On the weekend I did “Half the Road” as part of the Threshold Block that I am doing over four weeks. It’s the second time that I’ve watched this video and was as gobsmacked as I was the first time about then UCI VP Brian Cookson’s evasions about why professional women cyclists don’t receive anywhere the same support as the men and why they don’t/shouldn’t compete in the Tour de France.
But wait - the video was made in 2013, maybe things have changed in the past decade? A quick search suggests some improvement but a long way to go. While there have been increases in a basic salary, many riders are still either riding without a salary and/or paying for equipment and safety items that should properly be supplied by a pro team. The Tour de France Feminin comprised 8 stages and 960 km compared to the men’s 21 stages and 3400 km. We’ve moved on from the 1960s when some feared that a woman running more than 800 m would endanger her uterus, but the UCI still seems unable to grasp the significance of the performance of female endurance athletes like Chrissie Wellington.
While I certainly agree there is a long way to go, I am compelled to point out the economic reality when it comes to compensation disparities. I will use the US NBA compared to the WNBA because those numbers are readily available.
2022 Revenue NBA = $10 Billion; WNBA = $60 Million (plus $10 Million from the NBA).
Average attendance NBA = 17,184; WNBA = 5,679
Average ticket price NBA = $94; WNBA = $47
Average TV viewership for 2022 finals NBA = 12.4 million; WNBA 412,000
I am of the opinion that we all too often look at the disparities and ignore the causes. I have watched women’s cycling events and they are every bit as interesting/compelling/ exciting (choose your descriptor) as the men’s, when I can find them. This is where I think women’s cycling has an advantage over many other sports. With all due respect, I simply don’t think that women’s basketball is as good a product as the men’s.
I believe the core issue is how do we get women’s sports more exposure? With that exposure, the quality of the product from the revenue generation perspective will sort itself out. Some sports will rise to equal status (see tennis) and others I am afraid will not. Look at gymnastics where women’s competitions are far more watched than men’s. Sports in the context of revenue generation is entertainment. You can’t force people to like a movie for example just because a specific actor or actress is in it.
The single largest viewership of any sporting even in the world is the Tour de France. It would be much larger if it weren’t so difficult to find here in the US. I have never been able to see the Femmes TdF here in the US.
This is a long winded way of saying yes, there is still a problem here. While you can’t force people to watch, spend money on, or otherwise support any event the same as they do any/every other, we need make sure people have the opportunity to do so. Today, it can be very difficult to even find some women’s sports to have the opportunity to decide if you want to spend your entertainment resources (both time and money) on. That is the problem we need to focus on IMHO.
By coincidence I did Half the Road today. Would love a sequel too see where things stand today.
First a major disclaimer: Kathryn Bertine is a near and dear friend.
Second, there’s a pentagram that spells out why Womens’ cycling is where it’s at: Media won’t pick it up because there are no star teams. There are no star teams because there are no races. There are no races because there are no major sponsors. There are no major sponsors because there are no viewers. There are no viewers because there there’s no media. There was and remains a major change to this: GCN/GMBN. They cover racing like nobody else. Sadly, WBD decided to kill GCN+ and the GCN app. Hopefully, someone will pick up these races.