On Feb. 1, millions of Americans nationwide dashed to their televisions to watch one of the most hyped programs in American television history: Super Bowl XLIX. Emotions raged as sports fans clashed to decide which team would emerge supreme.
Shunning my mountain of midterms and assignments, I decided to watch the Super Bowl. Although it was expected that the game would be intense, even the controversial last-minute play from the Seattle Seahawks that led to the New England Patriots’ winning 28-24 took fans by surprise.
Curious about the reactions of zealous sports fans, I examined the comments online. As expected, fans of both sides engaged in fierce flame wars, although a minority did display decorum by respecting rival teams.
Unexpectedly however, was my accidental encounter of a cheerleader video. During the game, I was immersed in the gameplay, so I lacked the chance to observe fleeting cheerleader performances. Consequently, I decided to pay my dues by watching the video.
The blinding radiance of cheerleaders’ performance walloped me. After about a minute of gathering my composure, I nervously stationed myself back to my seat, took several deep breaths and replayed the video.
Watching the video, I realized that cheerleading is a demanding activity that requires a combination of athletics, time management, maintenance and dedication, a note that many football teams and sports fans fail to appreciate.
Along with providing ample time to dedicate to jobs and education, cheerleaders spend countless hours practicing during pregame and off-season, attending events and maintaining an overall image. Considering their dedication, cheerleaders would be expected to earn adequate wage.
The opposite is the reality. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Eric Morath illustrates that five football teams were sued by former cheerleaders on grounds of poor working conditions and violation of wage laws. The Oakland Raiders reached a settlement and proceeded to pay cheerleaders minimum wage.
In the case of the Buffalo Bills cheerleading squad, known as the Buffalo Jills, Morath pinpoints that Jills cheerleaders were required to work at least 16 hours per week. In return, they were rewarded a parking pass and tickets to the game. When faced with a wage violation lawsuit, the Bills simply disbanded the Jills.
The labor environment experienced by cheerleaders may seem deplorable and abnormal at first glance. In economics, such a labor market is called a monopsony, which consists of a single buyer (the football team) and numerous sellers (the cheerleaders).
Monopsony, like any market structure, is driven by two economic quantities: marginal revenue and marginal cost. When a team hires an additional cheerleader, the team acquires extra revenue from the cheerleader’s performance but suffers from increased costs.
Profit maximization is achieved by equating marginal revenue with marginal cost. The upward slope of the labor supply curve indicates that a monopsonist team must increase the wages of all cheerleaders whenever an additional cheerleader is employed. This problem is counteracted by a larger marginal cost.
Consequently, monopsonist teams hire only fewer cheerleaders than would be expected under a perfectly competitive labor market. Moreover, teams wish to minimize costs, so the fewer number of cheerleaders earn lower wages as calculated from the labor supply curve.
Since a monopsony is inefficient due to deadweight losses sustained by reducing labor input, wages are necessarily lower than optimal. How much are wages reduced? This question is answered by using an economic measure called elasticity of supply.
Roger McCain states that the elasticity of supply depicts how much the employer must reduce hiring to lower wages by one percent. Larger elasticity of supply corresponds to reduced monopsony power, which in turn results in closer to optimal wages.
Unfortunately, the labor supply of cheerleaders is relatively inelastic. At first, this seems rather strange. Unlike healthcare providers examined in McCain’s analysis, cheerleaders have numerous alternative jobs to switch readily if they insist.
The deciding factor is passion. For many young women, cheerleading is a glamorous and enviable activity that has numerous long-term benefits. Cheerleaders work in other jobs, but passion is what makes them thrive under rather repressive labor conditions.
Geography is another important factor. Since most football teams are located sufficiently far apart, potential cheerleaders lack a choice in choosing teams. Absence of alternatives and nonuniform labor policies contribute to an unnecessary random factor behind cheerleader working conditions.
Selectivity is critical, since young women must meet team-dependent requirements and pass several auditions to qualify. As such, teams employ a labor quota to choose the optimal cheerleading squad.
These three factors all contribute to a small elasticity of supply. With a fixed number of cheerleaders from the labor quota and inelastic supply, cheerleader wages sharply decrease, often becoming zero as seen in the Buffalo Bills lawsuit.
The solution is minimum wage. From the monopsony analysis mentioned previously, the equality of marginal revenue with marginal cost sets the profit-maximizing quantity, which is reflected by the labor quota imposed by the teams.
Wages are calculated by using either the labor supply curve or the marginal cost curve. Teams select the labor supply curve to minimize costs. Yet, wages determined from marginal cost curve are actually larger than optimal wages earned under a perfectly competitive market.
Minimum wages are best determined from the marginal cost curve, which maintains the labor quota. Earning even higher wages is actually irrational, since teams can always reduce the cheerleading squad to reduce costs, if not dissolve the squad altogether.
American football consistently alienates the female audience. A possible solution to this problem is to reward cheerleaders with sufficient wages, ample coverage and thriving working environment.
Badri Karthikeyan is a senior biology major at Drexel University. He can be contacted at [email protected].