Women's professional sports

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Liliana Fernández of Spanish women's beach volleyball team in action.

Professional athletes are distinguished from amateur athletes by virtue of being paid enough to earn a living. Throughout the world, most top female athletes are not paid, and work full-time or part-time jobs in addition to their training, practice and competition schedules. Women's professional sports organizations defy this trend. Such organizations are relatively new, and are most common in very economically developed countries, where investors are available to buy teams, and businesses can afford to sponsor them in exchange for publicity and promotion of their products. Very few governments support professional sports, male or female.


Beginning in the late 1960s, a few women gained enough recognition for their athletic talent and social acceptance as role models to earn a living playing sports. Most of these were in the United States. Among them was Joan Weston, a roller derby star who was once the highest paid female in sports, but she was the exception rather than the rule.

Things began to change in 1973 when Billie Jean King won "the Battle of the Sexes" and cracked the glass ceiling on pay for female athletes. Other players, like Martina Navratilova, broke through that ceiling, decreasing the gap between women and men athlete's pay on a regular basis rather than occasionally.

Even now, in the 21st century, most professional women athletes around the world receive very little notoriety or pay compared to men. Life acknowledged the importance of King's achievement in 1990 by naming her one of the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century."


United Women's Sports LLC (UWS) is a professional sports company founded in 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island, United States. Operating women’s professional sports leagues as a financially sustainable sports entertainment product, UWS works toward raising awareness of women in sport. Part of its mission also includes providing opportunities for women to work in sports, including disciplines such as Marketing, On-Air, Production, Operations and Finance.

Founded by Digit Murphy, she serves as Chief Executive Officer, while Aronda Kirby, a former General Manager with the Boston Blades, holds the title of Chief Operations Officer, their first venture involved lacrosse, with the launch of UWLX taking place in the summer of 2016. In the aftermath of the inaugural season, the Long Island Sound emerged as league champions.

In addition to the UWLX, Murphy and Kirby are both co-founders of the Play It Forward Sports Foundation, with the goal of advancing gender equity in sports at all levels of play. With the objective of providing more opportunities for women in sport as professional athletes, coaches and managers, the model for Play It Forward Sports also allows female athletes a chance to participate in the community by educating, training and mentoring young female athletes, providing them with earning potential.

Athlete ambassadors for Play It Forward include Molly Schaus, along with tennis players Neha Uberoi and Shikha Uberoi. In addition, Schaus is part of the Foundation’s Board, which includes Valarie Gelb, Debbie Mckay and John Mayers.

United States[edit]

Though women have been pro athletes in the United States, since the early 1900s, paid teams, leagues and athletes are still uncommon and, as of 2013, paid far less than their male counterparts. For instance, the Women's National Basketball Association had its first season in 1997, 51 years after inception of the men's NBA. The WNBA (under the NBA Board of Governors) pays the top women players 60 times less than the top men. In 2005, the WNBA team salary cap was $0.673 million.[1] The NBA cap was over 60 times higher, at $43.87 million.[2] The Women's United Soccer Association became the first American women's pro league in 2001, but lasted only briefly because of financial sponsorship. Fans enjoyed women's pro soccer for three seasons before executives[3] announced suspension of the league, despite the Women's national soccer team's rating [4] as one of the world's top teams. Absence of a Women's professional football (soccer) league in the United States made it difficult for the Soccer women's national football team to find new players until Women's Professional Soccer was founded. A 2004 effort to revive the WUSA [5] was launched. On September 4, 2007, a new North American women's professional football league, tentatively named Women's Soccer LLC, was announced,[6] and ultimately launched in 2009 as Women's Professional Soccer. That league folded after its 2012 season, with the current National Women's Soccer League established later that year and beginning play in 2013.

As of 2015, the only sports that men but not women play professionally in the United States are football, baseball, and ultimate.

