Last week, Forbes Magazine released the list of the Top 10 World’s Highest-Paid Female Athletes in 2014. This list includes prize money AND endorsements, so it is a true top-ten list. It goes as follows:
2014 Top 10 Highest Paid Female Athletes
- Maria Sharapova, Russia (Tennis)
- Salary/Winnings: $2.4 million
- Endorsements: $22 million
- Total: $24 million
- Li Na, China (Tennis)
- Salary/Winnings: $5.6 million
- Endorsements: $18 million
- Total: $23.6 million
- Serena Williams, USA (Tennis)
- Salary/Winnings: $11 million
- Endorsements: $11 million
- Total: $22 million
- Kim Yuna, Korea (Figure Skating)
- Salary/Winnings: $300.000
- Endorsements: $16 million
- Total: $16.3 million
- Danica Patrick, USA (Auto Racing)
- Salary/Winnings: $7 million
- Endorsements: $8 million
- Total: $15 million
- Victoria Azarenka, Belarus (Tennis)
- Salary/Winnings: $3.6 million
- Endorsements: $7.5 million
- Total: $11.1 million
- Caroline Wozniacki, Denmark (Tennis)
- Salary/Winnings: $1.3 million
- Endorsements: $9.5 million
- Total: $10.8 million
- Agnieszka Radwanska, Poland (Tennis)
- Salary/Winnings: $3.8 million
- Endorsements: $3 million
- Total: $6.8 million
- Ana Ivanovic, Serbia (Tennis)
- Salary/Winnings: $1.4 million
- Endorsements: $5 million
- Total: $6.4 million
- Paula Creamer, USA (Golf)
- Salary/Winnings: $1 million
- Endorsements: $4.5 million
- Total: $5.5 million
There are a few things that caught my eye. You’ll see that I highlighted the top 3 overall in red. Then I highlighted the top 3 in terms of endorsements in green. Finally, I highlighted the top 3 in terms of salary/winnings in blue. The top two (Sharapova and Yuna) in terms of endorsements aren’t in the top three in terms of salary and winnings. It’s a bit unfair to compare across different sports, as prize money varies quite a bit from sport to sport. But if we look at just tennis, Serena Williams made more than four times what Maria Sharapova made in terms of prize money, and yet her endorsements were half. Forbes also notes that Williams’ $56 million in career prize money is almost double that of Sharapova.
Why isn’t Williams as successful with endorsements as Sharapova? I think it’s pretty safe to say that Sharapova has the kind of sex appeal that is embraced en masse, not only in a conservative country like Russia, but globally. Williams, while very sexy to many people, is muscular, aggressive and also….is African-American. In fact, she is the only African-American on this list. Now, to be fair, I can think of some black female athletes that make very good money in their sport and through endorsements. However, I wonder if lighter skin and a “traditionally feminine” demeanor opens a door to the next level of global stardom and income potential?
Besides sex appeal, I noticed on this list that a female athlete can make a lot of money if she is an anomaly for her country and therefore becomes a star. For example, Forbes notes that “Li [Na] became a marketing darling in 2011 when she won the French Open to become the first Asian-born tennis player ever to win a Grand Slam singles event.” Li Na was an anomaly for China and the entire continent, and therefore people associated her with being a phenomenon. 116 million Chinese television viewers watched her win that first Grand Slam. She signed seven three-year, multimillion dollar endorsement deals with Mercedes-Benz, Samsung Electronics and several Chinese firms the following year, in addition to her Nike deal. Kim Yuna only made $300,000 in prize money this year, despite the fact that she has never finished off the podium in her entire career. While being a figure skater alone doesn’t pay very well, Yuna has become a huge star in Korea and has over a dozen corporate partners which add up to enough money to put her third place for endorsements, behind only Sharapova and Na.
Back to our 2014 top 10 list. It’s easy to look at this list and think, “Wow, women can make a lot of money in sports!” It seems pretty lopsided towards tennis though; the top three and seven of the top 10 are tennis players. Other sports have much farther to go, and even female tennis players still don’t make nearly as much as their male counterparts, in endorsements or in prize money. Also, the women on this list have been in it for the long haul, having year after year of success and a polished image, and in many cases, have agreed to play the “game” of marketing their sex appeal.
When you look at the full list of the Top 100 Highest Paid Athletes in 2014, only three women make the list – Sharapova at #34, Li Na at #41 and Williams at #55. The 10th highest-paid male athlete (Matt Ryan, USA, Football, $43.8 million) beats out Sharapova by almost $20 million. The top male athlete? Floyd Mayweather, with a whopping $105 million, NONE of which comes from endorsements. This is perhaps the most glaring example of all as to how female athletes are valued more for their “marketability” than their athletic ability versus male athletes. If you sort the list by the prize money/winnings column, Sharapova plummets 99th, ahead of only Usain Bolt. Li Na is 94th and Williams is 90th.
Speaking of Usain Bolt, he is the only person representing track and field on this list! But that discussion is for another post.
One thing is for sure, the memo still hasn’t been received that women work just as hard as our male counterparts, and yet we are still paid less and expected to market ourselves as women first, athletes second, in order to survive (for more on that, read How the ESPY’s Got Me Thinking about Feminism and Women’s Sports). Maybe if the gap in pay wasn’t so vast, I would be able to swallow this pill easier. But it’s just so blatant! We talk about how for every dollar a man makes in the United States, a woman makes 78 cents. In sports, it’s more like 25 cents!
I wonder what #100 would be on a list of top 100 highest paid FEMALE athletes. Would she break $100,000?
There has been a lot of talk about these issues over time, but change seems to come so slowly. I think we as women need to step up and support each other. For every male football or basketball game you get together and watch with your friends and family, how many female sporting events do you watch or attend? Have you seeked out local competitions featuring female athletes? It is our obligation to do this for one another. If we don’t, how can we expect anyone else to?
What else needs to change in order for women’s sports and female athletes to grow in popularity and respect?
How did tennis get so far ahead of everybody else? What can we learn from them?
I’d love to hear your ideas.