The World Surf League took another step forward last week in its announcement that it would be instituting full prize money equality for the men’s and women’s Championship Tours beginning in the 2019 season. The WSL has done a fantastic job increasing the prize money for both tours over the past decade, especially on the women’s side.
In 2010, Stephanie Gilmore won the world title over the eight-contest season and took home a total of $91,000. Carissa Moore’s $59,000 put her second on the money list that year.
This season, with two events still on the schedule, Gilmore has already made $310,950 in earnings. Last year, all 18 full-time wahine made more than Moore did for finishing second in 2010; 16 of them made more than Gilmore did for winning the 2010 title.
It’s been a huge rise as the sport has gained visibility, advertising dollars and sponsorship rights. Now, prize money for each place is mandated to be equivalent to the men.
Since 2014, the WSL has already had a rule stating that the average prize money per surfer must be the same on both tours. Almost all competitions have had a larger men’s field than women’s field, so the total prize purse has then been proportionally larger on the men’s side, which has resulted in the disparity in the top prizes.
For instance, Gabriel Medina just earned $100,000 for his win on Sunday at the Surf Ranch Pro. Moore won the women’s event for $65,000. But each contest had an average payout per surfer of $16,883. There was $607,800 doled out to the 36 male surfers and $303,900 paid to the 18 women.
It’s certainly not the women’s fault that their tour is currently half the size in terms of competitors, but if the top prizes were to have been equal all along, then the lower results would have had to take a hefty pay cut. My understanding is that the total prize pool will now compensate for that so it won’t be an issue.
I’ve seen some arguments against this change, mostly from angry men on the internet. While I don’t really understand why they care if somebody else makes a better salary, if you dig through the (usually misspelled) insults and ramblings, the points are not completely baseless.
It’s hard to quantify how much revenue the men’s tour generates as opposed to the women’s tour. I’m sure the WSL has figures they use, but I wasn’t able to publicly find anything reliable. If the men’s tour does generate a substantially higher figure than the women’s tour, then no, it doesn’t make much practical business sense to pay everyone the same.
It is also a smaller field for the women to compete within. Again, that’s not their fault. They’re not choosing to have only 18 competitors on tour. But it is the way it is. Winning an event with the 36 best surfers and an extra elimination round is going to be more difficult than winning an event with the 18 best surfers, regardless of gender.
I agree with that sentiment, but it really shouldn’t carry any weight in this discussion. Just because something is more difficult, doesn’t always mean a person should be paid more for it. I’m sure it’s harder to throw sticks into a live bear’s mouth than it is to shoot a basketball. That doesn’t mean anyone would pay to watch it. It’s really about monetizing the skill, whether that seems heartless or not.
There was a conversation earlier in the year about basketball salaries because one WNBA player commented on LeBron James’s new contract and how minuscule the women’s salaries are in comparison to the men’s. That’s a completely different argument because the dollars the WNBA deals with are virtually nothing compared to the NBA. The league generates very little revenue and receives the bulk of its advertising and funding from the NBA umbrella.
The WSL is in a very different situation. It’s been made clear that fans are interested in the women’s tour and are increasing year to year. They will come out to see their favorite surfers in person and to be a part of the atmosphere. They will watch the live stream events and follow individual surfers’ accounts on social media. The women are a huge draw and the tour, as a whole, would suffer greatly without them.
Pay equity is terrific PR for the WSL. Whether it’s actually smart business is not really for us to say. But if there’s money to be made, I’m always happy when the athletes are the ones making it.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.