Last year, the US women’s soccer team started a much-needed debate on the pay gap between the genders in sports, specifically in international tournaments. Multiple arguments from stakeholders, fans, and policymakers came to the fore. These ranged from broadcasters’ earnings determining pay and progressive causes for equality. There was an acknowledgment that women ought to be able to fight for equality in pay and perks. All things said and done, the prize money and revenue pool for major men’s sporting tournaments still dwarf that of today’s women’s games. However for Women in UFC its a different ball game.
Ultimate Fighting Championship – which has women, although fewer compared to men, headlining the main-events of flagship shows, or Pay-Per-View (PPV) events as they are commonly referred. It has been observed that in the past few years, especially in the last decade, a few women have shown what it takes to earn equal if not more pay than their fellow male competitors, even with limited match-ups. In doing so, they have enabled discussion on feasible means of reducing the pay-gap without disturbing the otherwise skewed revenue-sharing model.
While admittedly favoring fighters who ‘finish’ (win by knockout or submission) their matches rather than slog it out over a points decision. The UFC has allowed the likes of (now retired) Ronda Rousey, Amanda Nunes, and Holly Holm to earn 6-7 figure sums.
Impressively, their likes are also the main/co-main card in PPVs, meaning theirs is the final match on the day and, as a result, the most anticipated and highest billed. This enabled them to fight for equality, for a larger if not an equal slice of the pie.
Back in 2015, Ronda Rousey said-
“I think how much you get paid should have something to do with how much you bring in. I’m the highest paid fighter not because [the promoters] … wanted to do something nice for the ladies. They do it because I bring in the highest numbers. They do it because I make them the most money. I think the money that they make should be proportionate to the money that they bring in.”
One way the UFC model has worked because bouts for both men and women in UFC can be scheduled on the same day/event, meaning the audience who pays or sits through the game watches most of the fights on the card. Popular male superstars can help those on the under-card (matches to start the event) be better paid than usual initially, till the female fighter draws enough firepower to main event a show and helps new female fighters on the under-card earn. This effective cross-subsidization of sorts has helped fine-tune a pool of well-paid female talent capable of ‘finishing’ matches as mentioned while assisting them to eventually be headline performers for future events. For her most dominant performance against Felicia Spencer, Amanda Nunes earned upwards of 450,000 dollars, while earning less than half of that in 2016 for defeating Ronda Rousey (who made upwards of 3 million dollars that fight).
Instances of this in other sports have yielded a possible way for the future. Back in March 2016, the Indian eves’ T20 cricket match against the West Indies eves was held right before India vs Australia Men’s T20 and had decent crowds turn up as well as viewership.
Smriti Mandhana, a rising star in Indian women’s cricket echoed similar views when she said,
“We need to understand that the revenue we get is through men’s cricket. The day women’s cricket starts earning revenue, I will be the first person to say that we need the same thing. But right now, we can’t say that.”
In any case, there is a clear debate on what is needed to directly address the pay gap by putting in place statutory commitments or bringing the level of competition and eyeballs up in the women’s sports arena.