Tennis takes the cake when it comes to the most affluent female athletes around the world. Serena Williams tops the charts, reigning in over $29 million each year for a total net worth of $180 million dollars. Maria Sharapova is not far behind her, earning around $10 million each year for a net worth of $135 million. These numbers shift throughout the years based on winnings and endorsement deals, but you get the point–these women are extremely talented and their eight-figure salaries show it.
There are outliers in the equation like former NASCAR driver, Danica Patrick, professional golfer, Annika Sorenstam, and WWE fighter, Rhonda Rousey, who are also worth millions–but notice a pattern here. All of these individuals participate in individual sports. The world of women’s athletics is yet to find a formula that rewards women who play team sports like they do women who stand alone.
For comparison, consider Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, or Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi of the WNBA. All of these women are well known and widely respected names in sport, yet each of their net worths falls under $6 million dollars.
No question it is more difficult to stand out when playing a team sport. Tennis players, racecar drivers, golfers, UFC fighters–they all shine on their own, bring viewers on their own, and therefore, don’t have to share the love when it comes to prize money.
Now, Let’s compare the men. No. 1 ranked Rafael Nadal, like Serena, is worth $180 million. Lebron James of the L.A. Lakers, however, is worth $450 million. So, we cannot point fingers at individual stardom in the women’s game if this is the case on the men’s side.
Forbes exposed the discrepancies between men’s and women’s sports in 2019, as author Olivia Abrams wrote, “The top WNBA salary was $117,500 last season, compared with $37.4 million in the NBA. The team salary cap for the National Pro Fastpitch softball league is $175,000; the Boston Red Sox will split $227 million in 2019. ‘The Yankees bat boy salary is more than my professional softball contract,’ NPF player and U.S. women’s national team member Delanie Gourley wrote in a since-deleted tweet.”
There is water to be held in the fact that the women’s game does not attract the viewership and therefore, sponsorship and endorsement deals that men’s games do–But this largely comes down to visibility and resources. Women are not given equal air time on major sports networks nor are they provided with the same abundance of medical staff or strength and conditioning coaches that a majority of professional men’s leagues receive.
If you find yourself falling toward the argument that women don’t draw the same number of eyes in the crowd, keep in mind that women have only received equal funding at youth, high school, and collegiate levels since the passing of Title IX in 1972. Serena Williams and Danica Patrick may seem very well off, but the rest of women’s sports is still climbing–help lift them up.