Eevee’s Martin Whiteley discusses women and sport and explains why tennis is finally leading the way for gender equality…
Women’s sport has always been seen in the past as a second class alternative, but is it possible to change that outlook? Tennis has finally made it a level playing field after announcing that male and female Grand Slam winner wills receive the same amount of prize fund winnings. Venus Williams led a campaign that eventually brought the French Open and Wimbledon into line with the Australian Open and the US Open. Once that was achieved, the fights of the top male tennis players pushed both sexes prize pool up as they fought for a greater share of the revenue gained to be paid in prize money.
It is no surprise to find that the top female sports earners are tennis players. Maria Sharapova leads the way, followed by Serena Williams, Li Na and Victoria Azarenka.
The first non tennis player to feature is race car driver Danica Patrick, who now competes full-time with men in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Patrick became the first women to win the pole in the Daytona 500 in 2013, and she went on to finish eighth in the race, which is the highest ever position attained by a female driver. After Patrick comes South Korean figure skater, Kim Yuna.
Although Patrick has the opportunity to earn substantial prize money, most of her earnings – like Kim – typically come from personal sponsorship deals. In Patrick’s case that includes deals with Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, Nationwide Insurance, Tissot and Go Daddy, whilst Kim is sponsored by the likes of Samsung, Korean Air and KB Financial.
In 2012, the WTA signed a multi year deal with the MCS TV Group that covers parts of Europe and Africa. In 2013, a multi year deal was signed with SAP. Single countries are also battling to gain the TV rights for the tour. BT sport has recently gained exclusive rights from 2014 in the UK. With Laura Robson and Heather Watson showing promise, it would seem a great opportunity to capitalise on their potential – a fact not lost on Stacey Allaster, WTA chairman and CEO, who commented, “The UK has long been a fantastic market for women’s tennis, with some of the very best and most knowledgeable fans in the world, along with BT Sport, we look forward to bringing the best in women’s tennis, including Britain’s rising stars Laura Robson and Heather Watson, to the fans of Great Britain.”
With all these extra avenues available, more matches from more tournaments will now be shown to many more people. It may have taken time, but with a good strong product to sell and a great commercial team exploring every opportunity available, anything is possible.
Whilst the future for female tennis players looks extremely bright, the future for many other female athletes is anything but.
Although women’s soccer in the United States is popular in college, that has never been fully transferred to professional level. On the back of the US Women’s National Team winning the 1999 Women’s World Cup, the Women’s United Soccer Association was established and play began in 2001 with eight teams. Investors, Time Warner Cable, Cox Enterprises, Cox Communications, Amos Hostetter, Jr and Comcast Corporation each put $5 million into the pot. John Hendricks, Comcast Corporation, Amos Hostetter, Jr. and John Hendricks added another $2.5 million each. Forty million had been set aside for a five year plan, but by the end of the first season that had been spent and television ratings and attendances were well down. The players who joined the league from the start were given an equal stake, and in a desperate attempt to cut costs, took a significant pay cut in the league’s final year. Meanwhile, new players who had joined saw 30% less money coming their way. Despite these sacrifices from the women, the league folded after just three seasons. In 2009, a new league called Women’s Professional Soccer was introduced with five teams and met the same fate again after three years. This time internal wrangling as well as finances were to blame.
In 2013, the National Women’s Soccer League, (NWSL), was born and again eight teams participated. This time the league was operated by the United States Soccer Federation and receives major financial backing from them. Further monetary inputs are provided by the Canadian Soccer Association and the Mexican Football Federation and all three are responsible for paying the players salaries. As the NWSL enters it’s second season, it will be hoped that it will be able to continue its growth whilst offering a reasonable amount of security for the leading players and providing a platform for young talent. In England, the Women’s Super League, which is about to start its fourth season also follows this approach and is run by the football Association.
Other sports have also gone down this route. The Women’s National Basketball Association, (WNBA), is closely associated with the National Basketball Association, (NBA) and is now about to start its 18th Season. Although the WNBA had a tough opening, and the NBA had to put in up to $10 million a year to keep it financially solvent, it now offers players the chance to make between $45,000-over $100,000 per year. In England, women’s cricket is linked to the The England and Wales Cricket Board, (ECB).
Unfortunately, equality in sport it is not helped when the likes of Tam Cowan of the Daily Record print articles like the one were he claimed Fir Park (home of Motherwell Football Club) should have been torched after it hosted a women’s football match. However, sexism should never be confused with economics. Of course it would be great if the women, who put just as much hard work in, were paid the same as the men. Unfortunately, fans, sponsors and television companies will not part with their money if they do not like what is on offer. No league, female or male, has a right to succeed without hard work. The greater goal is to make sure that leagues function for more than a few years and give the ladies a base from which to perform for many years to come.
Hopefully, if they’re are run right, growth will happen automatically, after all, not even the blueprint for the WTA was achieved overnight.