by Ben Chan, staff writer
In 2018, Forbes released the top 100 most paid professional athletes. Unsurprisingly, all 100 were male athletes, raising the question: Why is there such a large pay gap in professional sports?
Men have dominated the top 100 most paid athletes until the last two years when Serena Williams, a professional women’s tennis player, won 23 grand slams, seven Wimbledon championships, and several other tournaments. This boosted her estimated earnings to $94 million, placing her at number 33 on the top 100 highest paid athletes for 2020. Naomi Osaka, another professional women’s tennis player, also found herself on the top 100 list at number 29, four slots above Williams.
When it comes to sports, players’ pay is based on advertisements and fan-based revenue, such as ticket sales and merchandise sales. Advertisers tend to spend upwards of 5 billion dollars yearly on advertising in the sports world alone, resulting in players and teams getting paid substantially.
This gender pay gap is apparent across many sports; the disparity is most apparent in basketball, while it’s close to equal in tennis. Basketball and football athletes have dominated the majority of the top 100 most paid athletes, but other sports, like tennis, boxing, and golf, have a greater presence in the top 20.
This can be explained by how payments and salaries don’t need to be split across a team, considering how it’s a singular player. However, as we reach the world of team sports, the pay gap becomes obvious. For the NBA, the average salary is a steep $7.7 million. However, for the WNBA, the average wage is a mere $100,000. For the LPGA–Ladies Professional Golf Association–the average salary is about $1 million after endorsements, and for the men’s PGA the average salary is around $2 million after endorsements.
Founding dates are something to consider as well. The WNBA was founded in 1996, while the NBA was founded in 1946. That’s a 50-year difference in which the NBA could start finding sponsorships, creating a fanbase, and many other things that gave them an advantage. The LPGA was founded in 1950, while the PGA was founded in 1929. The PGA enjoys the same longevity benefits as the NBA. Tennis, on the other hand, is not based on one specific league. Over the course of the year, there are many tournaments, like Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open. These tournaments were organized equally, with extremely similar founding dates. This gives equal opportunity to receive sponsorships and advertisements, illustrating why Tennis’s pay gap is smaller compared to other sports.
Women’s teams across multiple sports have been attempting to equal out the pay rates between men and women, although many have proven to be unsuccessful. After the US Women’s National Soccer Team settled a lawsuit in March 2019, it finalized late Nov. 2020. Results stated that the pay between women players would not be changed at all, but that the women would receive “a chartered flight policy for team travel, venues for team events, hotel accommodations, and specialized professional support services” according to NBC news.
All in all, although many think that men’s sports generate more income than women’s sports due to their gender and statistics, the fact is that’s not the truth. Many men’s sports have had a head start, and that may better explain their more lucrative and numerous sponsorships and endorsements, and in turn their higher pay.