Women’s sports is becoming increasingly popular day by day, sport by sport yet there is still feeling of neglect and inequality that lingers. This notion that women are not treated as equals or are not presented with the same opportunities to compete is partially true but we have been seeing several examples where women are being recognized for the hard-work put in on and off the field. Tennis is one of those sports where the female division remained competitive for the longest time and has a significant fan following. Even now the top 3 or 4 athletes are regularly competing for grand slam titles creating a spectacle for the millions of fans watching. Women’s Mixed Martial Arts (WMMA) rise to prominence has been a significant factor in women’s sport, influencing many people around the world. Women’s football has become a lot more competitive because of the increase in the global standard of women’s football. These are just a few sports where women have had a significant influence over the game and have started to become as good if not better than the men’s division. Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams have become household tennis superstars, Gina Carano and Ronda Rousey have become global phenomenon’s in WMMA and the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) have excelled in the past few years with top ranked finishes in major tournaments. Each of these athletes and teams have become one of the best in their division if not the sport overall.
Arguably one of the biggest names to come out of the UFC was Gina Carano, who undoubtedly laid the foundations for WMMA and gave them a place on the grand stage of world sporting events. Gina Carano started her career in StrikeForce and led the way for the future generation of superstars with her gritty personality, style and presence in the octagon which has made her one of the most marketable figures in women’s mixed martial arts. Ronda Rousey is the UFCs and WMMA’s answer to Gina Carano because of her exceptional marketability, confidence, style and champion-like mentality. Ronda Rousey has also taken up acting in Hollywood starring in box office films such as Fast & Furious 7. All of this has not only contributed to her personal success but has shed some light on how successful women can become.
Former bantamweight champions Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm are two of the highest earning female UFC fighters both earning approximately $500,000 per fight and have viewer ratings rising to almost 600,000 during UFC 196. Holly Holm’s recent loss to Meisha Tate was one of two headlining acts that night along with Nate Diaz vs Conor McGregor. Tate earned $92,000 which is significantly more than other fighters such as Corey Anderson who earned approximately $40,000. There is a salary disparity but UFC seems to have their numbers and salaries shared based on who has the biggest pull on each Pay-Per-View event and fighter popularity, which is how most sporting businesses work. If you are popular and are bringing in a larger crowd – you are rewarded. If Conor McGregor, who’s the most popular name in UFC right now (earned close to $1 million during UFC 196) brings in millions of fans and new viewers to a fight night then his $1 million payout is justified. Rousey, Holm and Miesha Tate have enjoyed a spell in the limelight following title exchanges and the odd media outbursts in the past few months. Rousey’s return is expected to increase viewership ratings even more so with her highly anticipated return and Miesha Tate’s title defence against Amanda Nunes in July should bring in the viewers. Overall, after reviewing the numbers, it looks as though the UFC is profiting from the WMMA matches and will continue to grow which should increase the commercial capital and investment into the UFC.
The United States Women’s National Team has become a force to be reckoned with in recent years. After becoming world champions in 2015 for the third time, the USWNT proved themselves as the best team in the world and hold the record for the most Women World Cup titles in history. Many of those players have grown over the years and have developed into the golden generation who have reached the World Cup finals in 2011 and winning the 2015 edition whilst qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn have been the backbone of the team, each athlete being the best in their position. Their influence in the United States is staggering to say the least with the level of interest in soccer increasing every year. Boys and girls are choosing to play soccer over traditional American sports creating a new viable option using these athletes as inspiration and motivation to play professionally. Their thrashing of Japan in the 2015 World Cup Final amassed a record breaking 30.9 million viewers from the United States alone, doubling their viewers from the 2011 World Cup Final that only attracted 13.5 million people. These numbers have surpassed every primetime TV show, NBA and NFL final matches that year. People are taking an interest and women’s soccer is growing at a rapid pace.
Although, there is a salary disparity between the American men and women’s national soccer team, the wage discrimination has been an underlying theme throughout these women’s careers but it goes beyond the number on a cheque, they are fighting for the equality and respect given between the men and women. Men play on grass pitches and fly first class whereas the women play on poor quality artificial turf and fly economy for every tournament. FIFA can only pay the federations the amount they receive in commercial revenue because the money gained from the women’s World Cup is nowhere near the amount amassed from the men’s World Cup thus the lower payouts. A payout of $2 million to U.S Soccer for the women winning the 2015 final compared to the $35 million the German federation received the previous summer is staggering but highlights the global interest the world has in men’s soccer. Women may be doing the same job, in the same capacity but it just isn’t as commercially viable yet, although interest is growing with the ratings and marketability of athletes.
Is There A Turning Point?
Women playing sports has historically lacked encouragement and has always been a niche that many people have overlooked and laughed at the idea of having major tournaments and professional platform for the women to prosper and improve. No wonder that the first female soccer world cup was held in 1991 as an alleged afterthought by FIFA. The likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo sell more shirts and earn more thus making men’s soccer at the very least a much more saleable commodity which makes business sense. Women in WMMA, tennis and soccer has proven that women can be successful on the grand stage and earn a decent salary but at the moment it just seems as though women’s sport has not convinced the riches of corporate giants that it can produce the same amount of money. Basketball is another major sport with similar issues. As a hardcore sports fan, this isn’t how any sport should be run. Expertise, interest and competitiveness should govern the payout schemes but till then it will become increasingly difficult to convince the few minds that make the biggest difference.