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Gender Equality in Sports: Analytics vs. Social Issues..by Shivum Taank and Russell Hodge

As we round the corner from May into June, sports fans across the world will be aware that Britain’s most iconic sporting event is just a few weeks away: Wimbledon is nearly upon us. The world’s foremost tennis tournament is less than a month away, but it represents something greater than Britain’s sporting heritage and a global celebration of sporting talent; Wimbledon represents a closing of the gender gap.

This year will mark 40 years since Billie Jean King last won Wimbledon (the sixth time she achieved such a feat), and 42 years since she successfully helped to establish the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), which ensured that men and women would receive the same total prize money for winning the U.S Open. This was pioneering in the world of sport; prior to the 1973 U.S. Open, no international sporting tournament formally acknowledged that men and women should receive equal prize money for winning; since then, much has changed.
 
 
Figure 1. shows the gap in prize money awarded to men and women for winning Wimbledon over time; one can see that, as of 2007, the gap that once existed between the prize money awarded to the Men’s and Women’s Champions has been closed. However, those familiar with men’s and women’s tennis will be aware that the two formats differ in structure; the rational thinker would survey the situation, and, after determining that men play between thirty-three and sixty percent more tennis than women, there should be a gap in the prize money awarded to the respective victors of the Championships. Equally, another rational thinker could say that the value of the prize is for winning the Championship alone, not for how much time is spent on court.

There is a clear divide in what the rational measure for prize money in sport should be, and what athletes are actually awarded. A calculation of suitable metrics can identify just how broad this discrepancy can be.



Figure 2. illustrates the difference in the duration of the past seven Men’s and Women’s Wimbledon Singles Finals. Each year, there was a notable divide in the length of the championship final, depending on whether it was the Women’s Final, played on Saturday, or Sunday’s Men’s Final; over the last seven years of the Wimbledon Championships, the Men’s finalists have played, on average, two hours more tennis in each final than the Women’s finalists have played. Last year’s finals saw Petra Kvitova, the Women’s Singles victor, brush aside her opponent, Genie Bouchard, in under an hour (55 minutes), whilst Novak Djokovic’s battle to overcome Roger Federer fell just short of the four-hour mark (3 hours, 56 minutes). Similarly, the last four Grand Slams have seen a one and a half hour difference between the lengths of the Men’s Finals and the Women’s Finals. For the amount of hours spent on court, it appears the male athletes are left short-changed compared to the female tennis players when handed their end of tournament cheques.

An assessment of the amount of tennis played throughout the Wimbledon championships provides further evidence that more is demanded of the male athletes than the female ones. The two 2014 Men’s Finalists, Djokovic and Federer, had to play an average of 1.57 more sets of tennis per round in each of the seven rounds of the tournament than their female finalist counterparts. The gap in sets played by these finalists is illustrated in Figure 3.



Broadcasting figures also seem to advocate the practice of paying the Men’s and Women’s Champions different amounts, based on the revenue generation gap between the two formats of the tennis they play. The 2014 Wimbledon Men’s Final attracted 10 million viewers on the BBC during its live broadcast on the Sunday (a figure that is significantly boosted when Britain’s Andy Murray is on screen); Saturday’s viewing figures for the Women’s Final equated to a total of 3.1 million viewers; similar viewing ratios exist for ESPN and Channel Seven (an Australian television channel). It appears that for broadcasters that rely on high viewing figures to drive revenues up, the Men’s Final generates more revenue than the Women’s Final does. It is these viewing figures that enabled ESPN to pay roughly £24 million to buy rights to broadcast the Championships in 2014 in America. The selling of broadcasting rights generates over half of the Wimbledon Championship’s revenues (£80 million). It would appear, then, that the men’s format is driving Wimbledon’s continued profitability to a greater extent than the women’s tournament has done in recent years.

The metrics seem to point in favour of the Men’s victor being paid a sizeable sum of money greater than the Women’s champion; and yet we see equal pay each of the four Grand Slams played across the world; why?

The explanation speaks of something which is pertinent across many sports: the issue of gender equality on a high profile stage is superseding the relevance of these metrics. Most professionals, both men and women, agreed that the gap between men’s and women’s prize money had been plaguing tennis for the best part of half a century. Irrespective of the fact that men played more tennis than women in the Grand Slams, the issue of closing the gender gap in the public arena took precedence. A BBC Sport study recently revealed that there is still a significant gap, globally, in how much the victors of competitions are paid based on their sex; the article quantifies these gaps, identifying where there is still work to be done in promoting gender equality in sport.

A final thought; tennis, alongside many other sports (see BBC Study article), has set aside the concept of performance related pay in order to promote equality amongst all its athletes, regardless of their sex, in an open and public forum. However, in the UK labour market, women earn 19.1 percent less than men per hour despite negligible differences in capabilities between the sexes (in the EU, the average is 16.4 percent); that is to say, if we took ‘performance-related pay’ as the standard means of quantifying employee remuneration, there would be little to suggest that there should be a noticeable discrepancy in what men were paid, versus what women were paid. It would appear then that international sport is setting an example for all the world to see; if we take heed of the metrics in the domestic labour market, it is clear there is still much to be done to overcome the lasting gap in men’s and women’s pay in the domestic and global economy.

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Russell Hodge
Russell Hodge

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