Moolah

I’m going to take a break from baseball and talk about soccer this week, specifically women’s soccer.

First, congratulations to the U.S. Women’s National Team on their fourth Women’s World Cup. Take a bow, ladies. You earned it.

There has been a lot of talk about “equal pay.” The women on the team are insisting they and other female athletes should be paid what the men are paid. After the team won the World Cup, instead of chanting “U-S-A!,” the crowd chanted “E-qual-Pay!”

The team members have filed suit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, claiming sex discrimination. They note their team has brought in more revenue than the men’s national team, but the women are paid less money and don’t have the perks that the men do.

The women have a point about the national teams. However, there are some points to be made about women’s soccer in the United States, and women’s sports in general.

For all the talk about equal pay, something has been overlooked:  no country in the world has done more to promote and pay for women’s soccer than the United States of America. We have more opportunities for girls and women to learn to play the game here than anywhere else on Earth. That’s why American women’s soccer dominates the Women’s World Cup.

This is largely due to legislation like Title IX, which barred sexual discrimination in amateur athletic programs. According to Business Insider, the number of high school female soccer players has exploded from 700 in 1971 to 376,000 in 2014. In 2006, there were 3 million registered female youth soccer players in the world, and more than half of them were in the United States.

Most other nations don’t spend anywhere near what the U.S. does on women’s soccer and other sports. Some countries, like England, Germany and Brazil, actually banned women from playing soccer for years.

The U.S. Women’s National Team has done much to popularize women’s soccer around the world. This really began to “take off” after the American women won the 1999 Women’s World Cup on Brandi Chastain’s penalty kick.

Around the world, women soccer players are demanding the kind of spending on their sport that American women receive.

The real problem with equal pay for women athletes is something that is almost universal:  for whatever reason, people prefer watching men play sports rather than women. This is how it’s been for centuries. While this may be changing to some extent, it’s likely to remain that way for some time.

Consider these numbers. In 2018, Major League Soccer fielded 20 teams and had a total attendance of 8.5 million. Atlanta United had an average attendance of over 50,000 per game, while the Seattle Sounders had an average of more than 43,000 per game. The lowest average attendance was the Columbus Crew at 12,447 per game.

Now, contrast that with the National Women’s Soccer League. They fielded nine teams in 2018, and had a total attendance of 650,564. They averaged 6,024 per game, with the Portland Thorns topping the league at 16,959 per game.

Given all this, is it any wonder why women soccer players make so much less than the men? You can’t pay people money you don’t have. That’s a simple fact of life.

The World Cup is the single largest sporting tournament in the world. That’s why there’s over $400 million in prize money. By contrast, the Women’s World Cup draws only a fraction of the TV viewers and the audience at the gate. That’s why they have just $30 million in prize money.

It’s not just soccer, either. One can see this in NCAA sports. The Women’s National Basketball Association has been losing money for years, with crowds nowhere near the size of those for the NBA.

This is not to say that women’s sports are “inferior” to men’s sports. I have watched high school girls’ sports for years as part of my duties with the Pioneer, and I have seen some exciting games from both genders. I look forward to the girls’ events just as I look forward to the boys’ events. I’ve met some outstanding female athletes. In my view, women’s sports are just as exciting to watch as men’s sports.

I’m speaking in general terms when I say people prefer to watch men play.

 So, how do we go about improving pay for women athletes, including soccer players? How about supporting the teams? Pay for tickets to watch the games. Watch the games on television so their ratings will improve and they can attract more ad revenue. Buy the kitschy merchandise and the souvenirs. In other words, show the women’s teams you’re as eager to give them your money as you are eager to give men’s teams your money.

Who knows? The USWNT has inspired many people to become women’s soccer fans. Maybe, in the near future, they’ll be able to economically justify equal pay.

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