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Is There a Gender Pay Gap in Sports?

Topics: Pay Equity
The gender pay gap crosses industries, so it is not a surprise that women in sports also get short-changed. Female athletes have publicized the issue of pay disparities for decades, but women behind the scenes also earn less.

The battle for equal pay in sports started with the Women’s Tennis Association in the 1970s when a group of female athletes started their own women-only tennis circuit to protest male tournament winners getting higher pay (now a major motion picture). Today, the #SheIS movement is working to ensure that women can pursue careers as athletes without going broke by creating a network of fans who pledge to attend women’s sporting events (you can pledge your support here).

But athletes are not the only women involved in sports. Women work behind the scenes keeping athletes healthy, managing businesses, designing logos and planning events. But for the most part, these women make less than their male colleagues, regardless of whether they’re working in men’s or women’s sports.

What Is the Gender Pay Gap?

The gender pay gap is the difference in earnings between men and women. In our gender pay gap report, we find that the uncontrolled gap – the cents on the dollar women earn versus men when not controlling for various factors – is 78 cents. To illustrate how the gender pay gap shows up in supporting roles in sports and to understand how we come up with these statistics, let’s compare pay for male and female marketing managers working in sports.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

gender pay gap

When we fit a smoothing curve to the earnings reported by marketing managers in sports, we see that the pay distribution for men tends to be farther to the right. This means that men tend to earn more than women. This holds when we compare median pay between genders. The typical male marketing manager earns $60,000, while the average female marketing manager earns $53,700, a $6,300 gap.1

Sports Marketing Managers Have the Largest Gender Pay Gap

We examined four additional supporting titles in sports to see how women’s pay compared to men’s: event coordinator, athletic trainer, graphic designer and operations manager.2 This analysis included 1,357 salary profiles collected through the PayScale salary survey from May 2014 to May 2018.

Across the board, women tend to earn less than men, though the amount varies substantially across titles. Women in sports earn only 88 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. Meanwhile, there is virtually no difference between the earnings of male and female operations managers.

Job Title Female Median Pay Male Median Pay Cents-on-the-Dollar
Marketing Manager $53,000 $60,000 88¢
Event Coordinator $35,800 $38,800 92¢
Athletic Trainer $40,300 $42,300 95¢
Graphic Designer $39,800 $40,100 95¢
Operations Manager $49,100 $49,300 100¢

This analysis only accounts for job title, and does not account for differences in education, experience, skills, location or any of the other factors that determine an individual’s pay. Differences between sexes here may explain part of the gender pay gap we see in sports roles. In our full analysis of the gender pay gap, which accounts for these factors and more using the PayScale salary model, we find that women tend to make less than men across many industries, even when they are similarly qualified.

What Do We Do Now?

We applaud the efforts of female athletic organizations to raise the profile of women in sports. However, the need for equity goes far beyond the players on the court. Women throughout sports organizations and associated industries should earn as much as their male colleagues and have equal opportunity to progress throughout their organization, whether they are star point guards, talent scouts or accountants.

Workers: Know your worth! The PayScale salary survey provides a personalized salary report. Use this report to start a conversation with your employer, and work together to ensure that your pay reflects your qualifications and contributions.

Business and HR Leaders: Review your pay practices. Are there opportunities for gender or other biases to enter the process of setting pay or allocating raises? Evaluate your systems. Making sure your organization is part of the solution and not the problem requires a combination of clear communication, transparent systems and regular evaluation of your comp strategy. PayScale can help.

Notes and Methodology

  1. This graph shows the distribution of pay by gender for 80 female and 60 male sports marketing managers. The median line splits the area under the curve in half. In other words, half of each group earns more than the median while half earns less.
  2. For event coordinator, marketing manager, graphic designer and operations manager we only included respondents who said they worked in sports-related fields. We included all respondents who were athletic trainers.
Chris Martin
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