The pay gap between men and women who play soccer, semi-professional and professional, forces women to pursue outside sources of income, generally part-time jobs. Soccer is an expensive sport to play in the United States, which forces female soccer players to rely on either a job outside of soccer or financial support just so they can live and pay the bills, like Julie King. This can be a distraction and conflict with training and practices between games, inhibiting their ability to perform to the best of their ability. Sports require in players their complete attention and round the clock training, especially if they want to play well. Many women, like Nikki Marshall and Jazmine Reeves, decide to leave the sport for a better paying job, often leaving during their athletic prime. If it were a man, for example Landon Donovan, deciding to leave the sport during that time in their life, it would be considered financial suicide. To make matters even more difficult, during the unpaid offseason female soccer players are forced, depending on their financials, to find alternative paying jobs for the months that can stretch up to six months. Working during those months force the players to lose valuable and much-needed time for training. No matter how much they love soccer, female players have to make the difficult decision as to whether they can afford to continue playing soccer? A couple of examples of female athletes who reached this difficult decision are Nikki Marshall and Jazmine Reeves who decided that working full-time for a career outside of soccer would be too good of an opportunity to pass up.
The truth of the matter is that there are more incentives for men to devote their lives in sports than women. Incentives like their salaries are bigger, men have more opportunities for endorsements than women, also sports like the NBA and MLA create more ad revenue, ticket sales, viewers, and media coverage compared to the WNBA and the NWSL. A major hope for NWSL is that it will progress to the point of the WNBA, which stands on solid footing thanks to the backing of the NBA. Case in point, female basketball players, like Candace Parker, are paid a lot more than female soccer players. If the MLS were to fully back the NWSL, the sport would finally be able to create the kind of revenue to pay the women what they deserve. The United States Women’s National Soccer Team (2015) are the highest paid female soccer players in the country and some of the players have taken it upon themselves to take action against the unfair wage gap between the salaries of the male soccer players and the women soccer players.
With the forming of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination against girls and women in federally-funded education and this includes athletic programs, a new age began for girls and women, bringing about their participation in athletics in the United States. According to Cooky, girls participated in youth sports and high school sports, women participated in college sports, and eventually a women’s professional sport was born (p. 220).
Julie King, a female soccer player who plays for the Boston Breakers, is all too aware that soccer is an expensive sport. King has lived with host families, arranged by the NWSL clubs, as a way to cut down on costs. However, now that she lives on her own, she has discovered that living on your own in most areas of Boston is not cheap, especially on the meager salary female soccer players take home. In the NWSL, the salary cap for each team was $265,000 in 2015 and $278,000 in 2016. The minimum salary for female soccer players went from $6,842 in 2015 to $7,200 in 2016, that is four figures at a minimum a season. The maximum salary in the league went from $37,800 to $39,700. Due to these circumstances, King found that she needed to rely on financial support from her family. Playing soccer is in a lot of ways chasing the dream and female soccer players find that these are the routes they have to take in order to survive, routes like part-time jobs or financial assistance from friends, family or alternative methods.
Nikki Marshall, defender for the Portland Thorns and the NWSL, retired from soccer in February 2015. One of the primary reasons for retiring she explained was because of the low pay in soccer. Soccer players make as little as four figures a season and due to this Marshall had to find alternative employment to cover the bills, working as a part-time sales job at Avnet Technology. Marshall also explained that this is the reality for most female soccer players, soccer simply does not pay them enough so “most everybody has a second job.” For women who cannot obtain endorsements and national team salaries, they are forced to look elsewhere for alternative income, unable to make soccer a full-time profession. Even though they had the greatest average attendance in the NWSL in 2014, the Thorns were still not able to pay Marshall enough to make her stay.
Jazmine Reeves, forward for the Boston Breakers, is yet another example of the harsh financial realities of professional women’s soccer. Reeves retired from professional soccer just after one season with the Boston Breakers to go work at Amazon, a job she knew she could not pass up. After being named Boston Breakers Rookie of the Year, Reeves showed tremendous promise during her one and only season with the team. So it was an immense shock when she retired, but it makes more financial sense to work at Amazon where she would receive better pay and long-term opportunities than if she remained in soccer, at least in the foreseeable future. Juggling two careers, one of them in soccer, is just not a possibility for female soccer players. Soccer demands one’s full attention and unfortunately some women find that they cannot reach those expectations due to meager salaries and team’s limited funding. Reeves left the Boston Breakers to work as area manager for Amazon in New Jersey, where she would be working in the company’s logistics and supply chain.
