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The REAL reason Women aren’t being paid the same as Men in “Pro” BJJ (Part 1)

There has been a lot of press surrounding the payment of Women at the newly created BJJ Pro tournament coming up and it has led me to a few thoughts on the topic.

Nicolini vs Dern: One of the best matches of Metamoris to date...so why no more women's matches?

Nicolini vs Dern: One of the best matches of Metamoris to date…so why no more women’s matches?

The fact that women aren’t being paid equally is a cause of aggravation for most everyone involved. It is insulting to the women in BJJ that work their asses off training for high level tournaments and it is frustrating to men in BJJ who sweat side-by-side with these women and for everyone else who simply cares about equality on and off the mats.

The outrage has been pretty high-profile with high level athletes (both male and female) coming out in support of Women’s equality on the mats. There is even a petition on Change.org to “Give female competitors equal financial opportunities and rewards” (you can sign through the link).

Ralek Gracie’s comments on Women’s Jiu-Jitsu were both insulting and misguided (and possibly the impetus for this movement for equality) when he said that Women couldn’t “bring it at that level”. This statement came just a few month prior to the IBJJF   announcing the payout levels for their “Pro” tournament (giving a combined $25,000.00 to male competitors and a paltry $2700 to female competitors –source), which seemed to rile up pretty much everyone in the BJJ community. It all seems to be a part of some far-reaching misogynist conspiracy,but in the spirit of reason I thought I would take a closer look and try to figure out what, if anything rational, is going on here.

From my perspective, I couldn’t understand the rationalization that prize payouts were related to skill level. I think everyone would agree that the women’s divisions are just as high-level, and exciting as the men’s divisions. This led me to do a bit of research, some data collection, and some fairly simple reasoning to determine what might be going on here.

The first thing that needs mentioned is that the comments from Ralek Gracie (which kicked off the “Women’s equality in BJJ” movement – as I am calling it) are NOT AT ALL connected to the payouts of the BJJ Pro series. Our outrage at the apparent misogyny in BJJ has led us to connect the two events (rightly so, as they are connected – but not monetarily in this case) but it should be noted that Ralek’s comments specifically implied that Women’s Jiu-Jitsu would not draw the audience necessary to make it financially worthwhile (More on that later). Meanwhile, the BJJ Pro payouts does not address, in any way, why the female payout is so much lower than the Men’s.

In this multi-part approach, I will attempt to discover the real (if there is one) reason the payouts are lower for Women than for Men.Additionally, if possible, I will try to identify a solution to the issue.

The general consensus is that the lower payout for women is based on a gender bias. While this may provide ample emotional energy to sustain our outrage, we owe it to ourselves to take a more scientific approach to understanding the situation. This may allow us to better understand the problem, thereby better enabling us to find a solution.

First argument: Women get paid less because there are less of them and they don’t contribute as much to the prize pot. A quick look at the Brackets from the past IBJJF World Championship shows us that the number of Women competing vs the number of men competing Looks like this:

Men (Adults – all colors / all belts): 2221 (total revenue: ~$222,100.00)

Women (Adults – all colors / all belts): 507 (total revenue: ~$50,700.00)

Largest Men’s Bracket: Middle weight – 22 competitors.

Number of rounds required to win (Min / Max):  4 / 5

Largest Women’s bracket: Light weight – 10 competitors.

Number of rounds required to win (Min / Max): 3 / 4

These numbers can mean a lot of things but, let’s break them down from a financial perspective.

At first glance the number seem contrary: With almost three times as many male competitors in Middle weight, it seems that it would be three times as hard for a Male to win the championship and therefore, they DESERVE more Pay. However, with the method used in single-elimination bracket set-up, it actually only ends up being one more match at most.

At the same time, at $100 per registrant, it shows that the men’s largest Black Belt division brought in $22,000.00 while the Largest Women’s division brings in $1000.00.

