Patterico's Pontifications


Women’s Soccer in Progressive Europe

Filed under: General — JVW @ 1:19 pm

[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.


12 Responses to “Women’s Soccer in Progressive Europe”

  1. I keep forgetting that there is a Women’s World Cup this summer. I think the problems with the time zones has a lot to do with it. I’m actually interested in seeing how the U.S. team does; after all of these years of success they have a troubling mix of aging players who may not be as dominant as they once were, and some young replacements who perhaps lack the seasoning to step in and continue to keep our country on the top rung of the women’s soccer ladder. I’m guessing they will have their toughest tournament yet this summer Down Under.

    JVW (1ad43e)

  2. Friendly note: we’ve already established that the USWNT lost a scrimmage game to a group of under-15 male players, so no need to rehash that hoary old chestnut.

    JVW (1ad43e)

  3. They just need some more men on the women’s team.

    Kevin M (2d6744)

  4. Didn’t the USWNT recently lose to Wrexham 16-0 or something like that? A team that’s like 4 leagues below the top primere league?

    whembly (d116f3)

  5. It was more of a seven-on-seven exhibition of “past and present” players from both teams along with special guest stars, in a tournament where the winning team gets $1 million. I think whoever organized this farce ought to be horsewhipped. I doubt that any current USWNT players played, since they would presumably be in training camp preparing for the World Cup.

    JVW (1ad43e)

  6. It looks like in that tournament that the “USWNT” squad went 0-3, scoring only one goal and giving up 24 goals to their opponents, who along with Wrexham were Como 1907, a second-tier team from the Italian league, and Say Word FC, which looks an awful lot like a hastily-thrown-together team of former college soccer players. There’s a little more about this tournament at ESPN. Again, sounds sketchy and gimmicky to me, though allegedly some proceeds when to help HBCUs.

    Besides the woman who organized the US Women’s Team, Heather O’Reilly, the only American woman player whose name sounds familiar to me is Kristine Lilly. She’s 51 these days. Here is how they fared:

    Say Word FC 5 – US Women 0
    Wrexham Red Dragons 12 – US Women 0
    Como 1907 7 – US Women 1

    I sure hope these women got some appearance money, or else donated their time for the love of the game.

    JVW (1ad43e)

  7. I enjoy womens soccer at the world cup level, but I have to look at it within the boundaries of womens soccer. They are very good women soccer players, but once they say the deserve equal pay, math becomes misogynistic.

    By the way, who is the absolute dud who gave up the Como 1907 vs USWNT goal? Was it a PK?
    Womens teams can’t play their way out of pressure often vs. men and Rapinoe should and does know better. She also knows you can hector Americans into overlooking the math for the “equality”

    steveg (99663e)

  8. There was a time that I and I’ll bet a lot of other people would have paid considerably more to see the US women’s team play than I would have the men’s. On the strength of their historical record I’d be surprised if they aren’t still at least as popular as the men. If those women weren’t/aren’t paid accordingly, it’s fair to raise questions of bias. Conversely, when the disparity in revenue created is as stark as it is for the Europeans, can anyone seriously claim that equity requires comparable compensation? Whether it’s soccer, tennis, golf, movies or tv, I’ve never understood rigid, contextless demands for equal pay. Pay everyone commensurate with the butts they put in the seats. If you’re paid less than someone who generates the same revenue you do, you’ve got a good beef. Otherwise, compensation comparisons are apples and oranges.

    lurker (cd7cd4)

  9. People get paid by butts in the seats, but comparing US Mens Team and US Womens team, you’d have to factor in that the international pool of money is bigger for mens games than women. It is a little like when Louisiana Monroe Warhawks mens football went to play Texas and two weeks later went to play Alabama in 2022. Getting their butts kicked paid for the entire season and also put some money into the Athletic Dept for womens sports

    steveg (99663e)

  10. I was in the first significant cadre of girls soccer players in the US in the early 80s and I continued to play when we moved to Europe. My experience of playing soccer as a young teenager in Europe in the late 80s was that the European girls didn’t really play in an organized fashion, I was on a coed team from the base (barely coed, it was probably me, one other girl, and the boys) and never saw any girl’s teams, even in tournaments. We have probably at least a decade, maybe 2 over Europe in Women’s Soccer.

    Nic (896fdf)

  11. The US women national team are much better than most of the world (Germany, Sweden, Canada, Brazil are other top teams). It’s fun to watch them dominate. Another feature of the game that makes it fun to watch is that there is less fouling….and less hysterionics than the men’s game. The game is slower which actually facilitates plays building up and interesting scoring opportunities. Sure there are some agonizing slow rollers dribbling in to the keeper and maybe more moments of poor control, but it’s fun watching athletic women do their thing,,,and compete hard.

    But….if you’re scoring quality of play and sheer athleticism, the men’s game is leaps and bounds better. What the men can do across the skill set of the game is extraordinary at the highest level…and generates the most interest. What Messi can achieve at that level of competition is amazing. Mia Hamm and Marta also had amazing careers but skillwise there’s a big gap between them and Messi, Ronaldo, and Kane. Ultimately payday will reflect this. I like watching the women’s national team, but push comes to shove how much will I spend to go to a game?

    AJ_Liberty (6d118c)

  12. I saw the USWNT play China in the womens world cup, great game, also watched Norway play somebody, forget who, where I kept wondering why the lumbering Norwegian women didn’t just run faster, or for godsakes jump higher than 1 foot off the ground, but they made up for it with being well organized and physical. A friend and former teammate of mine is a former All American male player who coaches womens teams (I saw those two world cup games with him). The endorsement deals are there for the USWNT, the World Cup pay should be tied to TV and stadium money, but the NWSL is a subsidized league. Average attendance at an NWSL game is 8,000. Total attendance is about 1,000,000 annually all teams combined and 1/3 of that is the combined of Portland and LA. Every other team averages less than 9000 fans, some around 4500. The people letting the NWSL down are women. Women who have no problem saying the women soccer players should make the same as the men, don’t go to the games and they don’t watch them on ESPN 12. Those women don’t buy jerseys, hats, scarves. They expect men to go to the stadiums, or watch the games on tv and buy stuff.

    In the MLS mens league, Atlanta alone had 800,000 fans attend in 2022. The worst team attendance – wise was Miami and they had 214,000

    So people say that well the women played 11 home games each, and the men played 17 each, so…? exactly women play fewer games. Just like tennis. Women 2 out of 3, men 3 out of 5. Men work more hours, and get paid more

    steveg (1e2f4c)

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