Saturday, April 2, 2016

Equal Pay for Unequal Returns

Let me start by saying I am totally supportive of equal pay for equal work. Two people doing the same job, with the same education, the same experience, and in the same region (I.E. one isn't in rural Arkansas and another in San Francisco) deserve to make the same money. One shouldn't make more or less because of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or anything not of their own choosing.

However; that goes out the window when it comes to the entertainment industry.

Here's a fictional story to help everyone understand the economics of entertainment.

Taylor Swift spends 100 hours working on a new record. She has 9 writers, producers, and musicians working with her. 1000 total hours of labor go into this record. She releases it. It sells 8 million copies at $12 a pop, bringing in about $96M in record sales alone. That's around $96,000 per hour spent working on the record.

The Down-home Singers, a female folk quartet spend 100 hours working on a new record. They have 6 producers, musicians, and other people working with them. 1000 total hours of labor go into this record. They release it. It sells 80,000 copies at $12 a pop. Bringing in about $960,000 in record sales alone. That's around $960 per hour spent working on the record.

Do you believe that the Down-home Singers should be compensated the same as Taylor Swift and the people who worked on her record? They put in the same work. Hell, I'm willing to bet there are 80,000 people who will say they put in better work during those 1000 hours than Taylor Swift. Her album was pop garbage; this folk stuff is amazing, heartfelt, and genuine.

No... Taylor Swift got millions more returned on her time investment, so she is rewarded for it.

Taylor Swift sleeps on a mattress stuffed with shredded $100 bills while the Down-home Singers sleep in a Red Roof Inn while they tirelessly tour the country promoting that record.

That is how entertainment works.

I spend 10 hours painting an intricate lifelike portrait that sells for $1000 you spend 10 hours bashing your paint soaked hands against a canvas that sells for $10,000. You get more money than me.

It's not just music and painting; sports are also entertainment.

Before I go any further I want to make something clear. I love women's soccer. I love the United States Women's National Team (USWNT). They are a lot of fun to watch and I feel like I know all those players and their abilities better than I know the men's team, who are miserable to watch. The following is in no way meant to be me disparaging the women's team, their talent, or their success.

Just this week the USWNT filed a case against the governing body of U.S. Soccer regarding what they feel is unequal pay.

The short version is this; they made more money for U.S. Soccer in the past year than the men's team, so they feel they should make the same as them. That sounds like a totally fair request. Hell, I'd go a step further and say they should make more if indeed they did bring in more revenue.

The problem is; they didn't.

A recent article confirms a lot of what I thought to be true. The reality is that women's international matches draw a little over half the attendees of a men's match. The TV ratings have an even greater disparity. This translates to less money being brought in through tickets and ad revenue.

So why then did the women's team make money and the men's team lost money?

First; it was a World Cup year for the women's team last year. There wasn't much going on for the men's team of note. I would be curious to see those same numbers for 2014 when the women had nothing and the men made it to the round of 16 in Brasil (Tim Howard's heroic 15 save performance).

Second, the women do get paid less (which is bullshit) proportionally to the revenue generated by the sport so the governing body was able to turn a profit on them. This is the result of a contract that was negotiated back when there wasn't a professional women's league, so the economics of women's soccer were more desperate then.

Here are some theoretical numbers, to help make my case:

The USMNT play a match that draws 30,000 attendees and has a million people watching on TV. Let's say the total revenue brought in is around $200,000 (this is after the other team, promoters, stadium, and what not get their mitts on it).

Let's say each player (there are 11 starters and then about 9 more depending on the tournament in reserve) gets $10,000 to play. That's already $200,000 gone. Now you have coaches, trainers, and other fees to consider. So the governing body goes into their pockets and chips in.

The USWNT play a match that draws 15,000 attendees and has a quarter million people watching on TV. The total revenue brought in is around $75,000 (this is after the other team, promoters, stadium, and what not get their mitts on it).

Before I continue, can you see the problem now with paying the players $200,000 for showing up?

But here's where the problem is... rather than getting $5000 to play (half the fans = half the pay) the women might be getting $2000 or even $1500 to play. So the player fees come to around $40,000 and there's all that money still left over.

On that I call bullshit. But can you see why they can't possibly be paid the same as the male players? They don't bring in as much money.

This isn't a gender issue on the surface. It really isn't. You could make the same argument about why the Philadelphia Phillies (the worst record in MLB last year) made more money than the Cooterville Slackjaws in AAA ball, who had a phenomenal record... but only draw around 5000 fans per game. One makes a ton of money, the other doesn't. The third string outfielder for the Phillies, who batted .075 on his way to being drummed out of the majors, is going to make more than the slugger on the Slackjaws who batted .407 on his way to the championship... because that third string outfielder is part of an organization that draws more fans and money.

Straight economics.

Where the gender issue comes in is at a far deeper level. Our nation has only a moderate appetite for women's sport. Most nations have no appetite at all, hence the U.S. reigning supreme in a sport we get destroyed at on the men's side. If the women's national team and the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) were filling up stadiums, dominating headlines, and on every channel then there would be no shortage of money to throw at the female players.

The solution is to make the numbers public and strike a deal that has the female players get proportionally the same amount as the male players. If a USMNT match brings in $200,000 in revenue and these talent-less ass-clowns get 5% of that, then that's the percentage I want to see Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, and all the way down to the third backup goalie making in relation to the profit for their matches.

As an addendum to this. If you care about women's sport; then watch it. Support it. Tell your friends to watch it and support it. Here in Chicago we have pro women's basketball, soccer, and probably other sports I don't even know about. The tickets are typically pretty cheap. Go watch them play. Cheer them on.

Don't bitch about this being a gender issue and blindly post your support on social media, but never actually participate in growing the sport and giving these fine athletes the spotlight they deserve.

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