Its common knowledge that female footballers earn less than their male counterparts, despite playing the same game. From the outside, some may say that this is a gender pay gap caused by gender inequality. Others may say that male footballers are so much better than female footballers that it is worth the pay difference, or that men’s football is so much more popular that female footballers cannot earn more because the audience isn’t enough. The latter is probably most true, but there are also elements of inequality when looking closely at the sport.  

Why Female Footballers Earn Less

The average Women’s Super League attendance last season was 965, just 2.53% of the Premier League’s 38,168 average (despite the average WSL ticket costing 1/6 of the average PL ticket) and lower than that of non-league South Shields, Scarborough Athletic and Weymouth in the seventh tier of English men’s football. Women’s football simply does not get the number of fans in attendance as a lot of men’s football, which means it is difficult for clubs to earn revenue and pay the players a high wage.  

As well as this, although a record 11,700,000 people in the UK tuned into England’s 2-1 loss to the USA in the World Cup semi-final, televised women’s football is far less popular than men. 26,500,000 tuned into the 2018 World Cup semi-final between England and Croatia. The difference is pretty big. For club football, the WSL matches attract an average of 57,000 viewers, 937,000 less than Premier League matches which are broadcast on the same channel. Worldwide, the Premier League is broadcast in 156 countries to a potential TV audience of 4.2 billion people, which is just incomparable to the viewing demand of women’s football at the moment.  

A football club’s sources of income come from supporters, broadcasting and competition winnings. All of these are essentially dependent on the popularity of the club and how many people want to watch the game, whether in the stadium or on TV.  

How much Less do Female Footballers Earn?  

A 2017 Sporting Intelligence salary survey which studied only the basic wage of footballers (excluding sponsorships and international team funds) found that the average basic annual first-team salary was 9,868% greater in the Premier League than in the Women’s Super League, which is the women’s top-flight league in England. In 2018, Lionel Messi earned a total of €130,000,000, while that year’s female Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg earned just €400,000.

  • The Women’s Super League

The Women’s Super League (WSL) only went professional in 2018, meaning before that, the players played part-time and often had another job alongside football. This is not uncommon at all, and when you watch the World Cup, you’d do well to spot professional players. Most players, aside from the USA team, England team, and the best players from other European nations, will earn a very small amount and will certainly do another job which they probably earn more money from. In 2017 FIFPro – the World Footballers’ Association – surveyed 3,600 footballers who play in both a top division and with their national teams. The results showed that only 18% perceive themselves as professionals. 76said they combine their football activities with studies and side jobs, which underlines just how difficult it is for women to make a living out of football. 

  • Liverpool Women’s Team

Liverpool Women’s team, despite the men’s team having dominated the Premier League and winning the Champions League the season before, were relegated meaning they are playing in the Women’s Championship for the 2020/21 season. The club has received criticism for this as there has been very little investment by the club, meaning the training and playing facilities were poor, resulting in many postponed games and attracting lower standards of players.

  • Olympique Lyon Women’s Team

This is in contrast to Lyon, who have invested a huge amount into their women’s side.  They have now won 4 consecutive Champions Leagues, and have a team which includes the best players in the world. Aulas says that the Women’s team “almost breaks even and allows OL to win titles and also gain a considerable international reputation.” Not a bad investment to make for a football team, and many others are likely to follow suit. It is estimated that advertising and broadcast revenues will continue to increase.

How much do International Female Footballers earn? (compared to Male Footballers)

We know footballers get paid by their clubs, some an obscene amount per week, but do they get paid for representing their country? Well, England mens team players receive an appearance fee, which is around £2000-£3000. However, since 2007, England players have donated this money to the England Footballers Foundation, which has distributed more than £5m to charities. However, England players also get a bonus for winning competitions, although this is not money that has been paid out in recent years. The good thing about English football is that female footballers earn the same for England. Brazil also do this, alongside Australia, Norway and New Zealand. However, the differences between the pay-outs from FIFA is huge. You could argue that the men’s game is viewed by more people and therefore brings in more revenue, but this is not necessarily the case in every country.  

The Inequality between Male & Female Wages 

The USA national team have been very outspoken when talking about inequality between the men’s and women’s international football team, and have even taken legal action. The USA women’s team have been World Champions 3 times and are currently the best international women’s team in the world. Compare this to the men’s team, who have never really made a significant impact in the tournament (except in 1930 where they finished 3rd), and they look as if they have zero chance of winning the trophy anytime soon. Despite this, the team and players receive half the income of the women’s team.

  • The USSF

The USSF (United States Soccer Federation) admitted that it pays its female player employees less than its male player employees and has claimed that market realities are such that the women do not deserve to be paid equally to the men. Despite this, the women’s team earned more profit, played more games, won more games, earned more championships, and more often than not, garnered higher television audiences in previous years. This, therefore, can only point to gender discrimination.

  • Ada Hegerberg

However, it is not just about finances. The best female footballer in the world in 2018, who has since suffered with injuries, Ada Hegerberg, refused to play for her national team. She gave up playing for Norway in 2017, and even missed a World Cup due to the discrimination she felt whilst playing for the team and the conditions in which they have to play. Norway committed to playing male and female players the same amount, however Hegerberg still refuses to play. This is because of the facilities that the women’s team have, including the attitude towards them and conditions in which they have to play, is in Hegerberg’s opinion, still substandard to the men’s game.  

Conclusion

The argument of inequality is a complex debate when it comes to female footballer earnings. Of course, the demand to watch club football, stadium attendances, and worldwide following between the games is incomparable at the moment, meaning that football teams could never equal the pay of male counterparts. However, most female footballers aren’t asking for this. Instead, the female game wants equal pay for international games, particularly when the women’s team performs better and even creates similar revenue. However, the biggest argument is that women’s football just does not get the investment in order to grow.

Both from football clubs and international institutions, the women’s game would have much more room to grow with proper investment in training facilities. The England women’s national football team striker Toni Duggan also pointed to this fact. “Equality for me is having a pitch to play on and hot showers in the changing rooms before we talk about the money we get.” The women’s game is distinct from the men’s despite being the same sport, so surely the best players in the game should be provided with the top of the range facilities, especially with the money available in the game.