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Elizabeth Montavon Dec 20, 2023 10:37:31 AM 8 min read

Top 4 Highest-Paying Sports for Women in 2023

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Source: Frank Franklin II/AP

This year was monumental in moving the needle to close the gender pay gap in professional sports. There were more eye-catching headlines and jaw-dropping performances than ever before, like Simone Biles’ epic comeback year and Coco Gauff crowning herself queen of the court. And let's not forget the hoop stars who jet off to play overseas when the WNBA season wraps up, or the ice hockey players who are pushing boundaries in the brand-new PWHL. There’s one major question we’re all asking ourselves: did the money follow the attention? Let’s take a look at the dollars and cents in women’s sports this year and answer everyone’s favorite Q: what women's sport makes the most money?

 

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Source: The Beacon

4 highest-paying sports for women

 

Golf

In 2023, women's professional golf continued to showcase its lucrative potential, especially in the LPGA.The top 100 LPGA Prize Money Leaders collectively won over $74 million, with top players like Allisen Corpuz, Lilia Vu and Amy Yang earning millions. The average salary for an LPGA player was $423,393 in 2023, but there still remains significant disparity between the top and lower earners. American superstar Nelly Korda was this year’s tenth highest-earning woman athlete, clocking in $7.9 million in total earnings, which were boosted by a slew of endorsement deals including Nike, TaylorMade and Goldman Sachs. The sport's major tournaments offer substantial prize money, making golf one of the highest paying women's sports of the year.

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Source: Golf Digest

For 2024, the LPGA Tour Championship Tour Championship has offered a purse of $11 million, with the winner receiving $4 million.The investment from sponsors and the parity with top men's golf events in terms of prize money reflect the growing commercial interest and financial support in women's golf​​. This significant prize fund from CME and increased visibility sets pro women's golf on track to stay one of the highest-paying women’s sports for the foreseeable future.

 

Tennis

Tennis might have lost its top spot since last year, but not for lack of trying. With an average salary of $354,313 in 2023, pay for professional women tennis players in the WTA took a sharp increase from $283,635 in 2022. Still, the gap looms between women’s and men’s players, whose average salary grew from $335,946 to $461,942 in 2023. Coco Gauff, who enjoyed the biggest season of her career to date, was reported as the highest-paid woman athlete in 2023, earning an estimated $23 million, which included $16 million from endorsements alone. Her combination of her breakthrough victory at the U.S. Open, her first Grand Slam title and her growing marketability grew her total earnings in 2022 from $7.7 million to $22.7 million in 2023. Gauff might have led the pack, but six of her competitors joined her on Sportico’s Top 10 list of highest-paid female athletes, including Iga Swiatek with $21.9 million, Emma Raducanu at $16.2 million and Naomi Osaka with $15 million. Tennis continues to be one of the few sports where women receive equal prize money as men at major tournaments, like Grand Slams.

 

Basketball

The WNBA has seen improvements in players' earnings, with an average salary of $107,340 and top players earning over $200,000 in 2023. While this is progress compared to 2022, where U.S. players made an average of $75,000 a season, WNBA players still flocked to overseas leagues in the fall. After one of the most dynamic and highly-engaged seasons in WNBA history, with the Las Vegas Aces defeating the New York Liberty in the Finals to become first team to win back-to-back titles since 2002, you might expect these players to kick up their heels and enjoy the off season. However, this trend of playing abroad is largely driven by the significant pay disparity between the WNBA and international leagues. In countries like the Czech Republic, Spain, and Turkey, experienced WNBA players can boost their earning power, combined with what they make in the WNBA. For many athletes, these overseas contracts provide not only financial stability but also the opportunity to continue developing their skills and gain international playing experience. Despite the growth and opportunities abroad, WNBA players continue to advocate for better pay, highlighting the significant gender pay gap in basketball.

 

Ice Hockey

Backed by Billie Jean King, Professional women’s ice hockey saw a massive shake up this year, as the PWHL replaced the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF; formerly the National Women's Hockey League), which was bought out and dissolved in July 2023 to make way for the creation of the new league. The new league held a 10-day free agent period where the six founding franchises – Boston, Montreal, Minnesota, Ottawa, New York and Toronto – signed three players ahead of the inaugural draft in Toronto. The league offers 168 total spots for the 268 available players. The new compensation details from the PWHL show that players on average will earn a salary of $55,000. And while the development of this new league has the potential to lead to further pay growth, they are still far behind what male hockey players earn in leagues like the NHL.

