Pay equality activists are at it again. This time they’re using the success of the U.S. women’s soccer team in the World Cup final to push their agenda. According to Politico, what we really need to be talking about is the players’ paychecks.
“Pay for professional women’s soccer players is at best paltry and at worst outright shameful compared to those of their male counterparts. (The U.S. men’s team is currently ranked 27, compared with the world-champion women),” Mary Pilon writes. “Yet the total payout for the Women’s World Cup this year will be $15 million, compared with the total for the men’s World Cup last year of $576 million, nearly 40 times as much.”
Pilon blames greedy broadcasters for the vast disparity, saying they haven’t valued women’s sports equally. It doesn’t matter that there isn’t the same level of interest for women’s soccer. There would be more viewers, she argues, if broadcasters just bit the bullet and promoted women’s soccer with the same gusto.
What’s funny is that in the midst of carping about female players not making the same as the men, Pilon has to remind people that there is, in fact, a National Women’s Soccer League and that people “should consider following it.” Obviously, there just isn’t much interest among the American public for women’s professional soccer compared to men’s.
Blame it on the chicken-and-the egg scenario—that people aren’t interested because it’s not promoted—but it takes a true grassroots’ effort to sustain support over the long term. That can’t be artificially imposed. Women’s soccer isn’t a foreign concept to Americans. Club soccer is everywhere, yet people choose to watch the men, not the women.
Check the Women’s Soccer Numbers
But what about the viewership of the women’s World Cup final? Don’t the numbers prove that there is high interest in women’s soccer? First of all, the numbers are shady. Some say the viewership in the U.S. was 21 to 23 million. Others put it over 25 million. The New York Times gives the largest number, putting it at 26.7 million, which tops the men’s 2014 World Cup final between Germany and Argentina with its record-breaking 26.5 million viewers in the United States.
Whatever the number, it doesn’t matter. For the sake of argument, let’s use the optimistic number of the New York Times and say the women’s final topped the men in the United States 26.7 to 26.5 million. Okay. So a U.S. team in a World Cup final had more viewers in the United States than a World Cup final in which no Americans played. Does this surprise anyone? Can we really compare a World Cup final that includes an American team with a match that doesn’t? Apples and oranges, folks.
Americans love their sports. Even more, they love patriotic sports. This is a point Chris Chase made crystal clear in USA Today, bringing some much needed sanity (and honesty) to this discussion.
People Want to Watch Men’s Soccer, Not Women’s
The rating (which he puts at 25.4 million) is being misrepresented, he writes. “Here are a few other numbers for you: 30.4 million, 24.4 million, 31.1 million, 21.4 million. Those are the average viewership numbers for the last four Olympics (2008 Beijing, 2010 Vancouver, 2012 London, 2014 Sochi), the latter two of which featured every major primetime telecast showing recorded sports. And those aren’t one two-hour program on a holiday weekend with a captive audience, like Sunday night’s win. That’s the average of 15 days of coverage lasting approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes each. There’s no comparison.”
Does that mean swimming, track, figure skating, etc., are growing in the United States? No, Chase says. It just means that “we, as a country, like to wrap ourselves in the flag while watching sporting events. . . . But that’s all.”
“Expect ratings 50-75% higher than the Women’s World Cup next summer during the entire fortnight of the Rio Olympics, which will be aired mostly live on NBC,” Chase continues. “Those ratings will be huge, NBC will be pleased, but it won’t mean anything outside those two weeks, the same as the WWC numbers. Even when Michael Phelps won eight gold medals — the greatest sports achievement of the century — swimming barely made a blip after the Olympic cauldron was snuffed.”
The fact is people aren’t as interested in women’s soccer as they are in men’s. The numbers prove it. Major League Soccer brings in an average of 240,000 viewers at ESPN while women’s soccer ratings are barely a blip in comparison, averaging around 63,000 viewers (others put it closer to 100,000), but sinking at one point to just over 30,000.
Women’s Soccer Is Lower Quality than Men’s
But even if we want to haggle about numbers and unfairness in broadcasting, there’s another harsh reality people need to deal with when we start talking about pay equality: Woman’s sports are not equal to men’s when it comes to quality. This doesn’t mean they’re not good or fun to watch. It doesn’t mean female players don’t work extremely hard or that they’re not amazingly gifted in their own right. They are. But there’s a reason sports are segregated. Women can’t compete with men. They’re not equal—and that’s why they shouldn’t get paid the same.
The fact is that the Landon Donovans of this world will always make more than the Alex Morgans because, in a word, men are better at the job. While Carli Lloyd is a fabulous women’s soccer player, and she should be celebrated as a very talented women’s soccer player, she couldn’t carry Clint Dempsey’s sweat towel in a game. Hope Solo couldn’t stand in for Tim Howard even if she imagined every ball bearing the face of her sister and nephew.
(By the way, if you want to talk about equality and treating female athletes the same as the men, had Solo been a man, she would have never set foot on the field in the World Cup, and women’s soccer would have been accused of having domestic violence problem.)
Some of you might be saying, well, the women’s soccer team is number one in the world, while the men’s team is 27. Doesn’t that make the women as good as the men, if not better? No, not if you’re going to talk about equality. To determine who is actually better, they need to compete against one another. Only in sports do women and men not compete, yet we demand that they get paid the same. But they’re not the same, not even in tennis where women get paid the same as the men in the grand slams, despite the fact that they can’t compete with the men and they don’t play the same number of games to win. Men have to play five sets at Wimbledon, while women only have to play three. Is that fair? Not if we’re talking about equality.
If you took the top women’s soccer team and had them compete against the top men’s team, they’d crumble. No contest. Why? Is it because the men are mean and unfair? Are they bullying the women, maybe even stealing a bit of their dignity? Of course not. The men win because they’re bigger, stronger, faster, and better-skilled. Top male athletes achieve a skill level that leaves top female athletes in the dust. Because of that fact, people enjoy watching the men; they prefer quality sports over suboptimal sports.
Equal Pay for Equal Play
This doesn’t mean there is no value in women’s sports. There is—on its own merit. When I watch women’s sports, I feel like I’m almost watching a different kind of game than when I watch the men. I still enjoy it, but I’m not going to delude myself that they’re equal.
If women want to be equal to men, then let them try. If we’re going to have equal pay, then we need to have equal play. Here’s a suggestion: let’s put an end to sports segregation. What’s more discriminatory than this separate-but-equal institution of segregated sports? If women are equal to men, let them compete with the men. In fact, let’s start this at the club level. No girl’s teams. No boy’s. It’s all equal now. Boys and girls competing together on a level playing field (and preferably not artificial turf). May the best man—or woman—win. This will also cure any problems relating to the placement of transgendered athletes. Just herd everyone together and let them fight it out. We’re all equal, right, so why not?
Or, how about this: Instead of clamoring for pay equality and whining about how women aren’t treated the same as men in sports, why don’t we accept the differences and celebrate female athletes for their accomplishments without comparing them to men? There’s a novel idea! Let’s revel in their successes without veering into politically correct BS. Let’s savor our team’s stunning victory over Japan and enjoy the moment, because, as Chase wrote, it won’t last.
The applause will fade, our national attention will turn to something else, our proud players will go back to playing in the National Women’s Soccer League, and very few of the 25 million people who watched the World Cup final will care. “They, like other stars of secondary American sports, are like eclipses, shining brightly once every few years before receding back out of the spotlight.”