In addressing the situation, Emily Peck, the Executive Business Editor of the Huffington Post, wrote a long article here, "Women in Soccer are Paid Even More Unfairly Than Women in General."
Without my getting into the debate, because I haven't studied the numbers well enough -- for all I know, the U.S. women soccer players should be paid more than the men -- it's the article itself that needs addressing. It was quite awful, since it was written from a business perspective, using economic studies, and had pretty much zero reference to the actual industry in question, which is sports. One sentence stood out, to focus on the problem with the piece. Ms. Peck wrote --
"Female soccer players quite simply are being paid less for the same work. Indeed, considering the huge success the team has had — they’re actually being paid less for superior work."
Well..."quite simply" women and men are not doing the same work. Anyone who watches sports understands this. By her observation, baseball players on the Triple-A Fresno Grizzles should be paid the same as the San Francisco Giants of the National League. In fact, they should be paid more, since the Grizzles won the Triple-A championship last year. They played the same sport, after all. On a field with the same dimensions. Under the same rules. And both are professional ballclubs.
Well, no, that's not a fair comparison, someone might say. The two are different. One is the major leagues, and the other is the minor leagues. True -- but according to the article, it's the same work. But, no, the work being done is not the same, is the fair-minded response, the competition is totally different.
And bingo. Correct. The competition is totally different.
Bear with me here. Again, as I said, this is all about the article, and the "case" made there. It is not about whether the U.S. women's soccer team deserves more or less than the men's team. I'll get to that in a few moments. And, as I said, they may deserve more. But not for any reasons Ms. Peck writes about.
Sports are about competition, and the level of competition matters. It's not all The Same Work, just because you're on the same type of field. You may even play on the exact same field, but if the competition is different, it's completely different work. The National Football League is different from college football which is different from high school football that is different from Pee-Wee Football. It's all the same game. It is very different work.
And the fact that you won your league doesn't make you inherently better than those who play in another league. I hope that Ms. Peck isn't suggesting that because the U.S. women's soccer team won the world championship then that makes them better players than the men's team and therefore deserving of more money. But that's what her writing suggests.
Several years back, when Chris Evert was the top female tennis player in the world, dominating the circuit, I read an interview with her where she talked about playing tennis with her brother, John. At the time, John played men's professional tennis and was respectable, but only ranked something like #130. And Chris said that when they played, he tended to beat her 6-0, 6-1 all the time.
This is not to even hint that all men are better than all women at sports. If Chris Evert ever played me in tennis, I wouldn't touch the ball. The top women in sports are terrific, wildly-accomplished athletes. I watch women's soccer. I also watch a lot of women's golf, women's softball, and women's hockey -- I love women's hockey. I'll watch some others, like women's tennis on rare occasion, but then I don't like watching any tennis much. And I haven't much gravitated to women's basketball, but I'll check it out once in a while. Women sports are wonderful.
Let me repeat -- women sports are wonderful.
But they are not playing the same game. They're not playing the same game because usually the rules are different. But even when the rules are exactly the same, the competition is different. And sports is all about the competition -- against another individual, against another team, against the clock, against a yardstick. Being different isn't saying that one is better. They're different. Personal taste makes it a preference what you choose to watch. Some people prefer watching women's sports, some men's sports. No doubt there are some who like them equally. I like women's figure skating more than men's. I like men's hockey, but there are times when I prefer women's hockey.
But they're none of them playing the same game. And whether you win in one league or division doesn't mean you deserve more.
When you work in an office, and face the same business challenges within your industry, you are doing the same job, playing the same game. With and against the same people -- the exact same. When you are teaching in a school, you are playing the same game as your fellow-teachers in your school district. When you drive a truck or work in a loading dock for a company, or selling shoes, you are doing the exact same job as all those work side-by-side with. Man or woman.
But when you are running down a field and about to crash into the body of another athlete, it is not the same game. You are not doing the same job. One job might be faster and more physical, the other job might be more deliberate and tactic-oriented. Not better or worse. But a very different game.
But here's the thing. None of that even matters in the argument. And that's where Emily Peck was so wrong in what she wrote. The fact that men and women are not playing the same game is merely addressing that she didn't know what she was talking about. The issue at hand though is payment. And that's about economics.
And that's where, for all I know, the U.S. women soccer players might deserve more money than the men. They may not. I don't know. The pay disparity is certainly deeply inequitable. But it's the economics that have to be looked at -- not the size of the playing field, the rules of the game, and who won the championship.
Sports are a business. And the question that must be looked at when it comes to pay is who is bringing in more money. What money is brought in at the stadium -- in the number of people, and the cost of the tickets. How many people watch on television -- and what do networks pay for the rights to those games. How much athletic equipment is bought in sporting goods stores -- baseball bats, shoulder pads, jerseys, spikes, golf clubs, helmets, gloves, racquets, on and on -- which affects the advertising rates on television. That's what determines how much an athlete gets paid. How much money comes into the coffers. Even being successful doesn't matter.
There's a famous story about the Hall of Fame baseball player Ralph Kiner of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1952, the team had lost 112 games games, and attendance dropped. Kiner hadn't had as good a batting average, but he lead the National League in home runs -- for the sixth year in a row. He went into meet with legendary general manager Branch Rickey to negotiate his contract for the next year, and planned to asked for a small raise. Six years leading the league in home runs is no small achievement, after all. But Rickey countered with a pay cut, down to $75,000 from the previous season's $90,000. When Kiner expressed great surprise and disagreement, Rickey replied, "We finished in last place with you. I think we'll be able to finish in last place without you."
What you get paid is a function solely on the money that is made. That is it. Period. Not the size of the field, not if you won or lost. How much money got brought in.
That's why I say I don't know what the U.S. women's soccer players deserve. I haven't seen enough of the numbers. I've seen some, and they suggest the women's team is very successful economically. The women's team is very popular. They're on TV often. They have several players who are popular enough that they have good sponsorship endorsement deals. It's possible that the team deserves more money than the men. It's also possible that the men draw bigger crowds all over the world for higher ticket prices, have a higher TV-rights fees, higher revenue-sharing with other world teams, and higher advertising dollars because more boys and young men play soccer and buy equipment. I don't know. But that's what determines how much athletes get paid.
I like the U.S. women's soccer team. I may even like watching them more than men's. And I hope that all the numbers show that they do deserve as much as the men's team. If not more. But that comes down to dollars. Total revenue and profits. Not anything that Emily Peck wrote about.