World Cup

World Cup

I knew this would be an inevitable argument because a lot of people either don't know anything about professional sports or economics. Or both.

It seems a lot of people, including a Portland city commissioner, are up in arms that members of the USA's winning World Cup soccer team weren't paid at the same level as members of the men's team:

Questions started when fans heard how much money the U.S. Women's National Team got for the historic win over Japan.

They received $2 million.

When the men's team lost in round sixteen of last year's tournament, they got $8 million.

Sounds terribly unfair, doesn't it? Especially if you don't understand the inherent difference in the finances of the women's game vs. the men's game. Or if you live in Portland and are a fan of the Thorns, the most successful women's soccer team in the country -- which clouds your judgment a bit. But the fact is, women's soccer just doesn't generate the sort of money -- at least so far -- that the men's game does.

There is a big difference in the revenue available to pay the teams:

This years figures have not been released, but four years ago the Women's World Cup brought in almost $73 million. The 2010 Men's World Cup in South Africa made almost $4 billion. Those players got $348 million, or 9 percent of the total revenue. The women's team got a higher percentage with 13 percent, but the bottom line was still much less, $10 million.


So, as you can see, there is unfairness here -- but it's toward the men. Women got a higher percentage of the revenue than men did! In many pro sports with salary caps, percentage of gross revenues is the major determination of player salaries. It's how the whole thing works.

This sounds like an argument that will be louder in Portland than just about any other city in the country. This soccer hotbed supports the women's league like no other city. Two women's pro leagues have already failed and the NWSL averages only 4,400 fans per game -- playing in sub-par facilities in many cities. To make an argument for equal pay in this sport is premature, at best.

In most cases, the money isn't there. The major revenue generator of all sports -- a lucrative national television contract -- is absent in the NWSL.

Someday, perhaps. But there's no Title IX in the real world -- it's a law to make sure our youngsters involved in scholastic sports get fair treatment regardless of gender. But when you get to the real world, the only "fair" thing is that you hope players get a percentage of the revenue they generate.

But let's face it, there are a lot of factors that determine pay in pro sports. LeBron James makes a lot more money than some of the others on his team. Often, you're paid for what you've done in the past rather than what you'll do in a current season. Or you're paid for what you could get on the open market. You get different pay in different sports and it doesn't have a lot to do with gender.

But for those who believe there should be some sort of "living wage" paid to athletes of any gender or any sport, I'm sorry -- it isn't going to happen. Pro soccer players aren't going to earn what NBA players get paid. Pro miniature golfers don't earn the same money as PGA golfers. And WNBA players aren't going to be close to their NBA counterparts in salaries. There is no minimum wage across the board in pro sports. Each sport has its own minimum salary based on revenue but it differs due to the success of the sport. And if you want to change that, you really ought to buy a franchise in the NWSL and try paying players what Timbers players earn.

And good luck to you.