Association football[edit]

The Women's Professional Soccer league, formed in September 2007, began its league play in March 2009.[7] In its final season in 2011, there were six teams in the eastern United States. The WPS canceled the 2012 season when the number of teams dropped to five after Dan Borislow's team in South Florida magicJack was terminated by the league. The WPS hoped to continue the season in 2013 with at least six teams and eight in the 2014 season, but ultimately folded in May 2012 because of legal and financial troubles.

In November 2012, the US, Mexican and Canadian soccer federations announced the establishment of the National Women's Soccer League which began play in 2013. The US and Canadian federations remain involved with the NWSL; the Mexican federation withdrew after establishing Liga MX Femenil in 2016.


Since many men were on the battlefield during the Second World War, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), in place of Major League Baseball, was created in 1943 to provide entertainment of people exhausted by the war. It was such a success that the number of people who attended women's baseball games reached almost 1 million in 1948. Yet, when the war ended and Major League Baseball players came back home, female baseball players were obliged to fill the role of housewife at home. AAGPBL lost its audience, struggled with finances, and ceased to exist in 1954.

Forty years later, in 1994, a businessman in Atlanta struck a $3 million sponsorship deal with Coors and formed a women's professional baseball team called the Colorado Silver Bullets. About 20 members were selected from 1,300 baseball players nationwide for this team. The Bullets played games with men's semiprofessional teams and regional teams. After the birth of the Ladies League Baseball in 1997, it included four teams. The Bullets fought with them.[clarification needed]

The Ladies League Baseball changed its name into the Ladies Pro Baseball and added two teams into the league in 1998. However, after the first month, the league was suspended due to the financial difficulties of its sponsors. The Bullets folded in 1998 after Coors terminated its contract.


There are many countries where women's professional basketball league exists besides the United States, such as Italy, Germany, Spain, and Brazil. Many Americans players went overseas and some WNBA players play basketball in foreign countries during WNBA's off-season.

The Women's Professional Basketball League (WBL) was a professional women's basketball league in the United States. The league played three seasons from the fall of 1978 to the spring of 1981. The league is generally considered to be the first American professional women's basketball league to be founded. The next league was the Women's American Basketball Association and the Women's Basketball Association (WBA) [8] The WABA/WBA was a professional women's basketball league in the United States. The league played three seasons from the summer of 1993 to the summer of 1995.[9] The league is considered to be the first American professional women's basketball league to be successful as a summer league, like the WNBA. Also the American Basketball League (ABL) was founded in 1996 during an increase in the interest in the sport following the 1996 Summer Olympics. The league played two full season (1996–97 and 1997–98) and started a third (1998–99) before it folded on December 22, 1998.


The LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) was founded in 1950 and is the longest running women's professional sports association.[10]

Horse racing[edit]

In 1906 Lula Olive Gill became the first female jockey to win a horse race in California; later that same year, Ada Evans Dean rode her own horse to victory after her jockey had become ill. Indeed, Dean won twice — in spite of never having raced before.[11]

Kathy Kusner mounted a successful legal case in 1968 to become the first licensed female jockey in the United States. Since the age of 16, she had been regularly winning unrecognized flat and timber races. As a licensed jockey, she rode races up and down the eastern seaboard and Canada and became the first licensed female jockey to ride races in Mexico, Germany, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Panama, South Africa, and what was then Rhodesia. She was also the first woman to ride in the Maryland Hunt Cup, the toughest timber race in the world. ABC Television filmed an award-winning documentary in Saratoga about her being the first woman in modern times to ride in a steeplechase at the racetrack.[12]


The United Women’s Lacrosse League is a professional Women's lacrosse league in the United States that was co-founded in Boston, Massachusetts by Digit Murphy and Aronda Kirby of the Play It Forward Sports Foundation in a strategic partnership with STX.[13] Penn State alum and former United States national team player Michele DeJuliis was appointed as the league’s commissioner. [14]

The inaugural season saw four teams with rosters hailing from Baltimore, Boston, Long Island and Philadelphia. The names of the founding four clubs are the Baltimore Ride, Boston Storm, Long Island Sound and Philadelphia Force. Regular season play was scheduled to start on May 28, 2016 as a draft took place on April 13 to fill the four team rosters. In the inaugural draft, Maryland Terrapins alumnus and former US national team player Katie Schwarzmann would be the first ever player selected, taken by the Baltimore Ride with the top pick.[15] The inaugural regular season champions were the Long Island Sound, while Dana Dobbie captured the regular season scoring title.


