Suzette Maria Taylor is an American sportscaster for NBC Sports. She has worked for ESPN and the SEC Network. Photo credit: Creative Commons

‘Let’s get ready to rumble…’ with less pay. Gender and wage disparity in sports industry remains

6 mins read

As we run out of everything and everyone is getting sick again, more people are unemployed or accepting lower wages. Our girlfriends in the sports journalism arena are being pushed to consider both as they look at their paychecks.

Every industry has seen gaps in stable employment. Like bus driving and teaching or healthcare, sports broadcasting is currently experiencing a supply-chain crisis. From employees quitting or retiring earlier–all resulting in a labor shortage–has led to overworked and overwhelmed staff. Added to the fact that many are underpaid, the workforce deficit is compounded by pay gaps; especially on a smaller, more local scale. 

In 2020, the Bureau of Labor statistics reported News Analysts, Reporters, and Journalists averaged $66,000, ranging anywhere from $25,510 to $127,370. That said, pay disparity along the lines of sex and race heavily skews the bell curve. 

“I think in a lot of situations, it’s just assumed that men have this proprietary interest in sports, or this belonging that they’re a man so they get to be there,” explained video journalism company Timeout with the Twins’s co-founder, Brittany Van Frankfoort, to the Charlatan. She further emphasized. “And for women, a lot of the time you feel like you have to prove yourself, which isn’t fair, and it isn’t right. But it’s just how it is,”

Indeed, there is a notable pattern of folks who garner grand opportunities here–majorly, they are men. Sports has historically been a white, good old boys club, not much has changed regarding diversity in the sports industry. Hence, women are practically invisible in consideration for high-level, high-earning prospects. Worst still, the situation for Black women hopeful to rise in rank, with many dubious from the outset. 

For instance, Black women currently make nearly $1 million less than white male colleagues during their careers. Averaging 63 cents per caucasian dollar, a disparity more evident in higher-level positions. This gap exists in an alleged 94 percent of occupations. 

So, they stay stunted regarding earning potential and position advancement. Not to mention, they do not have many options as they have and still do earn less than men in most industries.

. . . .
Pay gaps is sports goes across the board—from coaching to players and even sports casters. Photo credit: Emanuel Ekstrom

Despite strides and persistence, change does not happen quickly nor is it always welcomed either. 

“I don’t think I ever thought I could do this as a living,” asserts NBCSBA’s Triples Alley postgame show co-host, Carmen Kiew. The media specialist and brand strategist continues, “Honestly the on-air situations here are not great for females. There’s barely any representation for females, women of color, people of color.”

Purportedly, there is about a two to one-third split among correspondents by sex, favoring male reporters at approximately 77.6 percent versus female reporters at 17.2 percent. Although both have the same workload, research also says women in the field earn 93 cents for every $1 earned by their male counterparts. 

Despite some arguable diversity hires– such as Kim Ng becoming the first woman general manager in any of the big four American leagues, as the head of the Miami Marlins in 2021– many contend that more must be done

“We can be encouraged by the [recent] increases [in women working in sports], but we cannot be satisfied with our overall grades,” said former Associated Press Sports Editors president, Lisa Wilson. “It’s been a problem for a long time, and it will take time to correct. And it’s still a major problem for women and especially for women of color.”

Regarding race, Zippia delineates the breakdown of representation in sports broadcasting as 73.4 percent being white; less than 12 percent are Latino; African Americans made up 8 percent; Asians at 3.5 percent; and indigenous Americans and Alaska Natives at a little more than one percent. 

Spanning the entirety of the sports industry, journalists and other women behind the scenes are joining scores of female athletes on the field like the U.S. women’s soccer team and the WNBA in the fight for pay equity

For example, players in the WNBA still make less than professional male ballers. To date, WNBA players average $80,000 compared to a mean $7 million for men in the NBA, the former being one percent of the latter. This is despite the newly increased WNBA maximum salary cap, to a little over $200,000, in 2020; a $100,000-plus increase thanks to the league’s January 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement.

As pay disparity increases, often lesser known female  analysts hang in the delicate balance of the American middle class and the virtual unemployment line. With so much money on the table, numbers show a lack of investment in the rich–no pun intended–diversity. At the same time, why do the women accept lower salaries? Unfortunately, there are not many options. 

Play the numbers

While many struggled to maintain silver screen survival during the pandemic, there are those who thrived. Basic cable sports titan and major sport entertainment employer ESPN dominate as the  face of the industry

In 2021, the top five of any broadcasts on TV were sports games. Variety noted ESPN saw an 11 percent increase in eyeballs on the screen, or 1.6 million people during primetime. ESPN2 was not far behind, seeing a 48 percent surge, even beating out the gains of the three major American leagues—the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), and National Basketball Association (NBA). 

Since the reach is so massive, advertisers monetarily compete for the space and attention. In 2021, the most-watched event in the U.S. was February’s Super Bowl LV between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs. The eventreached g 91.63 million, an enormous number as always. Accordingly, a 30 second U.S. Superbowl advertisement will run $5.5 million

If cable networks and large-scale companies are raking in large profits, then they should have the budget to augment pay. After all, sports journalists helped contribute to the 440 billion dollar sports market in 2021 as forecast by the Business Research Company. By 2025, the sports market is expected to reach the 600 billion dollar mark

To date, North America accounts for one third of the global market; making it the world’s largest. In the U.S., Forbes valued the sports market at $73.5 billion by 2019, up almost 13 billion from 2014 estimates. 

With such a fruitful pie on the table, it is simple to see why sports commentary is a viable career. Even more, if you are popular with a built-in audience. For their appeal, the Jim Romes of the sports world banks a smooth seven figures. Meaning, upwards of $30 million for the former ESPN turned radio personality. They have the money, honey. So again, why so stingy with the budget? 

Reporting live . . .

In Sports, the male majority leaves experienced women workers having difficulty attaining their worth. Coupled with the repeated proliferation of COVID and unemployment, the same is virtually true across most industries.

Although women outpace men in advanced education, they earn less. A demoralizing prospect, but it still provides the possibility of promotion and an increase in earning potential nonetheless. Many believe their experience will garner the attention of the higher-ups. Yet,this is hardly the case; especially for those of color. 

“What is commonly talked about in terms of management and potential are characteristics such as assertiveness, execution skills, charisma, leadership, ambition,” Yale finance professor, Kelly Shue explains. “These are…highly subjective and stereotypically associated with male leaders. And what we saw in the data is a pretty strong bias against women in assessments of potential.” 

Instead, ambitious women are consistently underestimated and underappreciated. Too busy coping with glass ceilings that may very well be perpetuated by the very system meant to shut women out, according to Prof. Shue. 

“Change is difficult when you’re trying to make an impact on something that has traditionally been so male-dominated,” expressed San Francisco Giants public address announcer, Renel Brooks-Moon to Mercury News. In her twentieth season, the veteran trailblazer lamented, “There of course are going to be haters, there of course are going to be roadblocks, but I could not be more thrilled to have more estrogen around [the sports industry].”

. . . .

Amidst a pandemic, there is limited money across the workforce. Seemingly worse still for the Black, and female. Withal, we probably do not need sports anchors as much as other front line professionals. However, should workers be paid the same amount for services rendered? Of course not. 

In the end, we must determine if the big boys already making the big bucks should continue to do so while their industry sistren-slowly starves.

Someone go ask Marie Antoniette, I heard letting them eat cake helps.

Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, domestic, international relations, and the African and Latin Diasporas.

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