The wage gap between male and female athletes continues to hinder women in their field of play and frustrate the masses of sports fans across the country. It is a given that ticket sales, views, and wins drive revenue. There is a direct correlation between how much a team or sport generates and how much they can pay their players. According to a November 2019 report by the German research firm Statista, men’s leagues and teams across all sports captured 93 percent of the $31 billion that corporations around the globe spent on sports last year.
Simply put, women’s sports get fewer views than men’s sports. By no means does this justify the wage gap, but it’s worth considering why this is. This outcome can be traced back to several issues, including physical ability. A woman may be training twice as hard as her male counterpart, but what it tends to boil down to is general physiology. For instance, the intensity or frequency of two equally able-bodied women’s training schedules wouldn’t matter if one of them was taking testosterone shots every day. There is no denying that the one taking the hormones would have a distinct advantage. However, there is much more to this issue than purely physical and biological differences.
For the most part, men dominate the high level coaching and managing positions in professional sports. That men in decision-making positions raise a generation of female and male athletes already puts women in the shadows rather than the limelight. Former assistant coach of the University of California (UC) Berkeley women’s soccer team, Jennifer “JT” Thomas, said, “We were all coached mostly by men and so when they are out there coaching you, they are talking about Liverpool or the men’s national team.” This breeds players who are less aware of women’s sports and thereby less interested in watching them, even if they are a woman themselves.
It is also important to consider the factor of how men and women are socialized in relation with sports. While men are constantly being pushed to outperform and compete, women are coached to consider feelings. Maddie Metz, a sophomore in Academic Choice (AC) who played on the Frosh Berkeley High School (BHS) women’s soccer team last year, is an avid viewer of professional men’s sports. Metz stated, “In women’s sports we are always caught saying ‘sorry’ or ‘my bad’ and whenever I see men play I never see them saying, ‘oh it’s my fault.’ ”
Metz went on to explain that women are often discouraged from aggression and risk-taking at early ages in their respective sport. “We are taught to not be as aggressive and want to win whereas men are always playing to win and I wish I had grown up with that same attitude,” she said. The baggage that comes with being a female athlete in today’s world is having to dismantle a belief system that has taught girls that they are supposed to be nice and never outshine another player.
The downside is that these qualities don’t appeal to viewers of professional sports. Sports fans tend to look for the risky plays and thrilling actions that abound in professional men’s sports. Men are coached to make those risky plays and take the shot by themselves whereas women are taught to be team players and avoid being selfish with the ball.
“A lot of the fun for me when watching basketball are the big exciting plays, the dunks, those moments of extreme athleticism,” said Metz. The selfish play that has been coached into male athletes is admittedly more riveting to watch as a viewer. In other words, the actions and risky plays that women are often discouraged from are getting the most views, and by extension, the most revenue. In the eyes of the general public, female athletes don’t fit the description of what is “worthy of a decent wage” in terms of their style of play.
The list of determining factors for the lack of viewership in women’s sports is endless. Looking back to basics, the question arises: what demographic is watching sports? The answer points overwhelmingly to men. According to a 2019 worldwide Statista survey, it was found that 76 percent of respondents who watched sports more often than any other content were male.
Thomas noted, “Men, overall, whether they are athletic or not, are watching more sports, and for women, it’s just female athletes for the most part that are watching sports in higher numbers.” A theme recurs of men generally being more involved in sports culture, regardless of their athleticism, whereas women often have had a prior engagement with sports that caused them to be interested.
Sports remain a social currency for men, something to talk about with their friends and family. Women just don’t have that same urgency when it comes to watching sports.
Partnerships store great promise in the fight to drive up female viewership and close the wage gap. Take the Los Angeles “Angel City” expansion team, a new women’s soccer team set to launch in 2022. Spearheaded by Natalie Portman, a founding group composed of female celebrities, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and former women’s national team players are sponsoring the team. Combining these demographics gets more women, athletic experience aside, involved in women’s sports. Promoting these female role models will help us raise a new generation of female athletes that can have a vision of themselves being successful in athletics.
Thomas explained that partnerships between men and women’s teams are equally important: “Viewership isn’t going to change if we can’t get the men on board,” she said. She also suggested possible solutions to closing the gap.“Sharing a facility, sharing some of the marketing, sharing some of the people that are working on both teams so that you can defray some of the costs that way,” said Thomas.
Setting the stones and building the foundation for a new generation of women’s sports fans is of the utmost importance in the fight for gender equality. Metz said, “If you give women the attention they deserve, eventually with kids growing up watching women’s sports, they will appreciate the differences between the two.”