The first women's professional softball league was established in 1976, but it only lasted for four years because of its financial reasons and failure in marketing. In 1994, the National Pro Fastpitch emerged to prepare a rebirth of the professional league, which came into existence with 6 teams in 1997. As of 2012, the league has 4 teams that play 44 games each and then participate in the Championship Series.[16] The league is expected to expand "due to on-going expansion efforts".[17]


The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) was founded in 1973 with Billie Jean King at the forefront.[18] It is widely considered the most successful and popular of any organization in women's professional sports. The league has over 2,500 players from 92 nations, and it has over $100 million in prize money for 54 tournaments and 4 Grand Slams in 33 countries.[19]

Volleyball & Beach Volleyball[edit]

Top: United States women's national volleyball team discussing their strategy. Above: U.S. President George W. Bush with Misty May-Treanor (left) and Kerri Walsh Jennings of U.S. Women's Beach Volleyball team at the 2008 Olympics.

The Women's Professional Volleyball Association was established in 1986. The association organized professional 6-player indoor volleyball leagues and beach volleyball leagues, such as Budlight Pro Beach Volleyball League in 1997, in which 4 teams participated. It dissolved in 1997.
Major League Volleyball, a professional league, operated from 1987 to 1989.


Motorsport organizations allow men and women to compete on equal foot.

Eight women qualified to the Indianapolis 500 formula race: Janet Guthrie (9th in 1978), Lyn St. James (11th in 1992), Sarah Fisher, Danica Patrick (3rd in 2009 y 4th in 2005), Simona de Silvestro, Pippa Mann, Milka Duno and Ana Beatriz Figueiredo. They also raced at American open wheel racing (USAC National Championship, Champ Car and IndyCar Series). The only one to win a race was Patrick at the 2008 Indy Japan 300; she scored several podiums and finished 5th in the 2009 IndyCar Series season, 6th in 2008 and 7th in 2007. Guthrie finished 5th in a USAC race in 1979. Fisher scored two podiums.

The most successful NASCAR female drivers were Sara Christian, who finished 5th in a NASCAR Cup Series race in 1949; Guthrie, who finished 6th in a 1977 round; and Patrick, who resulted 4th in a Xfinity Series race.

In drag racing, Shirley Shahan was the first woman to win a NHRA national race, the 1966 Winternationals in the Top Stock class. Shirley Muldowney was the first woman drag racer to compete in Top Fuel, the main class of the National Hot Rod Association, and won the 1977, 1980 and 1982 championships. Angelle Sampey won three consecutive Pro Stock Motorcycle titles from 2000 to 2002. Three of the daughters of drag racing legend John ForceAshley, Brittany, and Courtney—followed in their father's footsteps as drivers. All three won multiple top-level NHRA races, Ashley and Courtney in Funny Car and Brittany in Top Fuel, and Brittany won the 2017 Top Fuel title.

Milka Duno scored three overall wins at the Rolex Sports Car Series.

Patrick has been receiving substantial mass media coverage since her first IndyCar season, starring advertising campaigns in the United States and earning among the top 10 sportswomen.


A photograph of the Australian National women's basketball team which won the 2006 FIBA World Championship for Women in basketball
Australian women's basketball team celebrating after being awarded the gold medals for winning the 2006 FIBA World Championship

In Australia, the Australian Institute of Sport has started many programs to help women's golf.

The ANZ Championship launched in 2008 with 10 teams (five from Australia and five from New Zealand). The ANZ Championship was the first professional netball competition in Australasia and the world's best netball league until Australia's national federation pulled out of the league after its 2016 season. Today, Australia's top league is Suncorp Super Netball and New Zealand's is the ANZ Premiership.

