Today, men and women are compensated more equally in tennis than in any other major sport, but the annual prize money paid to the top 100 earners on the men’s and women’s tours still roughly mirrors the pay difference in most American workplaces. In last year’s Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio, for example, Roger Federer earned $731,000 for winning, while Serena Williams received $495,000—68 percent of Federer’s prize—for her victory the same day.
That has led to some heated arguments. Last spring, Raymond Moore, the director of the BNP Paribas Open tournament in California, publicly challenged the notion of equal pay. He argued that women shouldn’t get equal money because they don’t bring in as much revenue for the sport. (Revenue is the overall money generated by a business.)
“If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport,” said Moore.
Serena Williams, one of the world’s most popular athletes, responded to Moore, who later resigned as tournament director. “We, as women, have come a long way,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to drop to our knees at any point.”
Other pro sports have even greater pay discrepancies—but also huge gaps in terms of how much revenue the athletes bring in. The average base salary in the NBA last year was $5.8 million, compared with $77,000 in the WNBA, the women’s pro basketball league. The NBA’s revenue last year was $5.18 billion. The WNBA, which played its 20th season this year, doesn’t release its finances, but estimates put its revenue at about $35 million.
In the case of U.S. soccer, however, it’s the women who have more fans. The federation’s financial estimates for 2017 project the women’s team will generate about $9 million more than the men’s team.
“The facts are out there; we’re generating money,” says Lloyd. “And now we’re fighting for what’s right, and that’s equal pay and opportunity.”
“We’ve been successful,” she adds, “and we have leverage now. It’s about helping the next generation of female athletes.”