Revealed: Football pay gap between men and women professional players & average salary at top level

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Ronald Martinez
How large is the pay gap between professional men and women footballers playing at the highest level?

In March 2019, the U.S. women's national time filed a lawsuit against governing body United States Soccer Federation for gender discrimination and unequal pay. 

The lawsuit comes three years after five USWNT players filed a wage discrimination lawsuit through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The matter has still been unresolved, and the issue surrounding the team has now been escalated.

Significant gender pay discrepancies in professional sports are no secret. It's no coincidence that the USWNT have decided to file the lawsuit three months before they are set to defend their World Cup title in France, an honour that they have held thrice.

The lawsuit filed by the USWNT deals with accusations of pay gaps between the US men and women's teams, and the idea that the governing body has paid the men's team more despite achieving far less. So how much do the women's team actually get paid? Goal takes a look.

France earned £29 million ($38m) as prize money from FIFA for winning the World Cup in 2018, but the women’s champions this July will earn just £3m ($4m).

This summer will mark four years since the USWNT have been world champions. It's a year where they could win their fourth overall World Cup title, and yet still get paid significantly less than their male counterparts.

Megan Rapinoe USWNT 2019 SheBelieves Cup

According to the Guardian, the lawsuit alleges that the men receive pay bonuses as much as £13,303 ($17,625). They report that this is almost twice as much as the women receive – for having won zero World Cups and even failing to qualify for the 2018 edition in Russia.

Additionally, the lawsuit states that US Soccer gave a team bonus to the men of £4m ($5m) for crashing out of the last 16 at the 2014 World Cup, but the federation awarded just £1.5m ($2m) to the women for winning the World Cup in 2015.

Precisely just how much money women’s soccer generates is still unknown, as much of FIFA’s revenue comes from top sponsors who are signed up for both World Cups.

But despite winning the 2015 World Cup and breaking records with the largest television audience for any English-speaking football broadcast for men and women, the USWNT received nearly a quarter less in prize than the USMNT. The sum, going hand in hand with three World Cup titles and four Olympic medals, is incomparable to the £26m ($35m) the Germany men's team won for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

"You want to make sure there is a fair apportionment of winnings going out," USWNT coach Jill Ellis has said.

"The difference between the men’s and women’s prize money is ridiculous," said Tatjana Haenni, who stepped down as FIFA head of women’s soccer in 2017. “It’s really disappointing the gap between the men’s and women’s World Cups got bigger. It sends the wrong message."

Moreover, FIFA have doubled the overall prize money to £22m ($30m) since the last Women’s World Cup in 2015. But it is disappointing that, as reported by AP, the total sum is less than the £30m ($40m) increase that the men’s World Cup prize money will receive in 2022 — making for a total of £331m ($440m) in prize money.

But iconic Brazil forward Marta has made a good point in saying that men and women deserve to be paid equally, despite whatever trophies they have won.

“You shouldn’t have to win anything to be treated equally,” Marta said. “Women should be treated equally to men because it’s the right thing to do.”

In 2016, USWNT players were being paid 40% of what their male counterparts were making, though following a multi-year dispute over the wage gap, the female players and US Soccer, they reached the first five-year deal of their kind. Running through 2021, the deal ensures that the women receive larger bonuses, greater financial support for pregnant players. But is it enough?

The Premier League’s male players earn an average of £2.7m ($3.5m) a year – paling in comparison to what the Women's Super League players earn.

Manchester City, despite having been credited with changing the landscape of the women's game by launching their own women's team, revealed that their women's side earn 88 percent less than their male counterparts on an hourly basis according to Bloomberg. Other WSL clubs including Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton, posted similarly large disparities.

Man City, in a move copied by other clubs, said that if the salaries of first-team players and coaching staff are excluded, the gap comes down to 16% – which is still below the national average of 17%.

USWNT Women's World Cup 2015 final

Around the same period, Norway announced that they would pay their women's team the same salaries as their male equivalents, becoming the first football team in the world to do so. They raised the salary of their women's team by 2.5m Norwegian kroner (£218,000/$290,000) in 2018. Such parity was able to be achieved following an added contribution of 550,000 kroner by Norway's male players from commercial activities. It's not something easily done, but it is achievable.

Although the popularity of women’s soccer is slowly growing, Bloomberg state that attendance at WSL games averages around 1,000, compared with more than 75,000 at Manchester United's home of Old Trafford last season.

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Match-based revenue will also have an impact on salaries. According to Forbes, the 2011 Women's World Cup raked in almost £55m ($73m), of which the players received 13%. The 2010 men's World Cup in South Africa made almost £3b ($4m), of which 9% went to the players. By these calculations, men technically get paid less in terms of percentage of revenue received– but that is a moot point, since their overall paycheck is far greater.

There is an argument to be had that the women's game needs to attract as much interest as the men's if they want to earn as much as them. But as Marta said earlier, you should be paid evenly regardless of your success. And if there are severe attendance differences between the men and women's game, it's clear that more should be done to promote women's football.

As proven by Atletico Madrid and Barcelona setting the world record for the highest-attended women's football game with 60,739 spectators, it's clear that there is no shortage of interest.

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