How USWNT star Alex Morgan and other women Olympians are fighting for equal coverage in sports media
Women account for 40% of all sports participants, yet receive just 4% of sports media coverage outside of major sporting events like the Olympics, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. This lack of coverage not only leads to less gender representation on screen, but it also impacts the sponsorship, endorsements and exposure that female athletes are afforded throughout their career.
To address this issue, National Women's Soccer League and U.S. Women's National Team star Alex Morgan has teamed up with three other Olympic athletes, including WNBA star Sue Bird, professional swimmer Simone Manuel and professional snowboarder Chloe Kim, to launch a new media and commerce company called TOGETHXR. The goal of the platform, according to its website, is to "shatter the often narrow depictions of women in the media with content featuring a diverse and inclusive community of game-changers, culture shapers, thought leaders and barrier breakers."
Morgan, 31, says the idea for the company came to her a while ago when she and her agent started having larger discussions about her career and legacy. But, she says it wasn't until after the 2015 World Cup series when she and other USWNT teammates started to take a stand for gender equality and equal pay that she realized just how important it was for her to create a media company geared toward women.
"I realized that there's not nearly enough media coverage for female athletes in relation to the amount of female athletes who participate in sports," she tells CNBC Make It. After doing some research, Morgan saw that quite a few male athletes were launching their own media companies, like LeBron James' Uninterrupted and Derek Jeter' The Players' Tribune, but she says no company was being launched that spoke directly to women.
"I saw how much of a blank space there was, a space that needed to be filled for something like that on the women's side that really celebrates girls and women and that shares incredible stories and that really creates an inclusive community," she explained.
TOGETHXR, which launched on March 2, will include short-form documentary style series, longer form documentaries and eventually podcasts, Morgan says. The first piece to launch on the platform's YouTube channel is titled "Fenom," and follows the story of 17-year-old boxer Chantel "Chicanita" Navarro.
"It's all going to be based around sports loosely, but we want to also include lifestyle, culture and fashion [content]," Morgan says.
The Orlando Pride star, who gave birth to her first child last May, says that overall she wants TOGETHXR's content to be "inspirational" for viewers and she wants the company to "challenge sports platforms to include, embrace and invest in women more."
"When you look in general at women's leagues around the country and around the world, a lot of times it goes back to a lack of investment in women's sports in general," she says. This lack of investment often leads to fewer revenue streams and in turn leads to less pay for women in sports.
"I think that many female athletes understand that from the start we're not going to be paid millions of dollars within our team if we don't make as much [as men]." But, when looking at the World Cup-winning USWNT for example, Morgan says it's clear that with their viewership and revenue numbers they should be getting equal pay and treatment for equal work.
In 2016 when Morgan and four other USWNT players filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for unequal pay, they cited figures from the United States Soccer Federation that showed the women's team generated nearly $20 million more in revenue the prior year than the U.S. men's team, yet they were paid almost four times less. In addition to unequal pay claims, USWNT players sued U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination in 2019 citing inequality in work conditions, travel arrangements and medical treatment compared to their male peers. In May 2020, a judge dismissed the team's unequal pay claims, dealing a blow to Morgan and the rest of her team's fight for more money.
Though the journey towards equal pay continues, a December 2020 agreement between the United States Soccer Federation and the women's team allowed Morgan and her peers to appeal the judge's May 2020 decision. The agreement also granted the players equal staffing, travel, hotel accommodations and venue choices at their matches compared to the men. On March 8, a bill was introduced to Congress to further help USWNT players get equal compensation.
Morgan, who plans to compete in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics later this year, says she hopes that her team's fight for equality will "encourage and empower other women to stand up for themselves" and get equal pay and treatment as well. And, she hopes that her new media company with Bird, Manuel and Kim will "break barriers" in media and show that women can be "pioneers not just inside their sport, but outside their sport [as well]."
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