Around this time last year, excitement over the men’s World Cup was already palpable, with football fans and broadcasters eagerly anticipating the tournament a good four months before the actual event. As noted in a previous post, it is the biggest sports tournament on the planet. This year it is the turn of the women’s World Cup, which will start in June and run until July. Yet there is very little buzz so far in 2019, and the tournament will undoubtedly get a lot less media coverage than the men’s World Cup.
Welcome to the world of women’s football, an industry yearning and fighting for acceptance from football fans. The fact that the women’s World Cup receives so little attention compared to the men’s is clear proof of the massive gulf between men’s and women’s football. Headway has been made in that regard, of course, but the difference remains clear.
The most obvious gulf between the two associations is the pay gap, which is considerable, to say the least. France took home £29 million for winning last year’s World Cup, while Croatia took £21 million for coming runners up. The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) in contrast took home £1.5 million for winning the 2015 women’s World Cup. This is despite the fact that they played the same number of matches as the French champions. They are once again the heavy favourites in this year’s World Cup, bwin installing the USWNT as odds-on favourites to defend their title. Should they succeed they will be taking home a larger prize pot of £3.1 million. That’s a 100% increase from 2015. While that’s quite the pay raise, it is still a pittance compared to what the French national team won last year.
But these differences in pay aren’t just confined to the World Cup. The Guardian reports that male footballers are paid much more than their female counterparts, and the gap is both striking and saddening. Neymar Jr. earned £32.9 million during the 2017–2018 season. That figure represents the combined salaries of 1,693 female players in the UK, US, France, Germany, Sweden, Australia and Mexico.
Much of the debate explaining this massive pay gap is focused on the argument that the men’s game is so much more profitable than the women’s. While this is true, the real issue is the lack of media attention for the women’s game. The top leagues in Europe feature around the clock coverage, with multiple programmes outside of live matches dedicated to analysing and promoting the men’s game. In contrast it is only the women’s World Cup and the Olympics football tournament that gets broadcast live.
The good news is that more football fans are watching the women’s game, as the 2015 Women’s World Cup was a resounding success. 25.4 million viewers watched the final between the USA and France and proved beyond doubt that the women’s game has more than enough commercial value for female players to be given their due, in terms of pay, mainstream coverage, and overall acceptance. This year will be a good measure of how far the women’s game has come, and how far it still needs to go.