[guest post by JVW]
An interesting dispatch from Phillip Patrick at The Spectator just came across the Women’s Soccer Desk at Patterico’s Pontifications:
The women’s soccer World Cup will kick off in under fifty days’ time in Australia and New Zealand, and England is among the favorites to lift the trophy. But who will get to see it? Broadcast deals have yet to be signed, seemingly because bids from several European countries are unacceptably, some would say insultingly, low.
Italy has reportedly offered less than 1 percent of what its broadcasters paid for the men’s event in Qatar last year — which didn’t even feature Italy — and Germany just 3 percent. FIFA are reportedly furious about these “slap in the face” offers and have threatened a blackout. [FIFA President Gianni] Infantino says that broadcasters had offered just $1 million to $10 million compared to the $100-200 million for the men’s tournament. The sports ministers of five countries have intervened with a joint statement calling for an agreement to be reached.
The European Rugby Championships are slated to take place from July 20 through August 19, and that the schedule of matches during weekdays in Greenwich Mean Time takes place between 2:30 am and noon, hardly prime viewing hours. The heart of Western Europe is one hour ahead of GMT, so major soccer nations such as France, Italy, and Germany would have a 3:30 am to 1:00 pm window for live viewing. Not only does this interfere with sleep and work, but given the tradition of Western Europeans taking vacation in July and August it becomes hard to imagine leaving the discotheque and hurrying to a television set to watch The Netherlands vs. Portugal or England vs. Denmark, though I suppose it could be a nice brunch outing if your favorite squad is lucky enough to have the latest start time of the day. The article points out that although women’s soccer attracts strong crowds in European stadiums, it has yet to demonstrate that casual viewers are willing to tune in to broadcasts the same way they will for men’s games.
This brings perspective to some of the posts I have written over the past few years as the U.S. Women’s National Team sought to bring their compensation more in line with that of their male counterparts. In our country, the women’s team made the plausible argument that their ongoing success on the world stage and their popularity among U.S. sports fans made them every bit as valuable a commodity as the men’s team, even if there was some question as to whether or not the numbers truly added up. But what we are seeing in Europe is a stark reminder that on that continent, which so often congratulates itself on having more modern sensibilities than we philistine Americans display, women’s athletics remains an afterthought:
[A]s the bid figures reveal, women’s soccer is undoubtedly, significantly less attractive from a purely entertainment and thus commercial perspective. The FIFA World Cup (men’s version) carries a glorious history in its train as it globetrots quadrennially. Domestically, each “big club” encounter evokes and references hundreds of others and feels like the latest installment of a rather good box set TV series that we know will never end.
In contrast, the women’s tournaments always have a feeling of novelty, of being the first iteration, a constant relaunch of a product that never quite catches the public imagination in the way its sponsors hope. Around 260 million people worldwide watched the last women’s World Cup final in France, which sounds healthy, but that figure was handily beaten by the men’s final in Qatar, which was watched by 1.5 billion.
FIFA reports that the overall revenue, from broadcast rights to ticket and merchandise sales to corporate sponsorship, is (brace yourself for this) about forty times as much for the men ($6.3 billion) as it is for the women ($157 million). Given that, should there be any surprise that European broadcasters would only want to pay one to five percent of the men’s fee for the rights to women’s tournament?
How do we start on the path to promoting the women’s game to close the gap on broadcast rights for the world’s most prestigious soccer tournament? Mr. Patrick suggests that Europe needs to do a better job of promoting women’s club soccer:
Perhaps those who aspire to parity, or something approaching it, with the men’s game need to lower their sights. The commercially successful men’s world cups in soccer, rugby and cricket are all supported by a deep-rooted and consistently popular club game. The World Cup is the gleaming summit of a solidly constructed pyramid. Women’s soccer hasn’t established the base of that pyramid yet: attendance at Women’s Super League games in the UK averages less than 7,000.
Or perhaps women’s soccer should stop comparing itself to the men’s game at all? The finances will never equate but there may well be a place for a different version of the beautiful game. Fewer prima donnas, fewer stoppages, less play acting, less hype, players with a closer relation to the clubs they play for and the fans who watch every week. There are many ways that the women’s game could establish itself and win a passionate, and committed, if probably smaller audience than the men. Vive la difference.
Don’t expect American feminists to lower their expectations and accept status as a minor league to their male counterparts, but it would seem that this attitude is firmly entrenched in the land of “free” health care, six-week vacations, and retirement at 62. European women’s club teams are generally off-shoots of the established and historic men’s clubs, and though their average game attendance is about one-twentieth of the men’s games (the Football Association says that the correct average figure for WLS attendance is fewer than 2,000 per game), they benefit from sharing in the club sponsorships. Still, there is a tremendous gap between the salaries of the highest-paid women players, Samantha Kerr at $502k and Alex Morgan at $439k, and those of the their male counterparts, Kylian Mbappe ($102m) and Cristiano Ronaldo ($75m). Granted, the top men benefit from ridiculous Qatari and Saudi money being thrown about lavishly. As far as averages go, the mean salary for the Women’s Super League in England was $37,000 (£30,000) while the corresponding salary in the Premier League is $3.9 million, or one hundred times as much. Closer to home, the average woman playing in the National Women’s Soccer League last year made $54,000 while the average man playing in Major League Soccer brought home $514,000, less than ten times as much.
Perhaps when the Megan Rapinoes of the world deign to lecture her fellow citizens on how rough she and her counterparts have it here in her own country, she might take a moment to be thankful that she isn’t trying to make a career playing in Britain, France, Germany, or Italy, where she and her footballing sisters truly are second-class employees. Meanwhile, as we have continually pointed out, the best way to raise the wages for women athletes is to shell out your own hard-earned money to watch them play, purchase their merchandise, and support their sponsors. Using legislative pressure to force private businesses to overpay for services based on some misguided notions of equity are not the way to go about it.