Men's Soccer Crashed the Women's Parade
There's nothing quite like a victory parade in New York City, and Friday's celebration for the Women's World Cup champions didn't disappoint. Thousands came to downtown Manhattan to cheer on the U.S. Women's National Team in the first-ever parade down the Canyon of Heroes celebrating a women's team (or a soccer team, for that matter). Yet some in the crowd wished that at least one group of people had chosen to stay home: Major League Soccer.
In addition to floats carrying the champions, the parade included floats representing the National Women's Soccer League and New Jersey-based NWSL team Sky Blue FC. There were also floats representing MLS and local men's teams NYCFC and the New York Red Bulls. The reasoning, according to the mayor's office, is that MLS was entitled to participation in the parade as one of its corporate sponsors.
Many fans of women's soccer were understandably resentful of MLS's presence. They pointed out how hard the women had to work to earn their moment in the spotlight, and how little support men's soccer has historically given the women's game. It was a pretty shameless case of coattail-riding; as SBNation's Kevin McCauley put it, "This is Major League Soccer's relationship to women's soccer in America. They care about it when it's convenient for them and when it can benefit them. When women's soccer is struggling and it needs them, MLS is absolutely nowhere to be found."
It's hard to argue with this point of view. U.S. women's soccer has historically received the short shrift, despite putting out a vastly superior product. And now U.S. men's soccer used these women as a marketing tool to promote their game.
I suppose this was inevitable; the unmatched success of the USWNT gives hope to soccer fans that the sport will finally make the big time. It can even be looked at as a victory in some sense: A male sports league riding the women's coattails dispels the oft-repeated notion that women's sports and female athletes are inferior and illegitimate. Yes, MLS support for women's soccer comes only when it's self-serving, but the message is still important: A men's sports league needs the women.
That said, the event was yet also a reminder of the pay gap facing female athletes. According to the New York Post, the parade was estimated to cost around $2 million, yet its sponsors -- including MLS, Nike, Mondelēz Foods and Electronic Arts -- pitched in only $450,000. That left the city of New York with a $1.5 million bill -- certainly not a crippling figure by any means, but one that MLS at the very least could and should have covered. Instead, the city essentially subsidized a marketing campaign for American soccer -- American men's soccer -- built on the women's wins.
And that might be the most apt metaphor for how men's sports continue to pass the buck when it comes to the responsibility to promote women's sports.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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