Equal Pay in the LPGA

Following U.S. Soccer Win, Equal Pay Timely for Women’s Tour

I don’t know how the pay gap between men and women shakes out in other countries, but the USA has grandly failed to enter the 20th century, much less the 21st. In most workplace arenas, the equation is fairly simple – that person did that work for us, and this is what we pay for that work. To add “oops, it was a woman, cut such and such a percentage off that” is ridiculous, unethical, not to mention embarrassingly Medieval. Equal pay from the corporate cubicle to the classroom and a million points in between seems to me a no-brainer.

Things get tricky when we get into arenas connected to entertainment, in which the actual business is based on public interest and response. That business is free-lancing, and earns what it earns. The reality of that, however, is not so cut and dried.  The American women’s soccer team just blew the reality of revenue-generated pay out of the water. They produced more than the men’s team that can’t seem to get itself out of the blocks, and are still making considerably less, including bonuses. Where leadership in international soccer isn’t in a big hurry to discuss it, the head guy at the LPGA is more than happy to oblige, because he’s out there fighting for his tour, and winning.

Michael Whan, 53, has been at this since around 2010. His number of events has increased by 50%, and the size of the purses has increased by 80%. He went global, he says when going global “wasn’t cool,” and made it work. Now, he’s working on network television,  an industry that gives the men thirty-nine weeks per year,  and 65 million. The women get five weeks, and 6 million.. Whan claims that if he can find a network executive to give him two years of that kind of schedule, he’ll work it without pay.

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In terms of equal pay, the LPGA is in the process of doing what the women’s soccer team did. It has to be incremental, because the golf tour  is a gradual, season-long spectacle, while the soccer folks take on the world in over a brief time period. Fans love that “taking on the world” stuff. LPGA star Cristie Kerr  has some thoughts on equal pay, and admits that  things can’t be equal until more of a fan base is generated. In a sense, it hurts her to see the comparative luxury lavished on players and caddies over on the men’s tour. She is nevertheless adamant that it has to happen wherever possible.

Historically, the  founding players who made the LPGA great got a late start, after years of Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen and the like. The Big Three didn’t do the pocket book any harm, either.  During those years, men took up most of the week, with a ladies day sprinkled somewhere in there at the local course. Men and women are both fiercely competitive, but men’s brains respond to the drug a little differently. There’s a little heavyweight championship fight in there somewhere when a 350 yard plus swinger gets up to take on his buddies.
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The problem of equal pay is not ascribable only to generated interest. There remains a component of “men play this game” and in the case of women, “aw, isn’t that cute?” This comes from people who don’t watch, or they would see the level of competitive tension. The world soccer win was brutally athletic, not cute – and the same goes for an LPGA win, a four-day nerve-wrecker.

Signs continue to be good for the LPGA. The AIG Women’s Open is raising its purse, as are others., The BNP Paribas Open, where both men and women play, is making equal pay a reality. The tour has a true champion in Whan. For other sports commissioners, if you’re women’s teams are succeeding and you’re still holding out on them, you’ve got to go.

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