The Fight for Equal Pay

Take a look at the list of the top paid athletes. When you scroll through the names one by one you will notice one thing: not a single female athlete is on the list of the one hundred athletes featured. Not even Serena Williams, a female athlete who arguably has dominated more headlines than any woman in sports history.

The total monies earned by the men featured on the Forbes list includes team contracts and sponsorship deals. While many make the argument that men in sports garner more interest, and therefore men generate more revenue, there are important historical pinpoints in history that have led to female athletes being left behind in terms of having equal opportunity to earn equal pay.

First, women and girls haven’t had the same access to sports historically as men and boys. Until Title IX was passed in 1974, one in 27 girls played sports. Now, 2 out of 5 girls play sports, and girl’s participation in sports continues to grow.

Secondly, professional women’s sports leagues haven’t been established as long. The oldest women’s professional league is the LPGA, after being founded in 1950, with the Women’s Tennis Association later being founded in 1973.

Not surprisingly, because they have been existence longer, female golfers and tennis players earn the most money in competition.

Therefore, the question that needs to be asked is how can we continue supporting women’s sports so they have the ability to earn more on the field, and what is being done in various sports to help promote equal pay in their respective sports?

For starters, let’s look at tennis. In 1973, tennis legend Billie Jean King, threatened to boycott the U.S. Open in 1973 over pay disparity. In response, organizers of the U.S. Open arranged for equal prize money to the man and women champions. In 2007, with Venus Williams leading the way, Wimbledon followed suit and granted equal pay to the champions of the men and women’s divisions. The other Grand Slam tournaments, the Australian and French Open, have also honored the winners the same prize money.

This has led women who win Grand Slam tournaments to earn more money on the court; however, outside of the Grand Slams, the pay disparity between men and women in stark. Take the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, which takes place before the U.S. Open. Last year, the men’s winner Grigor Dimitrov took home $954,225, while Garbiñe Muguruza pocketed $522,450 for her win.

While women still have a long way to go to reach pay equality across all tennis competitions, it’s a positive step in the right direction.

Women golfers, unlike the women’s tennis, still don’t receive equal pay for the majors despite two of them being run under the same organization. For instance, the U.S. Open, which is operated by the United States Golf Association, pays the men’s champion $2.16m, while the women’s winner earns $900k. In regular season events, the women barely earn a third of what the men make – and part of the pay disparity in due to the LPGA and PGA being run under different organizations and not under the same umbrella.

Then there’s the U.S. Women’s National Team who won the World Cup, and still earned four times less than the U.S. men’s team (the men didn’t even make to the finals). After filing a lawsuit, the women were able to negotiate higher pay and per diem.

The Women’s U.S. Hockey Team also boycotted for better pay and compensation for training, and their boycott worked, coming to an agreement that substantially increased their pay.

The real standard of change took place though when the World Surf League recently announced that the men and women would receive equal pay across the board. Kelly Slater, an eleven time world champion said this decision would hopefully send, “a message to society — that equal prize money [for men and women] should be the standard.”

This announcement highlighted that change is imminent, and surfing isn’t the first action sport to promote gender equality through equal pay. In 2005, the Action Sports Alliance organized a women’s boycott of the X Games, stating that unless pay and media coverage of women improved in the games they would not compete. Soon after, after setting up a meeting with John Skipper, the former president of ESPN, an agreement was reached where the women’s prize winnings would increase every year until it was on par with the men. According to Vogue Magazine, “In 2008, the women and men’s champions both took home $40,000. And it’s been equal ever since.”

An important thing to note is that there isn’t a monolith of how women’s sports league operate. Some are owned by the same organizations as men’s leagues, unlike the LPGA which is an independent organization than the PGA tour.

These nuances with the teams need to be taken into account because it will lead to unique challenges in helping create equal pay across all sports.

And while these movements are all in a positive direction, there is a still a lot of room for improvement. One of the the ways we can help contribute to pay equality, is to improve the coverage women’s sports receive. Studies show that they receive only 4 percent of coverage in sports media. This in in spite of women making up 40 percent of sports participants.

With better coverage, there will be more opportunity for people to connect as fans to women’s sports, becoming aware of these women’s stories, while simultaneously being exposed to their exceptional athleticism.

At GoodSport Women, we want to help contribute to the conversation around women’s sports through storytelling through the power of video. We believe that storytelling around women in sports can create a wave of interest, that will ultimately lead better turnout at women’s sports events, and more live coverage, and more media coverage.

We believe their stories are just as important to tell as the men, and we hope you continue to follow us on our journey as we aim to change the landscape of women’s sports through the power of their own stories.

The future of sports is women, and we’re just getting started.