Also in 2017, the Australian Football League launched AFL Women's, a semi-professional competition in Australian rules football, with all sides operated by existing AFL men's clubs.


Ice hockey[edit]

At the turn of the 20th century, the first organized women’s ice hockey leagues started in Canada, as did the first-ever attempt at launching a pro league in the 1990s. The Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL) have a historic legacy, but the current incarnation of the League began operations in 2007. Over the decades, the League has had many names: In the late 90s and early 2000s, it was the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL) . Many of the current stars were culled from that league after its demise in 2007. At the time, owners were losing money and unable to forge a cohesive plan for how to move the league forward .[20] The prospect of having no professional league for women left the world’s top players with nowhere to play. In the summer of 2007, a groundbreaking initiative launch a player-run league with a new vision. Along with fellow players Kathleen Kauth, Kim McCullough, Sami Jo Small, Jennifer Botterill, Lisa-Marie Breton and a group of keen business people, they formed the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL), following the example of the National Lacrosse League. The result was a non-profit organization that favoured a centralized league over the old ownership model. This new league would cover all basic travel, ice rental, uniforms and equipment costs for the league’s 6 teams across Eastern Canada. Until the 2010-11 season the players in the league had to pay over $ 1,000 each to play hockey.[21][22][23] While these female elite hockey players hope to make a living playing someday, everyone involved in the League, from players to staff, work “pro bono,” leading double lives as National Team athletes, journalists, policemens, fire brigades, school principals and teachers.[24][25]


The Danish women's team handball league, Damehåndboldligaen, is all-pro and internationally considered the strongest and most well paid in the world. Leading clubs are GOG, Slagelse, Aalborg DH and Viborg HK.

The Danish women's football league, Elitedivisionen is semi-professional. Leading clubs are Fortuna Hjorring and HEI.


Great Britain's field hockey players with their goal-keeper during their 2016 Champions Trophy match versus Argentina

In England, the top competition of women's football, the FA Women's Super League, is professional, as of the 2018-19 season. The major women's clubs competing are affiliates of male club counterparts, usually bearing the same names with the acronyms LFC or WFC, but they do not share the same large stadiums, instead renting smaller stadiums from lower-level clubs (no women's club actually owns their stadium). The competition is semi-professional, meaning that the players are paid above the old maximum for professionals but rely on part-time jobs or schooling outside the game. Full professionalism has been tried, mostly on the part of individual teams (Fulham L.F.C. was the first side to go full pro, but was downgraded later by the owners), but it will take years to develop a fully professionalised women's league in England. Backing by a male club does not necessarily equal success, and the level of success achieved by male clubs may be reversed in female counterparts (compare these local derbies: Aston Villa vs. Birmingham City; Bristol City vs. Bristol Rovers; Liverpool vs. Everton; and Sunderland vs. Newcastle United).

Similar semi-professionalism examples exist in women's rugby union and cricket. Common to most European sports, promotion and relegation is used for the leagues (which the WNBA does not have). The LET (Ladies European Tour) is Europe’s leading women’s professional golf tour and formed as the WPGA in 1978. Over the last 33 years, the tour has developed into a truly international organisation and in 2011 will operate 28 golf tournaments in 19 different countries worldwide. www.ladieseuropeantour.com


Five women competed in Formula One: Maria Teresa de Filippis (1958-1959), Lella Lombardi (1974-1976), Divina Galica (1976 and 1978), Desiré Wilson (1980) and Giovanna Amati (1992), totalling 29 entries and 15 starts. Lombardi had a best result of sixth at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix, where she was awarded half a World Championship point.

The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters has had four women drivers: Katherine Legge, Susie Stoddart, Rahel Frey and Vanina Ickx. Stoddart scored two 7th race finishes and a 13th place in the standings in 2010. In the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft, Ellen Lohr scored a win.

In sports car racing, Desiré Wilson also won two races of the World Sportscar Championship, and Odette Siko resulted fourth overall at the 1932 24 Hours of Le Mans.

