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  • Writer's pictureBruin Sports Analytics

Which Sport Do Women Make The Most Money In?

By: Sreya Muppalla and Zoe Powers

Me: “List 5 players who are or who have been on the Los Angeles Lakers without using the internet:”

Some Sports Analyst: “LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Shaq, Anthony Davis, and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar.”

Me: “Cool! Now do the same for the Seattle Storm:”

Some Sports Analyst: “Diana Taursai, Candace Parker, and maybe Brittney Griner?”

Me: “Wrong wrong, wrong”

I would imagine a conversation with Skip or Stephen A. Smith to go something along the lines of this, since neither can go without a minute of talking about who the next Jordan is or whether or not Lebron is really that great. I don’t blame them though, because those are more eye-catching titles to work with for ESPN, compared to something as mundane as Diana Taursai’s latest record breaking game or which WNBA team Paige Bueckers might join. It’s really sad that the world has come to care about recycling topics more than just trying to give newer and more worthy stories a chance.

There’s an obvious correlation between staying relevant and making money, and the WNBA falls in the lower end, as their stories don’t seem to make the front pages of magazines as frequently as NBA. So, it should not come to a surprise that WNBA players tend to make a lot less than their male equivalents, even when there are many cases where it feels wrong. I only learned from a Hulu advertisement that Sue Bird won 4 championships! That’s more than Chris Paul, who’s a lot more famous in the basketball world, will ever win. Sue Bird makes around 500k per year, compared to Chris Paul, who makes around 28 million dollars a year.

To give a little more context with actual data, above is a histogram that compares the frequency of salaries between men and women basketball players. Compares is a nice way of describing the vast, humongous, astronomical gap between the two sides. All the way on the left, all of the WNBA players make less than 3.5 million per year, when in reality, the highest is a little higher than 500k. On the right, men are making up to 30-40 million a year. Other stats that come out of the same data include, the average salary of men to be $35 million and for women 130k. Hearing about gap disparity and visualizing disparity are clearly different ways of understanding the issue.

Though the graphs depict this unequal pay in terms of basketball, it likely spreads to other parts of the sports world as well. As mentioned above, this mostly has to do with what audiences tend to respond to, which leads to more publicity from sports analysts, twitter, or merchandise. Another reason could also be due to lack of rivalries, which are built up by the fans, internet, and league itself to bring hype. In basketball, there’s LeBron vs Curry, in football there’s 49ers and in soccer there’s Messi and Ronaldo. Women's sports leagues are usually a lot newer compared to their male equivalent ones, which the public might find as sort of a “rip-off”, since the male counterparts have a well established system to put on games.

Women making less money than men is not news to this world, and sadly that disparity extends to the sports world. Rather than rehashing the same issue of payment equality, we wanted to put a spin on it: Which sport do women make the most money in?

Prior to creating the graphs, I predicted that soccer players would tend to make a lot more money than basketball players, which ended up being true as proved by the graph above. This is likely because Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and other players on the USMNT have been in the news a lot more, whether it was being invited to Taylor Swift’s tour or getting a parade in New York City after their win. It again brings us back to the point of more publicity leads to more money. Other than being in the news more often, this might be one of the few sports out there where the women’s league and players are a lot more popular than their counterparts.

Above, the chart depicts the top 3 women athletes from soccer and basketball, in which it’s shown that Carli Lloyd and Diana Taursai have the highest salaries within their sports of $518,000 and $234,936, respectively. Carli Lloyd has played for several different teams when she was part of the WPS(Women’s Professional Soccer), but during the initial season of NWSL, she finished her career as part of Western New York Flash. Diana Taurasi plays internationally as well as in the WNBA, as part of the Phoenix Mercury since 2004. Both athletes have several accomplishments under their belt, from winning at league and global levels as well. The chart also gives a better understanding of the disparity between the salaries of the two sports, with soccer leading that competition by nearly $200,000. Other than their annual salary, athletes also get paid pretty well from their sponsors. Carli Lloyd has sponsors such as Nike, Visa, Heinken, and Beats By Dre. Other than Nike, Diana Taurasi is also sponsored by BodyArmor. Due to women athletes’ low salary, and the need for them to sustain most of their athlete money all their life, sponsorships tend to be really significant and make more of an impact on their net worth, compared to their salary. Women also tend to retire early compared to their male counterparts which also negatively impacts how much they make.

The graphs highlight how drastic the differences in earnings are between tennis and golf players. As seen above, the highest tennis earner, Serena Williams, makes almost 95 million. Meanwhile, Annika Sorenstam, the highest paid golf player, makes less than 23 million. The graph also emphasizes how big the differences in earnings can be even between players in the same sport. For example, Serena Williams has made more than double what Venus Williams (the second highest earning tennis player) has made. The difference in career earnings between golf and tennis athletes does not come as a surprise as tennis receives significantly more global media attention with so many international tournaments, Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open. In addition, these differences in earnings can be attributed to the fact that prominent female tennis players, such as Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Billie Jean King have been heavily advocating for gender equality.

The graphs were split up between soccer vs basketball and tennis vs golf to account for the differences in the way the athletes are paid. In other words, because tennis and golf are both individual sports their athletes are paid per tournament while soccer and basketball (both team sports) pay their athletes yearly salaries. The graphs also examined the networth of the top basketball and soccer athletes as athletes often generate the bulk of their incomes from revenues in endorsement/sponsorship opportunities. For example, although female soccer athletes have yearly salaries of almost double the top female basketball athletes, the networth of the three highest paid professional basketball athletes is nearly double the networth of the highest paid soccer athletes.

Overall, top female athletes can expect to make the most money in tennis when comparing the salaries, networth, and overall career earnings of the top basketball, tennis, golf and soccer players. Golf comes in as the second best paid sport, yet the earnings of top female golfers is nowhere near the earnings of tennis players. The top female tennis player has made over four times what the top female golf athlete has made and the difference in career earnings between the second and third highest paid tennis athletes versus golf athletes is more than 20 million USD. These drastic differences in athlete earnings continue to be seen when examining the salaries/earnings of golf (the second best paid sport) and soccer (the third best paid sport) athletes. The top three female golfers have total career earnings in the 20 millions while the top three female soccer players typically only make around $500,000 dollars yearly. The difference between earnings/salaries of golf and basketball athletes is even more stagnant with the top three female basketball athletes having yearly salaries of $234,000. These graphs show that the differences in earnings go well beyond simply the pay gap between women and their male counterparts, but that there are large differences in the earnings potentials between different sports and even between athletes in the same sport.




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