On Tuesday, British journalist Matthew Syed of The Times wrote an article discussing the economics of pay distribution within professional sports (subscription required). The main thesis of the article is this: in certain sports, men are paid more than women because men generate larger revenues.
He uses professional football – or soccer as we know in the states – as his initial example:
“The reason that women are paid less than men is not because of sexism. It is not because of an unscrupulous cabal at the Premier League siphoning off money from the coffers of the female game. It is because male footballers drive bigger revenues, secure bigger audiences and command greater commercial income. It is free-market economics.”
To be clear, I have no problem with this argument as it pertains to football. It wouldn’t be possible for a local restaurant chain to pay its CEO as much as the CEO of McDonalds. There is a financial reality that just can’t be overcome just as is the case with men and women footballers in the United Kingdom.
Syed then segues into a discussion about the financials of professional tennis. It is here that he begins to tread into murky waters:
“And this, in turn, shows that the real scandal in those BBC figures is not the sports that are failing to pay women as much as men, but those where men are being forced to cross-subsidize women. This is, perhaps, easiest to see in tennis. The men’s game is in the midst of a golden age, with the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic exciting audiences around the world. On the women’s side, few could name the past four grand-slam singles champions. The additional commercial clout of the men can be seen in (among other things) the prize money at ATP Tour events being significantly higher than in WTA events. Yet in the grand-slam events, men and women earn the same prize money. The US Open and the Australian Open equalised pay decades ago, and the All England Club followed suit in 2007, one year after Roland Garros.”
Syed is absolutely correct when he says the men’s game is in a Golden Era. Led by The Big Four, it has unquestionably been one of the most compelling and competitive periods in the history of men’s tennis. Many would argue that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are two of greatest to have played the game.
What is beyond ridiculous is when he says that few could name the 2014 female Grand Slam champions:
To give you an idea of how utterly absurd this notion is, let’s review them:
- Australian Open: Li Na
In case you still are not convinced: Li Na is a two-time Grand Slam winner. She achieved a career high ranking of No. 2 just this year. She is globally recognized. She has spurred the growth of the sport not only in Asia, but also around the world with her smooth, beautiful playing style. Need I say more?
- French Open: Maria Sharapova
Even if you consider yourself to be among the most casual viewers of professional tennis, it would be impossible for you to be unaware of Maria Sharapova. The Russian superstar has won every major title and won her second French Open title in May, when she defeated Simona Halep in what was possibly the best women’s match of the entire season.
Sharapova is currently the highest paid female athlete in the entire world—not just in tennis, but of any sport. As of June, Forbes reported that Sharapova earned $24 million in endorsements alone. Let’s also not forget about Sugarpova, the highly popular and, might I add, delicious candy business that Sharapova launched last year. Such a global success speaks both to Sharapova’s marketability and popularity, how turned a passion into a lucrative venture.
- Wimbledon: Petra Kvitova
In 2011, Petra Kvitova won Wimbledon, becoming the first player – male or female – born during the 1990’s to win a grand slam. Kvitova also won the season ending WTA Championships that year.
Kvitova has been ranked as high as No. 2 in the world and has been on the precipice of obtaining the No. 1 ranking.
During this year’s Wimbledon fortnight, Kvitova awed all those around the globe as she completely dismantled Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard in the final. Her clean and flat playing style is impenetrable when it peaks and has left endless amounts of opponents helpless.
- US Open: Serena Williams
It would be disrespectful for me to write anything here. Serena’s name speaks for itself.
Let’s go back to the #men.
If you were to survey any casual tennis fan – from any country – is it more likely that they would be able to name the female Australian Open and US Open champions or the male Australian Open and US Open champions?
Li Na and Serena Williams versus Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic?
No disrespect meant toward the men, but I think we all know the answer.
Let’s also address the assertion that men are receiving higher pay than women in regular tour events. We’ll start by looking at the Madrid Open, a Premier Mandatory Event for the women and a Masters Series 1000 event for the men. For both, this is the level of tournament directly below that of a Grand Slam. The winners of the tournament, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, each received €698,720. Going through the rest of the tournament, the prize money allocation is exactly the same except for the first and second round losers. For these players, the men received around €2500-$3000 more than the women.
In Indian Wells – again a Premier Mandatory/Masters Series 1000 combines event – the prize money distribution is exactly the same for the men and women, from the winners down through the first round losers. To opine that men deserve more prize money is one thing. To claim that such a practice is already widespread is ludicrous.
Of course, one would be remiss in overlooking the most eye-catching quote of the article:
“To deprive Federer of prize income by handing it to female players is not short of daylight robbery.”
Perhaps it might have been wiser to choose a less obscenely wealthy player as your disenfranchised subject.
In any event, Syed concludes with this:
“The campaign that feminists ought to be embracing is that of getting more women (and men) through the turnstiles to watch female sport. Twenty years ago, most fans preferred women’s tennis matches to men’s, which were dominated by serve and volley, with few rallies. Steffi Graf and Navratilova, on the other hand, offered marvelous, compelling contests. Their superstar status was reflected in annual earnings that, in many cases, eclipsed the men. There was nothing sexist about this. There was nothing underhand. In fact, they deserved every penny they earned.”
This is an impossible claim to make without substantial evidence. It’s no secret that there are plenty of people who like both men’s and women’s tennis. There are stars in both game that fans can embrace. There are people who will pay more to watch Roger Federer than almost any female player, but at the same time, there are people who will pay more to watch Serena Williams than almost any male player.
He also implies that women today don’t presently deserve every penny they earn on the court. He provides no argument as to why, only saying that women ought to be obliged to cross-subsidize. It is enraging that Syed wants to write such a long-winded article, much of which marginalizes women’s tennis players, without providing any type of valid reason or evidence as to why women’s tennis should be treated as inferior to men’s tennis.
It’s only right to end such a rebuttal with a quote by Billie Jean King, the woman who pioneered equal prize money in tennis, and whose words still ring true today: