Wage Inequality in Football

By | May 3, 2018


Wage Inequality in Society

In 2017, for every dollar a man earned, a woman was paid 82 cents  (Farber, 2017). While this difference has seen significant improvements, from the 54 cents to every dollar prior to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the 18-cent deficit is not insignificant when looking at equal pay for women (Equal Pay Act, n.d.).  Simply, women are not getting paid as much as men for doing the exact same job. The gender wage gap is defined as: the difference in the amount of money paid to men and women for doing the same work (Cambridge, n.d.). However, what happens when the job is not the ‘exact same’? Looking outside of universal employment opportunities (e.g lawyers, bankers, accountants, and schoolteachers) and into the realm of talent jobs; women seem to face the same form of inequality in their respective fields. In Hollywood, the pay gap for actors and actresses is still prominent: the highest paid female actress makes 52 million dollars in 12 months, in comparison to the 80 million by the highest paid male actor (Pires, 2017). Sports face a similar reality. Ranking the top 100 paid athletes, there are 99 men and one woman: Serena Williams. Serena ranks 51st and still makes 66 million dollars less than the top man, Cristiano Ronaldo (Perrasso, 2017). Fiona Hathorn, managing director of an advocacy group called Women on Boards, explains the sports wage gap: “ [we] were making progress, but it’s happening at a glacial pace.” Hathorn continues to explain that football is the worst offender when looking at the striking disparity between men and women’s pay in the multi-billion-dollar football industry (Perrasso, 2017). When looking at the largest football event in the world, the FIFA World Cup, men and women have incomparable prize money amounts. FIFA, the governing body, awards the Women’s World Cup 15 million USD in prize money. Meanwhile, the Men’s World Cup was awarded 576 million USD. (Perasso, 2017).

Women’s Football History

Women have had a predominant football presence since before the 1900s. There are records dating back till 18th century Scotland where single women played the sport (Weeks, 2017). In 1895, a woman named Nettie Honeyball created the British Ladies Football Club (Litterer, 2011). The club organized matches between the north and south of England, with some sources citing that thousands of spectators attended the matches that raised money for various charities (Weeks, 2017).  In England, during the early 1900’s, men left in order to fight in the First World War. During this time, women’s football grew in England; filling the gap in the game left by their male counterparts. Women who worked in the factories played informal matches during their lunch breaks. These games quickly turned into cross factory rivalry games that drew 10,000 spectators to a game in 1917 (Weeks, 2017). Even after the war ended, women’s football continued to gain interest. Most notably, the famous Dick, Kerr team packed Everton’s Goodison Park with 53,000 fans (Weeks, 2017). Upon seeing the rise in women’s football, the Football Association of England (FA) decided to ban women’s organized participation in football in 1921. This was done in order to restore the male dominant order in the sport. The FA cited health reasons for women and a general “unsuitable nature for females” (Williams, 2003) as reasons for the ban.  Women were banned from the federation until 1971. The progress women’s football made before the infamous 1921 ban was almost obsolete and saw previous clubs fold during the dead period (Williams, 2003).

The development of women’s football in North America has also been slow in comparison to men’s football. When the Dick, Kerr women’s football team went on a North American tour directly after the 1921 ban, women’s football had yet to be established in North America (Weeks, 2017). The first organized club league in North America did not occur until 1951. Although, this later became more prominent in 1972 due to United States federal legislation changes of title IX that demanded gender equality in educational spaces (Litterer, 2011). Collegiate athletics began to give opportunities to women’s club teams, creating the NCAA championships for women’s soccer in 1982 with a 12-team tournament, won by the soon-to-be soccer dynasty of University North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  The women’s national team in the United States started in 1983, competing in its first international match in 1985, showcases some of the NCAA’s best footballers, including Michele Akers and Lori Henry. The US women’s national team competed in World Cups from 1991 onward and finally introduced a women’s professional league in 1995 (Litterer, 2011).

