counterpart. Christiano Ronaldo earns $125 million per year, compared to Carli Llyod’s $518,000.
This gender gap in compensation is not limited to soccer.
Even after retiring in 1999, basketball star Michael Jordan still gets 5% of each Air Jordan sneaker sale, allowing him to maintain an annual income of $150 million. On the other hand, Sue Bird, one of the most sought-after women’s basketball players of all time, had an annual salary of $72,141 before she retired this year.
One main factor influencing athletes’ salaries is news and media coverage.
Historically, coverage of women’s sports in the news and media has not attracted the same level of fans, and therefore advertising revenue, as the men’s game. A USC/Purdue study found that 95% of total television coverage, as well as ESPN highlights, show SportsCenter focused on men’s sports in 2019.
Media coverage, even from school newspapers, sports play a key role in preserving a fan’s connection to the game.
“When considering games to go to, I usually consider the opponent and playoff implications,” Yale Daily News sports editor Melanie Heller ’24 said. “On any given week, there are about the same number of stories for men’s and women’s sports.”
Even though the national media may focus more on women’s sports than men’s, Heller prioritizes equal coverage of both men’s and women’s sports at Yale. This comes from her belief that student newspapers drive a student body’s investment in their teams.
However, ticketing poses another problem in closing the gender gap in recognizing athletes. According to Heller, only football, men’s lacrosse, men’s basketball, and men’s hockey are ticketed events for non-students at Yale, promoting their popularity in the community as opposed to women’s games.
Jeanne Briody, a former Princeton women’s soccer player, observed a similar scene at her college in the mid-1990s.
“Football, men’s basketball, and men’s hockey were the games where you would find the most students attending. A football game was a big social occasion so many students went to these,” said Briody. Much like at Yale, these games were promoted as social events, creating a community that revolved around men’s sports instead of women’s.
Even though less than 10% of sports coverage today focuses on female athletes, Briody believes that the culture around women’s sports has shifted in the decades since she played to provide young girls with more opportunities to engage in athletics.
“It’s great for girls to be able to put the TV on and watch a women’s soccer or basketball game… I never had that when I was a kid,” Briody said.
Head girl’s soccer coach at Trinity School in New York City Tom Bolster also believes that the sports world is finally bringing its attention to women’s athletics.
“They’re starting to realize there’s a huge audience out there. Sports is a vehicle for hoping that you become structured, positive, contributing members of society. And the lessons you’re learning in sports are the things that helped you do it,” Bolster said.
Former Mercer women’s soccer player and coach Haleigh Svede believes that community incentive will be what finally ends the inequities in men’s and women’s sports.
“Go out of your way to connect and find different female athletes from different sports, see what barrier breaking things they are doing. We are the future, so let’s make it female,” Svede said.
The U.S. Soccer Federation was founded in 1913.