The Pay Gap in Women’s Sports

The popularity of women’s sports viewership has grown in recent years.  In 2020, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) broke viewership records by nearly 300%, reaching 653,000 views.&nbs...
The Pay Gap in Women’s Sports
Written by Brian Wallace
  • The popularity of women’s sports viewership has grown in recent years.  In 2020, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) broke viewership records by nearly 300%, reaching 653,000 views.  Interest in women’s soccer was spurred by the 2019 World Cup win.  The United State’s women’s teams have placed in the top three every World Cup since the tournament was established in 1991, sparking interest.  The 2020 NWSL challenge cup drew viewership on par with a Major League Baseball game airing in the same time slot. 

    So, what has changed?  Esmeralda Negron, the co-founder of Atlanta Media and former professional soccer player, said, “Premium broadcasting plays a massive role in elevating the visibility and profile of leagues and players at the club level.”  Viewership was improved because the first and last games aired on CBS, rather than a subscription service.  Also, the month-long tournament schedule started before the men’s league and before the NBA returned from lockdown. 

    Not only has viewership changed, but viewers want women’s sports.  84% of sports fans are interested in women’s sports, and 66% of people are interested in at least one women’s sport.  The demographic of sports fans are 49% women and 51% men.  The Olympic Channel found that 56% of engagement comes from women, and viewership of women’s content is 16% higher than that of men’s.  Yet, only half of the sports governing bodies have a boardroom of at least 25% women. 

    The sports gender gap goes beyond viewership.  In NCAA Division 1 schools, more than half of the students are women, yet only 44% of athletic opportunities are for women.  Division 1 football schools only give women 29% of total athletic operating expenses, 28% of recruiting dollars, and 39% of athletic scholarship dollars.  For every $1 spent on women’s sports, $2.50 are spent on men’s, and coaches for women earn $.063 for every $1 earned by coaches for men.

    In addition, there are huge pay gaps for female athletes.  On average, female athletes are earning 63% of their male counterparts.  In basketball, the NBA pays its players up to 51% of the league’s revenue, but the WNBA only pays its players up to 23% of their league’s revenue.  In addition, in 2020, Forbes’ 50 highest-paid athletes included just one woman, Naomi Osaka. 

    What does the future hold?  While fewer people are interested in women’s sports than some men’s sports, there is still a large fanbase.  The potential fanbase for women’s sports is in the millions; 38% of people who’d never watched a women’s sports even before say they “could be interested” in the future.  Media coverage is key in improving viewership and interest.  In 2020, women made up 40% of sportspeople but received just 4% of the sports media coverage.  Lack of media coverage impacts sponsorships, creating missed opportunities.

    Women’s sports represent a valuable sponsorship opportunity for brands, yet just .4% of sponsorship dollars go to women’s sports.  1 in 5 people is more influenced by sponsorships of women’s than of men’s.  3 in 4 people interested in women’s sports can name at least one brand involved, and 63% of people believe brands should invest in both women’s and men’s sports.  It’s time to invest in women’s sports.

    “The fact that it’s 2021 and the WNBA and NCAA women’s sports are treated like some sort of rec league specialty sport like the national corn hole league is is beyond disgusting, it’s time to stand up and bring true equality to sports.” Eric Mitchell – CEO, LifeFlip Media

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