After the Daily Show put together a segment on the equal-pay lawsuit brought by members of the U.S. Soccer team, the video clip made viral rounds online.
I've written about this issue before, and I understand that both sides of the argument can build a case based on certain facts. The women players typically emphasize (as they did on the Daily Show) that they've had far more on-field success than the men's team (more championships, more Olympic medals, etc.) and that they have recently (in 2015) been bringing in more revenue than the men's team. Those are valid points, but they don't tell the full story.
The Daily Show mentions, as a side note, that "The U.S. Soccer Federation has its own interpretation of the pay differences." I'll bet they do! Here's (part of) the other side of the story: While the women's team wins a whole lot more, and while the women have had high revenues in recent years, the men's team *traditionally* brings in more revenue, and the structure of the men's and women's compensation (when we consider salary pay vs. bonus pay and the amount of benefits players receive) is different. Ignoring these facts just makes for a one-sided version of the issue (which is par for the course on the Daily Show, but viewers deserve better).
The Daily Show did interview one person — Gavin McInnes, a Fox News contributor — who disagrees with the women's lawsuit. But it was clear the Daily Show was out to mock his point of view, rather than seriously consider it. He made one fair point about ratings (on the footage the show used), which was immediately countered by a cherry-picked data point from the women soccer players. Otherwise McInnes didn't do himself any favors… He didn't present a very tactful defense of his point of view, throwing around phrases like "you're playing a man's game." Come on. Eye roll. You don't have to think that soccer is "a man's game" to see the problems with this equal-pay lawsuit.
Importantly, if the trend in revenues is changing, the women players should make their argument on this point (and they do, in part). If the women players are bringing in more revenue than the men, then why are they asking for equal pay for crying out loud? They should be demanding to be paid more than the male players. Their pay should be a reflection of their value to the Soccer Federation, not benchmarked to the men's team in any way. It may be that the U.S. women's team members are underpaid, but that is a negotiation between the women players and their employer.
And this brings me to my main point: Different market conditions apply to men's and women's soccer. The women and men who play soccer (as is often the case in sports) are not interchangeable. While it would be easy to say that Hope Solo and Tim Howard are doing "the same job," the reality is that these two are not doing the same job in the same market under the same market conditions. I'm sure this seems unfair to some people, but from an economic perspective, the demand for men's soccer is typically higher, and this has been a major driving force behind the pay disparity. If you don't like it, buy tickets to the women's games, turn their broadcast games on your TV (to boost their ratings), and go out and buy their team gear.
The Daily Show, in an attempt to be funny (and to rile up its liberal audience), oversimplified this issue and gave it pretty unfair coverage. For fairer coverage of this complicated issue, check out this analysis from the New York Times (hardly a bastion of conservativism). Like the broader issue of equal pay in our economy, the subject of equal pay in sports deserves our attention and deserves robust discussion with the presentation of all of the facts, not just one side.