Jen Brady

Australian Open delivers on pay but coverage undervalues women

The Australian Tennis Open is a beacon of equal pay in professional sport, yet commentators still undervalue women's matches to audiences.

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There may be no gender pay gap at the Australian Tennis Open but it doesn’t mean that we value our male and female athletes the same.

Listening to my car radio the other day – a mainstream channel – the presenter informed me that Australia’s own and number one champ Ash Barty had just been knocked out of the Australian Open.

For any Barty fan, this was disappointing news, but for me what made it even worse, was that this news failed to get a mention at the start of the sport’s bulletin or even ahead of the updates on the comparative progress of the male singles players.

How can it be that we have achieved equal pay in Tennis giving us equal monetary value, yet the spectator value of a home-grown world number one women’s champ is still weighted lower than the male players?

According to SportingNews, this year’s total prize money for the Australian Open is $61.95 million with the men’s and women’s singles champ set to collect $2.13 million each at this weekend’s Finals.

As far as spectators go, the men’s final is usually the most watched event and according to Channel Nine, last year’s final attracted some 1-million views more than the women’s single final.

I would expect the same result in the coverage for this weekend and that’s despite the appeal of Jennifer Brady, who spent 14-days in quarantine prior to the tournament because she flew in on a plane with someone who had Coronavirus.

The 22nd-seeded Brady, who will play Naomi Osaka in the decider on Saturday, has already won about $US1 million so far this year, which is about the same prize money as the 22nd seeded male player, Cristian Garin according to the WTA and US Open.

Of course what superstar athletes get paid in Tennis is significantly different to what other professional female stars get in other popular televised sports like Football and Basketball compared to men.

Basketball has one of the worst gender pay gaps and largely this has come about because it has traditionally been a male dominated sport, where audiences, television rights, sponsorship and competition have all contributed to increasingly upping the pay packets of male athletes creating gender gaps that can be as much as 300% or above.

According to Salary.com last year’s first pick in the WNBA draft, A’ja Wilson, earned a salary of $US52,564 for her rookie season whilst DeAndre Ayton, her NBA counterpart, earned $US5,091,500 for his rookie season

It’s the huge disparity in various sports and then the added disparity between professional and ameteur sports which causes the figures we see reported in national news via the Australian gender pay gap.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that the median full-time annual income for men that are classified as a sportsperson is $67,652, while for women it’s $42,900 – that’s a gap of $24,752.  

It’s also the huge audience differences – bums on seats and in front of televisions – that are commonly cited when rationalising gender pay differences in sport.

What’s needed is for the gender pay gap to not just close in monetary terms but in spectator value.

The mainstream media, promoters, sponsors, event organisers and audiences all have a much bigger role to play here.

If we can raise the profile of women’s sport then we have a richer field of entertainment to enjoy.

Plus we also have new and sustainable career opportunities for young generations of girls and women to participate in and thrive.

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