The U.S. Women’s National Team’s World Cup victory earlier this week galvanized the nation along both sports and political lines, and naturally, Washington has taken notice.
Two U.S. senators — Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) — have used the team’s “equal pay” mantra to push for a hearing on the matter. The senators have asked the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation to hold a hearing on pay disparities between men’s and women’s sports in the United States.
“The gender pay gap is not just limited to soccer — it spans many sports in the United States,” the senators wrote in a letter to Sen. Roger Wicker (D-Miss.). “A hearing would afford a timely opportunity for the Committee to recognize the importance of protecting and empowering athletes — while also examining the troubling pay disparities that have been highlighted in recent weeks.”
The United States women stormed to an emphatic victory in the World Cup, defending their 2015 championship and establishing themselves as one of the all-time great teams in American history. But the fact that the women were paid substantially less than their male World Cup and USMNT counterparts has drawn calls for a resolution to the difference in pay between male and female athletes.
The senators’ letter lays out a series of justifications for the hearings:
USWNT players earned only 38 percent of what the men’s teams earned in prior years, despite the fact that the women’s team generated $900,000 more in revenue from fiscal years 2016 to 2018, according to the Washington Post.
The U.S. Women’s Hockey Team received $1,000 per month during their six-month Olympic residency period, and even threatened to boycott the 2018 Winter Olympics, where they won gold.
The maximum veteran player salary in the WNBA was $115,000 last season, while NBA players earn a minimum of $582,180.
While all four Grand Slam tennis tournaments now pay equal purses — Wimbledon, just this year — women earn only 80 cents for every dollar of men at other tournaments.
Women golfers earn a share of a $70 million purse in prize money from the LPGA, about one-fifth of what men receive from the PGA Tour.
Prize money vs. revenue
Any hearing would have to wrestle with the uncomfortable — for proponents of equal pay — argument that many women’s sports simply don’t bring in the same revenue as men’s sports. The NBA and the PGA Tour dwarf the women’s equivalents on a revenue basis. The total prize money for this year’s Women’s World Cup was $30 million, compared with $440 million at the 2022 Men’s World Cup in Qatar. But the disparity is a result of the total projected revenue — the men’s World Cup will generate an estimated $6 billion in revenue against $131 million for the women’s tournament.
At events where both male and female participants draw from the same pot — say, tennis tournaments — the need for equal pay is obvious and long overdue. But it’s tougher to mount an apples-to-apples equal-pay argument when considering other sports, where attendance, sponsorship and broadcast agreements differ, often by orders of magnitude. It’s the difference between, say, a server at a sports bar and a server at a high-end steakhouse — both are putting in equal work, but 20 percent of a sports bar tab is going to be far less than 20 percent of a leather-slipcovered steakhouse bill.
The Commerce committee has held hearings on sports issues in the past; the senators point out that matters such as sexual abuse in Olympic sports and opioid abuse have come before Congress. Wicker’s office has not yet signaled an intention in either direction to hold the hearings.
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