Lionel Messi: a man who needs no introduction as the winner of four consecutive Ballon d’Or awards in the past five seasons. A true great of the game and hence he earns a truly astronomical wage, one of the highest of all players in the game, estimated to be around £12.8 million per year (or £245000 per week). In women’s football there exists another world class athlete in the form of Brazil captain Marta. She has won an even more astounding tally of 5 consecutive women’s world player of the year awards from 2006 to 2010, and has been the runner-up consecutively since then. She too earns one of the highest wages in her sport. However, at only about £240,000 per year, she fails to earn in a season, what Lionel Messi earns in a week.
Outside of the very top bracket of pIayers, there is even more inequality in pay. In fact, the wages of average female footballers are so low that England Captain Casey Stoney earns a meagre £25000 a year, including income from the two other part time jobs she has. This is about the same that former England Captain John Terry earns in a day.
Why are female pro footballers paid so little? Surely the owners of both male and female clubs have the same incentive: to win. Therefore they would want to encourage the best footballers to their respective clubs, hence wages should theoretically be pretty similar amongst the two gender groups. So why isn’t it?
To answer this question we must first ask what a footballer does for the club that hires them. To put it simply, their job is: to play well on the pitch and hence drive up the incentives for the club to be paid higher sponsorship; achieve more ticket and merchandise sales; to earn prize money and recognition for the club and its owner. As the best footballers are likely to lead and drive their teams towards these desired goals, clubs seek out the best male and female players for their teams. So among both genders of players, the best players are generally paid more. And since the beautiful game has its own gender specific standard of what constitutes being ‘good’ at football, it makes little sense at all to say that male footballers are paid more as they are better.
Male footballers primarily receive their extortionate pay as men’s football is quite simply a bigger business than the women’s game. In England for example, the Barclays Premier league has an average attendance over 60 times that of the Women’s super league, where average attendances linger at around 570 fans per game. This is about 60 fans lower than the average attendance in the Skrill north (half of the men’s 7th division for those who don’t know).
With such large sums of fans’ money at stake, bidding aggressively for the player who is in top form at the moment makes economic sense for the male teams. Widely watched football television programmes such as ‘Match of the Day’ and ‘Gillette Soccer Saturday’ have enormous influence over football fans, particularly in a day and age where football is growing exponentially as a world sport. There are vast numbers of new followers who could still be persuaded into following a team, buying memberships, merchandise and most importantly the tickets. As a result of this massive amount of spending from consumers all over the globe, profits for football clubs are pushed up, who then pump these new found funds into their male teams. Those who can capture the attention of new fans against such a crowded background are worth their weight in gold. In fact, Christiano Ronaldo was bought for sixty times his weight in gold from Manchester Utd. It was obviously quite the sum.
The value added by hiring a top female player pales by comparison, few can name a female club or player, and even fewer follow a team. If a women’s team hires a good player, they will bring in additional revenue, but nothing near to the additional revenue brought in when a men’s team buy a slightly better player, particularly when they may buy a national star from one country who may never play for the club but will reap in sales of the club’s merchandise in their home nation.
Players are also hired by external companies to sell their products, such as Nike football kit or BT sports packages. There are few female footballers hired for this again due to the measly size of the women’s market for these products.
In the short run, it is unlikely that female players will earn anything close to their male counterparts. However, with growing attendance figures and investment into the sport it is highly possible that eventually, in the long run, there may be slightly more equality in pay between the two groups.