Pay gap in women and men’s professional sports

Since the rise of women in professional sports, an ongoing debate stemming from the smaller argument of equal pay in the workforce has emerged. One way to analyze whether or not there is an existing prejudice in the world against women is to look at the difference between the professional leagues themselves. The easiest ones to look at are the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). Firstly, a difference in game length presents itself in the WNBA, four quarters of an NBA game are 12 minutes each while the WNBA plays four quarters of just 10 minutes. Adding to this ever growing list, further major distinctions between the two leagues are their draft requirements. Being drafted into the NBA has a minimum age requirement of 19, along with a year of experience post secondary schooling, while the WNBA calls for their athletes to be 22 and either graduated a 4-year college or be at least four years removed from high school.

Another area of focus is the amount of money available in the sport itself. In other words, how much bang does the league make for its buck, or how much does the league need to give to players in order to make money itself. An estimate from last year put the revenue generated by the entire NBA at upwards of over $7 billion, while the WNBA raked in $60 million. To compare that to the average salaries of each leagues player, an NBA athlete makes $6.4 million annually compared to the WNBA’s average of $71,635, whereas Stephen Curry, a point guard playing for the Golden State Warriors earns $40 million a year – seemingly dwarfing the WNBA’s highest paid player DeWanna Bonner, who made $127,500 in 2019. As far as the proportions go, the NBA’s average salary is 0.09% of the league’s total revenue in that season, while a WNBA player gets 0.11% of the total revenue. In the overall scheme, the WNBA was created and currently operated by the NBA.

As far as other sports to explore the rumors of a bias between the genders, boxing or MMA fighting is a simple one to compare. Every fighter in the UFC makes a base salary for making their weight class and fighting. After that base salary, the more popular that the fighter becomes opens a door for them to negotiate a new contract. There’s another area for the athletes to make money from – sponsorships or brand deals bring in higher revenue for the league to pay their fighters with. Almost everybody involved in the realm of sports has heard about the Mayweather v.s. McGregor fight, with the result ending after a TKO in the tenth round. The pay-per-view estimates reached around 4.3 million customers, pushing the total revenue of the fight upwards of $550 million. Mayweather, winning the fight, ended up walking away with a reported $275 million, while McGregor earned an estimated $85 million. To compare these male superstars to the other gender, Ronda Rousy is one of the highest paid female fighters the UFC has ever had. In an ESPN report in late 2016, Rousy was disclosed to receive a $3 million guarantee. Even though she lost the fight by TKO in just 48 seconds.

With the next decade of the 2020s underway, a question of whether or not a step in the direction of equal popularity between men’s leagues and women’s leagues emerges. Mark Conrad, the Director of Sports Business at Fordham University, commented in an email interview on reaching an equilibrium between the opposite sexes in sports.

“[It is] very far away,” Conrad said. “The WNBA has done pretty well, but the NWHL and its Canadian equivalent have not and the latter is defunct. The National Women’s Soccer League is fighting for pay equity.”

Along with the challenges of battling diversity issues, a relatively new age of social media is challenging the realm of sports as a whole, some sports have seen declines in popularity among the younger generations.

“I see horse racing declining in popularity for a number of reasons, possibly boxing, because MMA has become so popular with younger fans,” Conrad said. “And baseball (an older demographic and a sport that takes far too long to play for the attention spans of the social media generation). It is also possible that football can decline a bit because of the aging of the fan base and the increasing controversies over injuries.”  

Overall, the revenue of each gender’s respective league seems to relate proportionally to the amount of merchandise and tickets sold. The athletes will get paid based on how much money they bring into the sport, in this relatively newer social media age, it’s going to be decided based on how the superstars can connect with the world. Whether or not those athletes are male or female doesn’t seem to change how much they earn from going out and playing the game they grew up dreaming of playing.


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Hayden Hetherington

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