In rallying, Michèle Mouton got four wins and nine podiums at the World Rally Championship, resulting runner-up in 1982. Meanwhile, Jutta Kleinschmidt won the 2001 Dakar Rally.

In off-road motorcycling, Laia Sanz scored 12 women's trial world championships and three X Games endurocross gold medals.

Top earning sportswomen[edit]

According to Forbes magazine, the top ten earning female athletes, based on earnings during a fiscal year that ends on June 30 of the year of publication, are:

Maria Sharapova in action at French Open, 2009. Sharapova has been one of the top earning sportswomen of the world.

Women's professional sports competitions[edit]


Football (soccer)[edit]


Ice hockey[edit]



The Ladies European Tour is Europe’s leading women’s professional golf tour and formed as the WPGA in 1978. Over the last 33 years, the tour has developed into a truly international organisation and in 2011 will operate 28 golf tournaments in 19 different countries worldwide.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-08-01. Retrieved 2013-03-01.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ http://www.nba.com/blazers/news/Salary_Cap_101-147720-41.html
  3. ^ https://www.usatoday.com/sports/soccer/wusa/2003-09-15-wusa-folds_x.htm
  4. ^ http://www.womensworldfootball.com/
  5. ^ http://soccernet.espn.go.com/columns/story?id=328319&root=wusa&cc=5739
  6. ^ http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=PRNI2&STORY=/www/story/09-04-2007/0004655869&EDATE=
  7. ^ Women's Professional Football About Page Archived 2010-02-20 at the Wayback Machine, womensprosoccer.com/about/about-wps .
  8. ^ . The 90's WBA played three full seasons with plans to play as a 12-team league in 1997, disbanded before 1997 season. Sources in History of women's professional basketball, Compiled by Robert Bradley. Contributors - Jack Black, and Dennis Slusher
  9. ^ The WBA was a summer league formed in 1992, the WBA played a 15-game schedule and games were broadcast on Liberty Sports of Dallas. When FOX Sports purchased Liberty Sports and the WBA, they disbanded the league. Sources in History of women's professional Basketball, Compiled by Robert Bradley. Contributors - Jack Black, F. Travis Boley, Robert Bradley, Tom Goddard, John Guy, Steve Mau, Shawn Oliver, Mark Pollak, Pat Premo, and Dennis Slusher
  10. ^ http://www.lpga.com/content_1.aspx?pid=59
  11. ^ http://sportsmanagementdegree.org/2010/20-inspirational-female-athletes-who-won-in-a-mans-sport/
  12. ^ HORSE EXPERT WITNESS – Kathy Kusner
  13. ^ "UWLX Draft Inaugural Season More". insidelacrosse.com.com. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  14. ^ "Michele DeJuliis continues life 's work as UWLX Commissioner". LAXmagazine.com. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  15. ^ "United Women Lacrosse League Draft". baltimoresun.com. 2016-04-14. Retrieved 2016-04-20.
  16. ^ http://www.profastpitch.com/about/
  17. ^ http://www.profastpitch.com/about/
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-10-15. Retrieved 2012-10-31.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-09-26. Retrieved 2017-04-20.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ Sharing the hockey dream, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-06-28. Retrieved 2011-12-10.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) ,The Gazette (Montreal) December 16, 2006.
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-09-18. Retrieved 2010-09-27.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  22. ^ http://bleacherreport.com/articles/421458-possible-nhl-and-cwhl-partnership-in-the-works
  23. ^ NHL talks raise hopes of pro women's league, https://www.thestar.com/sports/hockey/article/875114--new-direction-for-women-s-hockey , The star.com October 13, 2010
  24. ^ Montreal hopes Clarkson Cup win promotes women's hockey league, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/hockey/montreal-hopes-clarkson-cup-win-promotes-womens-hockey-league/article1959168/ , in Globe and Mail, March 27, 2011
  25. ^ CBCsports, http://www.cbc.ca/sports/blogs/cassiecampbell/2011/02/vancouvers-legacy-for-womens-hockey.html , February 9, 2011

External links[edit]