Are female footballers paid less than professional FIFA gamers?

On the date that marks International Women's Day, we look at the major disparity between the earnings of eSport players and female footballers, who earn around £20k less than the virtual gamers.

Are female footballers paid less than professional FIFA gamers?
Image Credit: Getty Images/ Alex Livesey

It’s an own goal for professional female footballers as a study shows they are paid less than the top FIFA eSports players.

The astonishing revelation was kicked-off from a study by igaming company Casumo. It revealed that the Top 10 FIFA gamers earned an average of £55,911 in 2017 from tournament prize earnings.

While the top earners in the Women’s Super League earn “around the £35,000 mark” says Matthew Buck, director of player management at the Professional Footballer Association, speaking in 2016. 

This disparity means that high earning professional female footballers in the UK are earning on average £20,000 less than their video gaming counterparts and just 1% of the salary of a Premier League player.

When endorsements and sponsorships are taken into account, it is likely that the top eSports players are earning considerably more.

In 2017 eSports player Spencer Ealing signed for UNILAD’s eSports team. Last year Ealing was the winner of FIFA’s annual video gaming competition ‘FIFA Interactive World Cup’, and netted a prize of £143,438 ($200,000). It is unlikely that female footballer salaries will rise at the same astronomical rate.

In the ever progressive world of sport and the increased interest in women's football, earnings fluctuate, as do esports players wages.

A report by Fifpro, the World Players' Union, which represents 60,000 players globally, exposed the hardship for Women’s Super League players who don't ply their trade for the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City. It revealed that 88 per cent of players in the WSL 1, the top tier in England, earn under £18,000 a year, 58 per cent of the league's players are considering quitting for financial reasons and 87 per cent of those players surveyed do not have a retirement fund.

Women’s football has made great strides over the last couple of years, with Norway leading the charge by announcing their men's and women's international teams will be paid equally, but these recent findings further emphasise the work that still needs to be done.

There is a dichotomy between sports and eSports – and we now appear to have reached a tipping point, as there is a clear disparity in the money people who are playing virtual football are earning and the amount of money female professionals playing the sport on the pitch receive.

eSports  - What is it?

The majority of popular eSports are team-based games played in leagues or tournaments throughout the year, culminating in one final event. International competition can come with huge cash prizes, plus sponsorship deals for teams involved, with many leagues now offering regular salaries and player rights.

Mirroring its meteoric rise as one of the fastest-growing spectator sports in the world, the media are now also beginning to take notice. VAVEL spoke exclusively with Jack Stewart, esport journalist for the MailOnline – who was the first full-time eSports journalist hired by a British newspaper.

Discussing the future, Jack believes,As new generations come up with eSports it will only become bigger, we’ll see scholarships, mainstream coverage and hopefully even more events.

If you ask kids what they want to be when they’re older, more of them will say that they want to be a youtuber rather than a footballer.

eSports has enormous growth potential and as a business it is estimated to be worth almost $1.5 billion by 2020, with some players already competing for prize pods of up to $24 million.

Should eSports be classed as a sport?

However, it does have its critics, with some believing that eSports should not be considered a professional sport.

Alex Lim, secretary-general of the International e-Sports Federation is quoted, “One generation grew up kicking a ball in the backyard, the next grew up with choices that included games. We live in a digital culture that most people accept is redefining a whole range of things: sport is one of them.”

As eSports continue to gain momentum, more than 20 European football clubs have created eSports teams to compete in International tournaments in the football simulator game FIFA 18. Football clubs like Manchester CityParis Saint-Germain and Ajax believe it is a natural evolution and ‘makes sense to be a part of the action which gets closer to their fans’.

But should virtual gamers' prize money come above that of professional female athletes?

Despite the opposition, there is a general consensus among the eSport world that “if physical exertion and sheer power are dispelled, reflexes and mental agility come to the fore.”

Still, mindful of the saying healthy body is a healthy mind; many professionals spend hours in the gym to keep their brains sharp – with some players training up to 14 hours a day.

“Most won’t appreciate the skills needed like decision making, aim, reaction times etc. There are simply more gamers than ever before. We’re more exposed to content online and now younger generations are watching gamers on Twitch and YouTube instead of sport,” claims Stewart.

Equal Play, Equal Pay

However, even though the desire to be the best manifests itself in esports just as it does in traditional sports, this doesn't take away from the fact that there is a huge gulf in gender equality in football.

An article published by The Guardian in April 2017 detailing the life of 'Britain's best female footballer, Lucy Bronze' revealed that the very best players in the women's game earn around £50,000 a year, with bonuses and sponsorships included. By contrast, Wayne Rooney pocketed six times that every week during his final year at Manchester United.

Whilst, Brazilian forward Neymar's playing contract at Paris Saint-Germain will see him earn in advance of 30 million Euros for the 2017-18 season - without taking into account any sponsorships endorsements - this is more than every player in the top seven female football leagues in the world combined.

The gender pay gap and equal pay are two different things. The gender pay gap is the difference in average earnings between men and women.

Equal pay is paying men and women the same amount to do the same job and has been a legal requirement since 1970.

Women's National Teams vs National Governing Bodies

It is common knowledge that there are discrepancies in men and women’s wages in sport. High profile examples of the equal play, equal pay movement are the United States Women’s National hockey and football teams.

History was made for the US Women’s Hockey team, fifteen months after negotiations began with US Hockey, and 13 days after the team first announced their boycott of the impending IIHG World Championships, due to unfair treatment and inequitable wages.

The monumental deal that was struck between the two parties provides the players with liveable wages, equal resources and ultimately secures the future of women’s ice hockey.

The bravery and solidarity of the WNT secured a new four-year deal which increased USWNT salaries from $6,000 every four years to around $70,000 a year from USA Hockey, including the chance of win bonuses.

Following the US Women’s National Hockey Team securing a new contract, the US Women’s Soccer Team began negotiations with US Soccer, launching an ‘Equal play, Equal pay’ campaign to highlight the pay discrepancies between the women’s and men’s national teams.

The contract negotiations continued for over a year and US Soccer announced that it had ratified a five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement with the USWNT, which included: A sizeable increase in base pay for the players and bigger bonuses, potentially doubling incomes to $200,000 - $300,000 per year for some players – increasing during World Cup years.

Also improved were travel accommodation and working conditions, union control over USWNT licensing and marketing rights, greater support for the NWSL and per diems that are equal to the ones the men’s national team receive.

Recent research has suggested that income disparity between female and male athletes has narrowed vastly over the past few years - with a total of 83% of sports rewarding men and women equal prize money in June 2016. This demonstrates that although progress still needs to be made, we are heading in the right direction.