Sexism in Sports

One of the most common arguments for the wage gap between men and women in professional sports is the revenue that each team produces. The simple statement that is echoed across public audiences is: If there is less revenue created in women’s sports, then women are not able to be paid as much. In order to understand the revenue gap that is evident between men’s and women’s professional football: there needs to be a better understanding of what is hindering female sports popularity. Sports are seen as one of the most prominent institutions that involves sex segregation. Biological males and females are separated in sports as a means of “fairness”, deeming males to be biologically more “fit” due to an increase in the hormone testosterone that promotes the development of secondary sex characteristics, including muscle and bone mass growth. These secondary sex-characteristics have been largely associated with what it means to be masculine, lending little space for muscular women. Unfortunately, this is the key makeup of many prized female athletes. Sports events themselves can reflect this bias: events that are sex-specific such as synchronized swimming and American football (Singh et al. 2016). In order to further the ‘athletic divide’, sports organizations made targeted changes to rules, even within the same sports. For example: changes include, but are not limited to: not allowing women to hit other competitors and introducing the use of smaller balls and shorter shooting ranges/ fields.  Sports for men can serve as a function of maintaining traditional gender roles and power inequalities (Anderson, 2005). Although the rules in football are the same for men and women, the western ideology of gender roles surrounding sports is still present when looking at viewership interest and television coverage. These ideals are evident in subtle gestures such as league titles to large television deals. The implication of inferiority by the addition of women in professional league titles perpetuates this ideology; The “FIFA World Cup” vs the “FIFA Women’s World Cup”; “the National Women’s Soccer League” vs “Major League Soccer”; and “Bundesliga” vs “Frauen Bundesliga”. These are all examples of the idea that women’s athletics piggybacks off of the male-dominated professional market. Although in some financial situations this remains true, there should be a concentrated effort to eliminate the subtle forms of bias.


Statement of the Problem and Purpose of the Study

Is there sexism in football in relation to the wage inequality for women? By definition, sexism is “discrimination based on gender, and the attitudes, stereotypes, and the cultural elements that promote this discrimination” (Oxford, n.d.).. This paper will look at three different wage situations and how the cultural attitudes affect and reinforce these inequalities. Additionally, comparing the wages for players on national teams; specifically, the United States women’s and men’s national team’s annual salary. Next, this paper will compare the North American professional league salaries, being the NWSL and the MLS. Lastly, examining the European Leagues salary and comparing the salaries in Division One in France. This paper will also highlight differences in training/ work facilities, as well as league-wide standards of care.


Review of the Literature

North American Leagues

The MLS (Major League Soccer) is the top men’s professional soccer league in the United States and Canada. The league was established in 1995 following a promise that U.S. Soccer made to FIFA in exchange for the 1994 Men’s World Cup hosting rights (Pyne, n.d.). The MLS began with 10 teams and most of the players comprising the league were American born. The league struggled in its first years with attendance rates and interest, causing the league a budget deficit of $250 million USD in its first five years, continuing to draw deficits until 2004 (Eligon, 2005). With this, the league decided to eradicate two teams that were competing at the time.  The league reportedly removed the Miami Fusion because the ownership lacked financial resources and attempted to operate the team on an unacceptable budget (Freedman, 2012).  A financial stabilization plan by the MLS  was used to create more interest in the American League: it  included the construction of new soccer specific stadiums for teams and expanded the league from 10 teams to 19 in 2011 (Freedman, 2012).

Some teams in the league were privately owned and their soccer-specific stadiums were privately funded. Others, such as Toronto FC, utilized city funding in order to secure and build soccer-specific stadiums. Toronto reportedly used almost 10 million dollars from the city government to help build the stadium, along with other federal and provincial dollars combined with private ownership, in order to complete the 70-million-dollar total cost of BMO Stadium (Toronto FC, 2014). The current budget for MLS teams is $4,035,000, and the minimum player salary is $70, 250 USD with reserve players making a minimum of $54,000 USD (MLS Roster Rules, 2018). The highest paid player in the league is Kaka who made $7.168 million with Orlando City in 2017 (MLS player, 2017).

The NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) was founded in 2013 with 8 teams. The league was subsidized by the United States Soccer Federation, the Canadian Soccer Association, and the Mexican Football Federation. The subsidy aimed to allow the top players to be paid whilst also maintaining the league’s low salary cap. The salaries for the 2018 NWSL season are a 350,000-team cap, with the minimum salary of $15,750 USD and a maximum of $44,000 USD (Roster Rules, 2018).

