The Think Progress headline reads: “FIFA Will Pay U.S. Women’s Championship Four Times Less Than Men’s Team That Lost in the First Round.” The article that appears below it nowhere explains that the inequality in ratings, ad revenue, and attendance between the men’s and women’s World Cup accounts for the inequality in prize money.
The Atlantic, the Associated Press, and other outlets similarly noted the pay disparity but remained curiously incurious about why. The writers did not appear to consider legitimate reasons to pay women’s soccer players less than their male counterparts. The articles advanced sexism as the reflexive explanation.
Stadiums in Canada hosted 1.35 million people who watched 52 women’s World Cup matches over the last month. In Brazil last year, 3.43 million watched the men play in 64 matches. Put another way, an average of 53,592 filled Brazilian stadiums for the men and the women attracted an average gate of 26,029 in Canada.
Despite face prices sinking to $20.15 on group-match play, and FIFA reducing some tickets to $5, women’s World Cup opening-round matches drew just a few thousand people in several venues. The Los Angeles Times reported on June 9th, “Canada remains underwhelmed by the women’s World Cup, with a combined total of 21,861 fans showing up for four opening-round games in two cities Tuesday.” Just 10,175 fans watched a June 9 doubleheader in Montreal’s massive Olympic Stadium despite a two-games-for-the-price-of-one deal. The sea of seats made the late-’90s Expos look like a hot ticket in comparison.
The New York Times outlined the disparity in advertising revenues for the men’s and women’s World Cup: “The 2011 Cup brought in just $5.8 million, while the men’s cup in 2014 netted $1.4 billion.” The article notes that Fox Sports reports that it tripled advertising revenue since four years ago, indicating a growing game. But the advertisers still pay 80 times the money for the men’s game. And that’s just in the United States, where the women’s team ranks as the world’s best and the men’s team boasts… a quarterfinals appearance in 2002.
About 900 million people across the globe tuned in to Germany’s victory over Argentina in the 2014 World Cup. By way of comparison, about 63 million people across the planet, with an average audience of 59 million, watched Japan defeat the United States at the women’s World Cup in 2011. In the United States, Sunday’s 5-2 drubbing of Japan by the American women figures to break domestic viewing records—surely an indication of skyrocketing global viewership—for any soccer game.
So, from this parochial perspective it may seem natural to wonder why FIFA pays the men so much more than the women when it seems like the women’s team excites our friends and neighbors at least as much as the men’s team. But if Armenians rather than Americans composed your friends and neighbors than the question might provoke laughter rather than an answer.
Women’s soccer, as a participatory and spectator sport, attracts more interest in the United States than elsewhere. But it’s a big soccer-ball-shaped world, where local customs may force women to abort their unborn female children, wear a mask in public, or permanently play hookey from school. Americans aren’t terribly interested in women’s soccer because we aren’t terribly interested in soccer. Elsewhere, people aren’t terribly interested in women’s soccer because they aren’t terribly interested in women.
FIFA forcing the women to play on artificial turf in Canada while the men played on grass in Brazil appears as a legitimate grievance. And one needn’t display a shelf full of dogeared Andrea Dworkin tomes to find Sepp Blatter’s 2004 suggestion that the women compete in “tighter shorts” and skimpier outfits—”Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball”—dehumanizing.
So, sexism may describe some of FIFA’s actions regarding women’s soccer. But FIFA paying women a small fraction of what it pays the men when the women generate a small fraction of the revenue generated by the men does not look like the patriarchy striking again. It looks more like basic economics.