After the U.S. women’s soccer team won the World Cup on Sunday, a major focus from the team and the media was a complaint over an alleged gender-pay disparity. Several media outlets published articles claiming there was a discriminatory pay gap relative to the men’s World Cup that needed to be remedied. Articles in the Washington Post, CNBC, and Business Insider pointed to the difference in total World Cup prize pools ($30 million for the women in 2019 versus $400 million for the men in 2018) and individual pay on the winning team ($110,000 for the winning female players in 2019 vs. $420,000 for the 2018 winning male players). Almost all of these articles were misinformed.
In reality, relative to the men’s World Cup, it was actually the women’s teams that were being paid a much larger share of what they brought in. While these articles noted that the U.S. women’s team brings in more money than the men’s team, they all managed to ignore the more-relevant disparity in revenue: The men’s tournament brought in over $6 billion in revenue in 2018, while the women’s tournament is estimated to only have brought in $131 million in 2019. The prize pools are taken from those revenue totals. In other words, the women’s prize pool was approximately 23 percent of their total revenue, while the men’s prize pool consisted of approximately 7 percent of revenue. The winning men’s players received only about four times as much as the winning female players, despite bringing in over 45 times as much revenue. These numbers should make it obvious that there is no substantive case that the women’s team is underpaid relative to their male counterparts, but the media managed to ignore those facts.
Instead the media focused on comparisons between the U.S. women’s team and the U.S. men’s team, constantly pointing to the fact that the former wins a lot more than the latter. But that comparison makes no sense. Each team should be compared relative to its peers, or at least to its equivalents in the other league. The fact that the women win more is irrelevant, as they play in a different league against a different level of competition. It’s safe to assume the U.S. women would have trouble competing at a similar level as the men. It would be like comparing the earnings of a great Arena League football team to those of a bad NFL team. A lot of the confusion stems from the media focusing on the fact that the U.S. women’s team brings in more revenue than the U.S. men’s team, but that metric — based on a different number of games and focused solely on the U.S. teams — is irrelevant when it comes to the prize pools for an international competition.
Almost everyone who read about this topic from mainstream press sources came away with the impression that the women’s teams were being treated unfairly in the World Cup despite the numbers clearly telling a different story. That’s a problem with the press, not discriminatory pay.