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Maria Sharapova is the highest paid female athlete in 2015, according to Forbes. Of the 100 athletes on their list, she comes in at No. 26. Serena Williams is the next highest-paid woman, at No. 47. And that's it—they're the only two women on there.
Whodeserves to be the highest paid is debatable, of course. But if an accused rapist (Kobe Bryant) can rake in $26M in endorsements, and an admitted philanderer (Tiger Woods) is bringing in a cool $50M hawking brands, the U.S. Women's soccer team, otherwise known as the world champions following their recent defeat of Japan in the 2015 World Cup finals in Vancouver, should be on there. Even if just Carli Lloyd was on there, she, who scored three goals for the U.S. while 25 million viewers watched, the absence of women in the mega-bucks club might not seem as glaring.
Yet the high ratings won't translate some kind of Easy Street scenario for the players. Nope, never mind the men's World Cup winners banking $35M last year. This year's women's winners get $2M. By comparison, the first-round losers of the men's tournament in 2014 got roughly four times that amount.
Huh? What? Come again?
There are lots of excuses being made for the pay disparity. On MyFoxNY, the co-director at NYC Sports and Society, Lee Igel, said "viewership is one thing, but marketing dollars for women's soccer aren't nearly what they are for the men. He also says women's soccer suffers in between World Cups every four years because domestic leagues aren't steady. He says those leagues need more consistency."
Leagues, owners, advertisers, sponsors, writers, networks and bloggers all need to take collective responsibility and give female athletes the coverage and money they've earned.
There's more to it than just missing out on the big, sexy payday. The National Women's Soccer League salary cap per team is $265,000, with players getting a minimum of $6,842 annually, and no more than $37,800. By comparison, the average salary in men's Major League Soccer (whose U.S. men's team is ranked 27th in the world) is $305,809 per player. Fusion.net reports that the salary cap contrast, in which first division women players make 98.6 percent less than their professional soccer's male counterparts. According to Politico, this "is one of the starkest gender pay divides in any workplace," not just in sports.
Part of the issue, most sports pundits will argue, is women's professional soccer isn't as much of a draw in the United States, although the sale of women's jerseys surged 3,000 percent following Sunday final. Still, experts will say, sponsorships and ticket sales need to increase for women to get more money.
This isn't a new issue, but the disparity is that much starker given what the U.S. women just achieved. If sports networks, magazines and websites devoted as much, or even just a little more space, ink and time than they do now to remarkable women athletes and their games and matches, more people would easily tune in, at first by osmosis and then with a purpose.
The problem is those large and in charge of sports coverage in print, online and on TV protest it's too risky to put women's sports out there for consumption like they do men's because they don't want to see a drop in their own revenues. Yet if Time magazine is to be believed, it's women who are most coveted for their buying power, which you could then reasonably infer means sponsors would be drooling to get a fixed audience of young professionals and moms tuning in virtually and in person to follow a favorite team, league, player or sport.
It's time for sponsors to strike while the iron is hot and ride on the coattails of the professional U.S. women athletes who just did what their male counterparts have never managed. The excuses are tired for why women athletes aren't as much of a draw; leagues, owners, advertisers, sponsors, writers, networks and bloggers all need to take collective responsibility and give female athletes the coverage and money they've earned. They've built it and it's time for everyone else to come.