What we can conclude here is two things:

1: Men account for ~4 x’s as much tournament revenue than Women

2: Men are being paid ~9 x’s as much at the BJJ Pro

The (presupposed) justification that Men contribute more, and so are paid more, doesn’t quite add up. If this were to be a reasonable justification, the payout at BJJ World Pro would look something more like this:

Men, total payout: $20,000.00

Women, total payout: $7000.00

This still shows a large disparity between effort and reward ratios, but it would at least bear the strength of statistical relevance. Keep in mind that these numbers are based on the 2015 IBJJF World Championships, not on the actual number of competitors at the upcoming New York BJJ Pro event. Let’s take a look at those number here and see if they add up a bit more logically.

Divisions for the BJJ Pro are Feather – Heavy (for men), which would seem to eliminate the lightest male competitors, but actually lumps them into the Feather category. Additionally, BJJ Pro requires 10 ranking points to qualify to participate, which eliminates 331 possible Black Belt participants. Don’t worry though, that still leaves 351 males to register for the event (source). Clearly, not all 331 eligible Black Belts will register, so we will presume to have a similar number of registrants as the last Worlds (for Black belts) and the last New York Open (for other belts).

Let’s see what those numbers would look like:

Male Competitors: 380 (white – brown) + 144 (Black belts) =  524

Female Competitors:  148 (white – brown) + 44 (Black belts) = 192

With registration at ~ $100.00 each, revenue is approximately:

Men: $52,400

Women: $19,200

This puts male -vs- female revenue at Men: 73%, Women 27% .

Accordingly, with $30,000 in prize money to be had, a participation based payout would be something like:

Men: $21,000.00

Women: $9000.00

Nic v Mus 2014

Michelle Nicolini dislocates Tammy Musemeci’s shoulder (and then elbow) in the Women’s final at the IBJJF World Championship in 2014.

This is Pretty close to what the BJJ Pro is purporting to payout (Men: $27,000.00, Women: $7000.00), and may be a good indicator of how they came to this number. By this evaluation, it would appear that the IBJJF may have used their own approximation of attendance (competitor attendance) to account for payouts, which seems reasonable (I used my own methodology to come up with my numbers – previous performance to predict future performance, the IBJJF likely had a slightly different logic in their formula).Except…that Prize payouts are not supposed to be based on competitor attendance. Is it? I mean, isn’t prize money supposed to be directly related to the value of the exhibition? Doesn’t the level of excitement and interest garnered by the exhibition determine the value of the match? Few will argue that the most exciting match of the 2014 World Championships was Nicolini -vs-Musemeci, yet, this “past performance” would seem to predict a higher “payout” for women than for men, yet, this is not the case.

My next installment in this investigation will focus on the lessons we can learn from other professional sports. How are their payouts configured? Where does the money come from? How is it distributed fairly? (or is it?)

I’ve got a lot of research to do before then, but I promise to present as unbiased and scientific evaluation as possible. I hope you will join me to see the results of that research! Oss!

Click here for Part 2

6 thoughts on “The REAL reason Women aren’t being paid the same as Men in “Pro” BJJ (Part 1)

  1. bsenka

    While I don’t like the answers that math is giving, I like the way you’ve broken it down. One way that a tournament could test this theory, is to run men’s and women’s divisions as separate events, and make the prize money the exact same formula. Let everyone know exactly what that formula is in advance, and the final number is what it is. That way you can separate who is there to see whom instead of dividing up the total gate.

    What I’m getting at is, the percent of women competing might not be the same as the percent of the gate coming to see them specifically. It could be lower, but it could be higher too. I know if I was given the choice of seeing Dern vs Nicolini or Lo vs Humphreys, I’d watch the women’s match every time.

    1. bjjyolo

      Great point bsenka!In the second part of this article, I have been investigating how other organizations in different sports do things and you have already touched on a few of the things I have found. I should have that portion out in a few days.

  2. Pingback: The REAL reason Women aren’t being paid the same as Men in “Pro” BJJ (Part 1) | checkmatburbankbjj

  3. Pingback: The REAL reason Women aren’t being paid the same as Men in “Pro” BJJ (Part 2) | YoloBJJ blog

  4. Pingback: The Real Reason Women Aren’t being Paid the Same as Men in “PRO” Jiu-Jitsu (part 3) | YoloBJJ blog

  5. Pingback: The Real Reason Women Aren’t Being Paid the Same as Men in “Pro” Jiu-Jitsu (epilogue) | YoloBJJ blog

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