The year of 2015 was a big year for the Women’s National Soccer Team as they became the champions of the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time since 1999. They received an extensive amount of recognition for their winnings by showing off their value of sportsmanship and love for the game. However, with that recognition brought to light the need to stand up for what the athletes believed to be fair. After the World Cup, five of these all-star players, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn and Hope Solo, sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for wage discrimination saying that they aren’t being paid what they deserve. They are performing the same, if not better, than the men soccer players and yet, their salaries nowhere near match up to male soccer athletes.
Alex Morgan is the highest-paid female soccer player in the United States. The salary she earns from the Portland Thorns and the NWSL team is reported to be about $450,000. But in addition the salary she earns from the team, she also brings home about $1 million in endorsements from companies like McDonald’s, ChapStick, and Coca Cola.
As Olympic Gold Medalist Hope Solo said in the video, ESPN Nine for IX Branded, “you look at a male athlete and they can make their entire living based off their skill. For a female athlete we make most of our money on the side.” The same can be said today for female athletes like Alex Morgan who are fortunate enough to receive endorsements due to her accomplishments in professional soccer.
Unfortunately, not all female soccer players can get endorsements, which is why an inspiring, courageous group of women are trying to do something about the pay gap between male and female soccer players. The newly formed United States National Women’s Soccer League kicked off in 2013 and has made a lot of progress since then. Most recently, female soccer players are protesting against the pay gap between male and female soccer players, claiming that female soccer players should be paid the same amount as men for the amount of time they play. The National Women’s Soccer League and the United States Soccer Federation are struggling to close the gap today, but unfortunately, it looks like it is a challenge that will have to be addressed in the future, as fixing these issues takes both time and money and closing the gap between salaries is easier said than done.
As you can see from this chart, men earn far more from each game than the women and grading the men on their performance versus women shows that women make far less money than men for a far better performance. One has to wonder at these statistics and why women are not valued more than men on the field.
Most female soccer players annual salaries and sources of income pale in comparison to male soccer players, especially that of Landon Donovan who is one of the highest paid male soccer player in the United States. Landon Donovan earned $2 million just from his team alone in 2014. His salary in 2015 was about $4.58 million, which made him the fifth highest paid MLS player that year.
Sports media in a lot of ways reinforces that sports are primarily a male dominated sport. According to Cooky, it would be very dangerous not to acknowledge “the important role the media play in promoting men’s sport through their coverage of visually and aurally exciting highlights and commentary [which] downplays the power media institutions have.” Sports media has the power to make watching men’s sports “exciting and pleasurable experiences, which enhance the interest and consumption of men’s sports” (p. 222). With more viewers watching men’s sports rather than women’s sports, companies are not going to pay for ads and offer endorsements to female athletes at the same level as male athletes. Female athletes are not going to earn the same salaries as men until they are able to generate the same amount of enthusiasm to attract additional viewers to their games.
As you can see from the chart above and looking at the top half where you can see a comparison of men and women playing professional basketball and soccer. There are significant pay disparities between men and women in both sports, most significant is the difference in basketball, but NBA makes far more revenue than MLA.
Candace Parker, arguably one of the best WNBA players in the league, earns roughly $3 million a year, but most of that money comes from endorsements like Adidas and Gatorade. On the other hand, her male counterparts in the NBA actually make millions of dollars based off their skill.
On a final note, in the cases of Nikki Marshall and Jazmine Reeves it is no wonder that they had to set aside their dreams of playing professional soccer and choose a career elsewhere rather than wait for women to finally be paid what they deserve. It is hard to understand how male soccer players like Landon Donovan earn a annual salary in the millions, while female soccer players like Alex Morgan and the U.S. WNT are paid less than their male counterparts after winning the 2014 World Cup. The Equal Play, Equal Pay campaign may or may not make a difference, but one can only hope that with a larger dedicated fan base that brings in additional ad revenue and changes in the league salary caps, that the pay gap between male and female soccer players will finally be resolved.
By: Ashley Porter and Sydney VanWell
Cooky, C., Messner, M., & Hextrum, R. (2013). Women Play Sport, But Not on TV. Communication & Sport, 1(3), 203-230.
Roberts, R., Stern, Nancy, Ewing, Heidi E, Grady, Rachel, Leyden, Erin, Foudy, Julie,. ESPN Films. (2013). Nine for IX (Nine for IX). United States]: ESPN Films. Retrieved from ESPN Nine for IX: Branded