USGA Increases Women’s US Open Purse; Still Discriminates

USGA Increases Women's US Open Purse; Still Discriminates

The USGA recently announced that it is increasing both the women’s and the men’s US Open purses by $500,000. The Women’s US Open purse now is $5.5 million, with $1 million going to the winner. The men’s purse is $12.5 million, with $2.16 million to the winner. It is a nice gesture, but in my mind, the disparity still is unconscionable. The USGA needs to pay its mens and womens championships equally.

Critics will immediately jump on this and say “But the men get better ratings and therefore more income.”

It is a straightforward argument, and it is wrong — both factually and morally.

People who make that argument are confusing the PGA TOUR and LPGA with the USGA. A disparity in purses between the PGA TOUR and the LPGA is indeed a matter of ratings and advertisers. The two tours are separate entities, with separate management, separate tv contracts, et. al. There is nothing wrong with this. The market speaks.

On the other hand, the US Open and Women’s US Opens are run by a SINGLE ORGANIZATION: The USGA. Fox pays the USGA $93 million a year for the rights to broadcast its golf championships. There are not separate contracts for the men’s and women’s championships. Fox did not lay out a provision that the men be paid twice what the women get. Fox does not care how much the USGA pays out. I actually suspect Fox would be delighted to brag about funding the first equally paid championships in golf history. It would do wonders for that network’s reputation.

In the end, there is simply a pot of money and from that, the USGA has made a conscious decision to pay the women half of what the men receive.

“But the men have more sponsors …”

This argument is irrelevant. If a sponsor pays $1 million to put up a tent at the men’s US Open, they care not a whit if all, some or none of that money goes to the men’s purse. All they care is that they get a tent. No sponsor puts up a sign saying “100% goes to pay the players” or will declare that they intend none of their money for the women. If a corporation buys an ad during the broadcast, the money goes to Fox, which has already paid the USGA. So long as the ad shows during the men’s tournament, it doesn’t matter what Fox or the USGA do with the money.

There are a couple of parallels here. Racists in the bad old days argued that it was ok to give white schools more money because white folk pay more taxes. Hopefully, we have settled that line of thinking once and for all. Unequal input does not absolve an organization of the need to ensure equality on the other end.

The question also has been resolved at the collegiate level. Football and men’s basketball clearly generate the vast majority of revenue in athletic departments in sponsors, tickets and television. And yet, schools are required to offer an equal number of scholarships to men’s and women’s sports.

No, the USGA is not strictly an educational institution (although they do indeed provide educational opportunities). But the USGA does enjoys a 501(c)3 non profit tax exemption from the US government. Bob Jones University lost its 501(c)3 status for racial discrimination, so a precedent exists for withdrawing that tax status when an organization operates against the larger public interest.

You’re suggesting that the men should subsidize the women.

Sort of. The NFL distributes television revenues equally. So the ever-popular Dallas Cowboys in essence subsidize the perennial, unloved losers, the Detroit Lions. The NBA has shared tv revenues with a non-existent team since 1976.

Paying women equally would not really be revenue sharing or a subsidy, tough. Since — once again — the money is coming out of the same pot, it is more like a husband and wife agreeing that both can spend equally out of a joint bank account, even though one partner makes more money.

“But no one wants to watch the women play …”

I see this as a “chicken or egg” issue. Do the women get less money because they get fewer viewers? Or do the women get fewer viewers because the USGA has told people that they aren’t worth as much as the men? Have the women gotten less television time because they produce fewer viewers? Or do they have fewer viewers because they have historically gotten less television time?

The questions are a bit of a world-view Rorschach Test.

Here’s some food for thought to perhaps help unravel this puzzle: The recent Augusta National Women’s Amateur was the highest rated amateur golf event — men or women — in sixteen years.

Augusta National told golf fans that this was an important event, and viewers tuned in. Those players weren’t the best in the world — the best were at a much-less-watched LPGA tournament in California. It was the imprimatur of legitimacy from Augusta National the raised the event — and the players.

The USGA similarly could raise the status of women’s golf and tell people that it is worthwhile by eliminating the pay gap. A $12 million purse would instantly garner attention in the way that playing at Augusta National did for the amateurs.

Ultimately, I believe that treating men and women equally is critical to the long term survival of the game. Women are 50% of the population and 20% of the golfers. As the national golf body, the USGA needs to let people know that women are welcome and wanted in the sport.

Paying them the same is a good start.

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