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Source: PWHL

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Soccer

Although soccer made our top list last year, in 2023 it was edged out by ice hockey by just $1000. That’s right — in 2023, the average salary for a professional women’s soccer player in the U.S. was $54,000 which is significant growth from $35,000 in 2022. However, between this year’s record-breaking Women’s World Cup and the creation of the USL Super League, we expect soccer to reclaim its spot in the top 4 by the end of 2024.

 

Cricket

The Women’s Premier League (WPL) in India has already become the most lucrative women's cricket property across the globe in terms of franchise and player values. Nearly 450 players went under the hammer and about 90 were selected after five franchises entered the auction with a team purse of 120 million rupees ($1.45 million) each. “The Women’s Premier League is a huge development. Female cricketers in India will stick to the sport for a longer duration now, and it will only benefit Indian cricket in the longer run,” Mithali Raj, a former captain of India and a mentor for the Gujarat Giants. “The league will expand in the future and bring financial viability to the women’s game.” The highest-paid player in the WPL 2024 is Smriti Mandhana, who will earn 34 million Indian rupees (approximately $407,000). The league has already attracted substantial bids for team ownership and broadcasting rights, highlighting the increasing popularity and financial growth in women's cricket​​.

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Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune

Snow Skiing

Eileen Gu, an Olympian in freestyle skiing, came in at #3 on this year’s list of highest-paid women athletes. In 2023, she earned around $20 million, primarily through endorsement deals. 

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Source: Getty Images

Gu’s earning power, combined with that of other snow ski legends like Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin (who earned $6.1 million this year), might imply that snow skiers are well-paid and simply fly under the radar. Unfortunately, professional skiing is really only viewed at mass every four years during the Olympics and, as a result, doesn’t get the same kind of consistent investment that other sports do. "Getting paid through ski racing is very, very difficult," Lindsey Vonn said in an interview with Business Insider. "It's a very steep pyramid. If you're not in the top five or 10 in the world, you're struggling to not have to get a second job."

 

Pickleball

Major League Pickleball, a team-based league and one of three professional pickleball tours, projected that 2023 prize money, distributed across six events, totaled $5 million. Pro players in the league can also compete for prize money in Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) and Association of Pickleball Players (APP) events. The PPA Tour will distribute $5.5 million in prize money to players in 2023, spread across 25 events. That sum reflects an 83% increase in payouts from 2022. However, this fall, MLP requested that its players consent to compensation reductions of 40% with corresponding reductions in work obligations. “We have carefully studied the economics of the business and determined that certain changes need to be made to ensure a sustainable and viable business that will not only survive but thrive in 2024 and beyond for the benefit of all stakeholders,” said an email to players. It remains unclear what the average salary is for a pro pickleball player and if there is complete parity between men and women, but here’s to hoping that the growth of the sport doesn’t come to a screeching halt anytime soon.

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On the horizon

As we wrap up another thrilling year in women's sports, it's clear 2023 wasn’t just about breaking records — it was about breaking barriers to parity too. It’s been a year of big moves, like the LPGA upping their game with prize money that’s got everyone talking, and the WTA stars serving up some serious dough (and drama). The WNBA players are showing us how to hustle both on and off the court, while the ice hockey world got a major shakeup with the PWHL. 

2023 has set the bar high, but the fact remains: women still make less in virtually every sport than their male counterparts. Here’s to keeping the momentum going through 2024 and watching that pay gap shrink even more!

Interested in activating in any of the sports mentioned in this blog? Learn more about what we do here or request a consultation with our team of women's sports activation experts here.

 


About Parity
Minority-founded in 2020, Parity's mission is to close the gender income and opportunity gap in professional sports. By developing high-impact collaborations between brands, professional women athletes and their fans, Parity has proudly put more than $2 million in the pockets of women athletes, attracting dozens of brands to the movement in the process. The platform offers connections to more than 950 women athletes from 70+ sports, including well over 200 Olympians and Paralympians. For more information on how to tap into the rapidly rising influence and popularity of women athletes, visit https://paritynow.co or follow us on InstagramLinkedInFacebookX (formerly Twitter) and Threads

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Elizabeth Montavon

Elizabeth Montavon works at Parity as Director of Athlete Marketing and Social Media. Elizabeth has a lengthy resume in marketing and joined Parity for the opportunity to help close the pay gap in sports – and to give women athletes more autonomy and power over their careers in the process. She is a professional waterskier and 9-time national champion, U.S. Open champion and Pan-American games champion.