She Plays Sports, But…

Famed science fiction writer Joanna Russ once laid out the arguments against the value of women writers in a series of essays detailing typical criticisms of women’s work, which started with “She didn’t write it….” This list* came to mind as I pondered the discussion about the phenomenal achievement by the U.S. women’s soccer team in winning this year’s World Cup. With a nod to Ms. Russ, I offer my version of “She plays sports, BUT…”  Each time a complaint is leveled about women’s sports, women provide the answer, only to create a new variation of the “Yes, BUT…”  Call it, “She isn’t worth the sports money because…”

Kajmeister take-off of the famous litany by Joanna Russ: “She writes, BUT…”

The US Women’s National Team kicked ass every which way but Sunday, last Sunday. They want the adulation, respect, and money that goes with it. They’re getting the adulation, but the respect and money will be harder to get.

Megan Rapinoe, Golden Boot 2019 Winner, photo by Francisco Seco

Sports Pay Stats

The USWNT gender equity pay lawsuit has come sharply into focus, particularly now that they are champions of the human race in 2019. It’s even prompted several “Fact Check” and economics-based arguments, full of statistical references, “Well, you have to look at revenue….” Or “If you compare people who attend the games…”

Several writers even claim the women make more than the men in the World Cup prize money because they receive a higher percentage. The men’s teams’ $400 million prize money in 2018 was 7% of revenue, whereas the women’s team’s $30 million prize money was 23% of revenue. See? Women get more! I must be just one of those gals that doesn’t get math… #HowMenAreBetterMath

You want stats? Here are some interesting comparative sports stats. The men’s Cameroon team, in World Cup years 2014 and 2018, were to be paid around $100,000 ($104k and $111k, respectively) according to their national team agreement. They finished 32nd in 2014, oh, but didn’t even qualify in 2018, even though they won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2017. The U.S. women were paid $37,500 for earning a trip to the 2019 World Cup. I guess the national federation for Cameroon just has more money than the American soccer organization.

Want to know who makes about $37,500 in sports? The NBA Summer G-League players. That’s the triple-A or double-A minor leagues for basketball. Those are the just-out-of-college or hoping-to-make-the-team wannabes that the NBA wants to see if they can actually play. That’s not where Lebron or Kawhi or Steph spend their summer.

Rose Lavelle, capping off USWNT’s 2-0 win over Netherlands, photo from

The US women’s soccer players did eventually earn about $250,000 each in total for winning the World Cup. The Guy that won the baseball Home Run derby the following day, which is basically hitting balls tossed by a coach …. got a million dollars. (Pete Alonso of the Mets) The best paid women soccer players in the world—Alex Morgan and Marta da Silva—earned around $250-300,000 for in 2018. For the year, 260 days on the road, not just an hour of televised batting practice.

Megan Rapinoe, winner of the golden boot in this year’s World Cup, playing a game where goals are rare, earned a whopping $12,500 per goal ($75,000 for participating—not including her bonuses, divided by 6 goals).  LeBron on last year’s Lakers squad, where he sat out hurt for forty games on the team that didn’t even make the playoffs, earned $647,272 per game and $23,623 per point. Twice as much. I could do stats all day.

Let’s take another look at that Rose Lavelle goal, photo by Richard Heathcote

More Revenue, Right?

But there’s that revenue argument. The revenue is so much bigger for the men, goes the argument, so they should be paid more. Here are three points to think about. First, there are far more men’s teams world-wide than women’s teams, so comparing overall revenue for the entire World Cup is apples and oranges. Secondly, a chunk of revenue comes from sponsorships, which has primarily focused on men in the past. However, as the Washington Post fact check article explained,  it’s not exactly clear whether that revenue is for the men or the women–it’s mixed.

In years where the men play in the World Cup, US Soccer makes revenue from the men’s participation; in women’s World Cup years, it’s the women.

There was a long-standing gap between revenue generated by the men and women, but that has disappeared in recent years. The women’s team contributed close or more than half of the federation’s revenue from games since fiscal 2016. Overall, from fiscal 2016 to 2018, the women’s games generated about $900,000 more revenue than the men’s games. In the year following the 2015 World Cup win, women’s games generated $1.9 million more than the men’s games. And in recent years, the men’s revenue tally also includes the fees that opposing teams pay in order to play the United States.

Washington Post “Fact Check”

Lastly, revenue is strongly driven by television broadcasting rights. Fewer women’s games are televised, so the women’s “circuit” earns less revenue. Ah, but the women’s regular games aren’t televised because there’s less interest in them. Or they’re televised at 8 in the morning. On the same day that other men’s matches are televised, in prime time. Hmmm. Doesn’t this become a circular argument? How can interest be created, if no one can watch the games? It’s certainly an argument that supports how they can’t ever earn the same kind of revenue. Here are a few more facts about that interest in women’s soccer.

The best-selling Nike soccer jersey ever is this year’s USWNT jersey. The highest rated soccer game ever watched in the U.S. was the women’s final in 2014, against Japan (25 million viewers). This year’s women’s final drew 14 million viewers, which was 22% more viewers than last year’s men’s final. Now, last year’s men’s final was between France and Croatia. Because the U.S. men’s team didn’t qualify.

They’re Just Not Aggressive Enough Too Aggressive

So the women are bringing in the kind of money that men brought in, but it can’t trickle down because, well, they’re women. Even today, complaints are being lodged that women don’t play the game as well because they don’t pass, they aren’t as fast… they don’t dominate the game the way men do. This has also long been a complaint lodged about women’s sports. Enter Serena Williams, who piles up ace after ace in her annihilation of opposing tennis players. Enter Claressa Shields, the ONLY American boxer to win two gold Olympic medals, now 9-0 in professional tourneys. Enter the U.S. women’s team, that scored thirteen goals against Thailand.

But Serena rages too much! Umpires assess points against her because she points a finger. Claressa Shields was told by the U.S. Olympic federation, between the London and Rio Games, that she needed to stop saying mean things like, “I like to make the girls cry.” The football women were pilloried for piling on, for demonstrating too much happiness about scoring, for acting up and acting out. “Insufferable smuggery,” said Piers Morgan.

Keep finding excuses, folks. Eventually, even “it’s just not ladylike to be such a dominating winner of the most popular sport in the world” can be answered with the lift of a pinky.

Alex Morgan celebrating a goal against England, photo by Catherine Ivill

*For the record, here’s the infamous Joanna Russ cover of How to Suppress Women’s Writing:

3 Replies to “She Plays Sports, But…”

  1. The men’s teams’ $400 million prize money in 2018 was 7% of revenue, whereas the women’s team’s $30 million prize money was 23% of revenue. i don’t have my calculator, flying right now, but is this saying men generate more WAY more revenue?

  2. The men’s team worldwide generates about $6 billion in revenue, while the women’s team generates $130 million. Think twice as many teams, broadcasting rights, history–it isn’t close. I’m not saying it is, but that arguments that women “earn more” are pretty silly. The prize money doled out from that revenue is $400 million to the men and $30 million to the women. Why FIFA gives out a smaller share of revenue as prize money to men (7%) than they do to women (23%) is a good question. What the US share of that revenue for men and women is, given that the US women’s team is relatively better, is another question. The USWNT isn’t arguing that they should get exactly the same prize money, since they know the revenue stream is different. They just want it to be closer within the US, since the US national team can decide how to divvy up whatever portion they receive from FIFA.

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