The Wage Gap in Pro Sports: A League Of Their Own
by John Gettings
No two professional sports organizations have done more to close the wage gap in professional sports than the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and the Women's Tennis Association (WTA). Both succeeded from established men's tours and on their own have steadily improved total purses, television ratings, and the marketability of their athletes every decade.
There were 47 PGA tournaments worth a total $131 million in 1999, compared to $43 million over 36 tournaments for the LPGA. And each tournament on this year's women's pro tennis tour is worth an average of almost $200,000 less than tournaments on the men's tour.
The difference is based on several factors. Giant television deals like the ones the PGA has with CBS and NBC help deliver tournaments to millions of people, while longtime corporate sponsors like Anheuser-Busch, IBM, and MasterCard spend the advertising dollars to sponsor new events and to reach that audience through advertisements. Most companies have not been convinced yet to make the same commitment to women's sports.
Author Kermit Pemberton, whose book Sports Marketing: The Money Side of Sports was released in 1997, says there could be a shift coming in the next century, however.
A league like the WNBA is an opportunity to pull in fans who may be turned off by the overhyped and overpaid male-dominated sports world and the attention of American business, he said.
Mainstream sports could take some lessons from so-called "alternative sports" such as surfing, which has seen unprecedented attraction to women's competition. Since 1997, the women's tour of the Association of Surfing Professionals has been sponsored by Kahlúa, a brand of coffee-flavored liqueur owned by Allied Domecq PLC.
The men's tour, meanwhile, didn't find a sponsorship umbrella to climb under until last year.