The gap between salaries in the MLS and NWSL is stark: MLS league rookies makes over $20,000 USD a year more than the highest paid non-allocated player in the NWSL. It is also interesting to note how the allocation process works in the NWSL. The best players in the NWSL from the United States and Canada are being paid by their respective federations. Although this allows high caliber players (e.g. Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Christine Sinclair) a larger salary than the capped $44,000 USD; it also means, federal funds for women’s teams are allocated to their professional salaries instead of their national team salaries. This allows for men’s national team programs to give players more for their national team involvement while men’s players make more from their professional environments. The NWSL quality would not be sustained without the involvement of these players, and yet the league cannot give these players salary dollars.

Not only are there differences in the salaries that players are given for men and women in their respective North American leagues, but there are also different standards of care for each league. As highlighted earlier, the MLS set a standard of ownership in order to create longevity in the league. The NWSL league is not as fortunate and faces a dissimilar standard of ownership in the league. In terms of spending, the NWSL teams seem to have a larger gap between their top and bottom teams. As a result, this creates an undesirable work environment for players and a push for league transfers. For example, the Washington Spirit, who finished last in the NWSL in the 2017 season, only saw 12 players out of 20 returns for the following year. The spirit also experienced several request transfers in order to find better opportunities. NWSL players are sometimes required to live in “host families” or utilize their own financial means to find housing for the season. Some players are given good living situations, utilizing a guest house or separated basement walkout, but others are only given a room of privacy in large family dwellings, minimizing player independence. Further, players on most MLS teams are given vehicles to travel to and from training, meanwhile, most NWSL players need to find their own way to get to training. MLS players have paid appearances in their contracts, while some NWSL teams require players to participate in an upwards of 7 unpaid player appearances per season. These are only a few examples of the lack of benefits NWSL players receive, on top of their significantly smaller salaries, all which greatly impact the players quality of life outside of practice and games.

National Team Salaries

In March of 2016, five players on the United States Women’s National Soccer Team filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This complaint cited how the U.S. soccer federation “engaged in wage discrimination”: paying the women less than the men, even though their respective team revenues were inversely related to their pay (Das, 2016). The United States soccer federation is an interesting case as its women’s team is notoriously the best in the world, meanwhile, their men’s side is often ranked around 25 in the world (and did not qualify for the upcoming FIFA men’s World Cup). In 2016, the women earned a revenue of $6.6million USD, while their male counterparts only created a $2million USD revenue (Das, 2016). Although the top men and top women in the US soccer player pool are making comparable amounts, there remains a large difference in where the revenue is coming from. For the women, almost 75 percent of their bonuses are earned because of their international championships (Financial Information, 2018). The men, on the other hand, get larger bonuses just for making game rosters and playing international minutes. The men do not rely as heavily on international tournament finishes for their annual income. This being said, television revenue is another factor that results in the difference in pay: the men’s teams television ratings are 4x as high with the exception of World Cup/ other major events (Das, 2016).

As shown above, it is difficult to clearly dispute wage differences while there is such a large discrepancy in how the wages and revenue are created. That being said, there are some wage inequalities within U.S. Soccer that are indisputable. The men’s national team players are paid more for both daily per diem and for sponsor appearances. These two salary differences are unexplainable. It can be assumed that U.S soccer will clear up this discrepancy soon.

If the women’s and men’s teams are drawing similar home crowds in the United States: what equates to differences in salaries? Perhaps, fingers should be pointed away from U.S soccer and onto the worlds football federation, FIFA. The largest difference in pay between men’s and women’s international players is the prize money allotted to players for their finishes in the most prestigious football tournament, the FIFA World Cup. For the U.S women’s national team, they were awarded $2 million USD for bringing home the World Championship Trophy in 2015, while the men’s national team were given $9 million USD for making it to the quarterfinal round (Perasso, 2017). This means women’s national teams around the world are in a similar position. Even more so when looking at the Canadian national teams: women’s players are not paid based on international caps, instead they have their professional contracts paid by the national team, while the men’s side provides per cap bonuses (Strashin, 2016).

