Whether the U.S. women’s soccer team wins its fourth World Cup Sunday or not, it has already won big for women in sports, shattering a glass retail ceiling with record jersey sales for Nike.
Earlier this week, Mark Parker, the sports apparel company’s CEO confirmed “the USA Women’s Home jersey is now the #1 soccer jersey, men’s or women’s, ever sold on Nike.com in one season.”
Ellen Hyslop, co-founder of The Gist, a Toronto-based sports newsletter written for women, by women, said sales of U.S. women’s team jerseys underscore how “women can make revenue for companies.”
“It’s always been a question mark of whether or not women can make money in the same way that the men can. So the fact that the American women’s team is the number one selling jersey on Nike.com is amazing.”
Women’s teams aren’t just selling gear — they’re also drawing eyes. Fox, which broadcasts the Women’s World Cup in the United States, drew more than seven million total viewers for the semi-finals game between the U.S. and England on July 2.
That same game was watched by more than 11.7 million viewers in the United Kingdom, making it the most watched television event of the year, according to the BBC.
According to Numeris, which collects TV audience data, more than 600,000 Canadians watched the semi-finals game
“It’s amazing to see an entire country, [an entire nation], an entire world really all paying attention to women’s sports and women’s soccer,” said Hyslop. “You don’t see that happen day-to-day throughout a regular season of any of the women’s sports.”
The high ratings and rapid jersey sales come as some of the world’s best women’s soccer teams are fighting for equal compensation with their male counterparts.
U.S. women’s team sues
On International Women’s Day, 28 members of the U.S. women’s soccer team filed a federal discrimination lawsuit with United States District Court in Los Angeles. It was the latest move in their long-running battle with the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) for equal pay with their male counterparts.
The lawsuit claims that “despite the fact that these female and male players are called upon to perform the same job responsibilities on their teams and participate in international competitions for their single common employer, the USSF, the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts.”
In some cases, women players are making 38 cents to each dollar earned by male players, the lawsuit claims.
Both sides have agreed to enter a mediation process following the Women’s World Cup. The tournament ends Sunday in France, with the U.S. and the Netherlands battling for the championship.
The U.S. women’s team is no doubt hoping its performance at this tournament will strengthen its position in the pay negotiations.
“The American team has done an amazing job at showing that they deserve the same amount of bonuses as their men’s team does,” Hyslop said.
‘It really inspires me’
That same hope is held by younger members of the soccer community in Canada. Twelve-year -old Beatrice Medline plays competitivesoccer in Toronto.
“It’s obviously concerning that they’ve been working hard for so many years and they’re still not getting what they deserve,” she said of female players. “But I feel that hopefully in the next couple of years that their hard work will pay off and that they’ll get what they earned, they’ll get equal pay.”
Medline wants to play professionally when she’s older. And if that happens, she expects to be paid the same as men. “Hopefully more! But at least the same.”
The Canadian women’s soccer team signed a two-year compensation deal in March with the Canadian Soccer Association. The agreement covers payments made to players, as well as performance and roster bonuses for competitions, such as the Women’s World Cup. It also covers general terms relating to image rights use, player appearances, travel and accommodation, according to Soccer Canada.
Hyslop said it is important for young female athletes to know there is a future for them that includes fair compensation.
“We know that by the age of 14, women are dropping out of sports at double the rate of their male counterparts. And part of the reason why they’re dropping out of sports is that they don’t see the same role models,” she said.
“Hopefully we get to a place where a girl isn’t 14 or even 18 years old and says ‘oh I don’t know what’s next for me in soccer’ because they can’t get paid. It’s what’s next for me is I’m going to go pro so because I can support myself with playing soccer,” Hyslop said.
On a northwest Toronto soccer pitch, 11-year-old Madeline Evans said she has been faithfully watching the Women’s World Cup. “It really inspires me. I love watching them play,” she said.
She doesn’t think it’s fair the women players who came before her have had to fight for an equal wage — or even to get people to tune in.
“I think it’s cause people don’t believe in them as much as they do like in men,” she said.
While hopeful the future brings more pay equality for the Canadian and U.S. women’s teams, Evans said it won’t affect her love of the game.
“I’m for sure not gonna stop because sports is a big part in my life. So I hope more girls continue to play.”