European Professional Salaries

European clubs operate differently from North American clubs, having most of the men’s and women’s teams operated by the same club. Although the teams operate under the same umbrella club, the salaries for men’s and women’s players greatly differ. For example, in the French league, clubs like Olympique Lyonnais and Paris Saint Germaine are home to the best footballers in the world on both the men’s and women’s side. On the men’s side for PSG, Neymar Jr is the highest paid footballer on the team, making an annual salary of 36.8million Euros. Meanwhile, at Olympique Lyonnais, the top women’s team in France, is paying players an average of 162 thousand Euros a year (Herbert and Harris, 2017). In the English leagues, women’s players are being paid an average of 30 thousand euros per year; men’s clubs are paying their players an average 2.9million euros per year (Herbert and Harris, 2017). As shown, the salaries for men and women are both better at European clubs, but the wage gap between men and women is evident independent on the continent.


Viewership is one of the key factors when looking at revenue. Simply put:  having a larger fan base results in increased ticket sales and creates larger profits through sponsorships, advertisements, and broadcast contracts (Mumcu et al., 2017)

For football, viewership seems to be consistently high for main women’s events. For example, the 2015 Women’s World Cup Final had a television audience of 26.7 million viewers. This made the final the most viewed soccer game in American television history (Sandomir, 2015). This viewership total surpassed the NBA finals and the World Series for that calendar year (Sandomir, 2015). Further, in the London 2012 Olympics, the American women’s soccer gold medal match was the most watched event in NBC Sports history with 4.35 million viewers (Women’s World Cup, 2015). This being said, viewership of women’s professional football on a regular basis is far below men’s professional football. Women are also receiving a lot less coverage than their male counterparts. The University of Southern California conducted a study and found: in the United States, only 2 percent of all sports media coverage is on women’s sports (Houghton et al., 2017). The MLS is covered on main sports channels such as Fox Sports, ESPN, and TSN. Until last year, the NWSL couldn’t score a television broadcast. The women’s league arranged a deal with Lifetime, a channel that is geared towards women, not often a channel sought out by viewers looking to watch live sports.

Studies indicate that “men spend roughly twice as much time watching televised sports, discussing sports, and seeking sports-related information” (Deaner et al., 2016) and this difference is even more apparent in other countries around the world. Sports coverage is largely created by men: in the United States, only 9.6 percent of all sports editors and under 15 percent of all sports coverage staff are women (Deaner et al., 2016). Women are said to make up approximately 40 percent of all sports participants in the united states, showing a gap between women’s interest in sports with their respective viewership of sports.


Future Changes

            As shown in the literature review, women’s football professional salaries across the world are significantly lower than men’s salaries in respective clubs/leagues. Further, women’s international football also sees huge differences in bonuses for international tournament wins given by the world’s football organization, FIFA. An understanding for this is that revenue made in women’s football is significantly lower than the men’s game. When looking at the problem of wage inequality in women’s football: academics should look beyond revenue and into a more comprehensive understanding of women’s football history, public attitudes, advertising, and support given to respective leagues. This literature review does not outline every problem. However, this review did look to provide examples of the discrimination that women’s footballers have faced both in the past and also present. From banning women’s football in Europe, to not providing the same financial support to women’s clubs in North America, women’s football has not been given the same platform to develop interest/viewership, and in turn revenue.

In order to continue to increase support for women’s football, there should be more research on viewers attitudes and how to advertise the sport to audiences. To date, there has been little research on advertising for women’s athletics. One of the few studies conducted has been on college basketball and found how viewership motivations differed greatly between the men and women’s game. This study showed how different advertising strategies should be used for different teams. A similar study on women’s football in the future would be beneficial. Finally, western society should continue to try and separate traditional gender roles from sports segregation, in order to create a large space for female athletes to be celebrated on their athletic success. Women’s soccer is continuing to grow and so should the wages.



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One thought on “Wage Inequality in Football

  1. Futurescope

    The massive scale of gender inequality in football has been exposed in the biggest survey ever conducted, which found that 88 per cent of players in the Women’s Super League, the top tier in England, earn under £18,000 a year and 58 per cent of the competition’s players are considering quitting for financial reasons. Worldwide, half of all top division players get no pay at all.


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