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July 09, 2019

Natalie Egenolf: Why it's time to start paying the U.S. women's soccer team what they deserve

Soccer World Cup
USWNT_070919_usat Michael Chow/USA TODAY Sports

The United States women's national team celebrates forward Megan Rapinoe's goal on a penalty kick against the Netherlands.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 72 hours, you know the United States women’s national soccer team (USWNT) has won yet another World Cup title. It’s an amazing feat in any sport to be back-to-back World Champions. Yet, the title run has been clouded by controversy as the USWNT fight for equal pay here at home. 

Despite it being a complicated issue with many caveats, discussions around the topic, especially on social media, are limited in scope because it seems, on its surface, that it's a rather simple topic. And that's not ideal when discussing something so important and complex, especially when you go beyond the simple sentiment of "pay the women the same as the men." Because, despite what you might have heard, the lawsuit is actually about more than just equal pay.

Let’s discuss, shall we?

1. Who is the USWNT suing?

a. The USWNT is suing the USSF (United States Soccer Federation).

2. Who are the USSF?

a. The USSF is the single common employer of male and female professional soccer players who play on the USWNT and the USMNT (United States Men’s National Team).

3. Why are the USWNT suing the USSF?

(Summarized from the lawsuit)

a. Despite the fact that the male and female players are called upon to perform the same job responsibilities on their teams and participate in international competitions for their single common employer (USSF), the female players have been consistently paid less than their male counterparts even though the their performance has been superior to that of their male players.

b. The USSF claimed to “promote and govern soccer in the US in order to make it the preeminent sport recognized for excellence in participation, spectator appeal, international competitions, and gender equality.”

i. Despite the claims, the USSF has admitted it pays female employees less than male employees due to the face that “market realities are such that women do not deserve to paid equally to men”.

c. Current USSF president Carlos Cordeiro has admitted, “Our women’s teams should be respected and valued as much as our men’s teams, but our female players have not been treated equally.”

i. Still, the USSF continues to practice gender-based discrimination against its champion female employees on the USWNT in comparison to it’s less successful male employee’s on the USMNT.

d. The USSF discriminates against the plaintiffs by:

i. Paying them less than members of the USMNT for substantially equal work
ii. And denying them at least equal:

1. Playing, training, and travel conditions (Please dive into the section of the lawsuit on turf conditions for the US Women’s team…WOOF)
2. Equal promotion of their games
3. Equal support and development for their games
4. Other terms and conditions of employment equal to the USMNT

Major key: This is not just a lawsuit regarding the World Cup, or World Cup Prize money. (More on that later.)

4. How are women paid?

a. The pay structure for the men and women is complicated. The USSF contends that since the women are paid base salaries, the men are not, it makes up for the disparity in other facets of the game. The collective bargaining agreement that settled the 2016 Gender Discrimination case filed by the USWNT improved the previous conditions. However, the USSF argued that USMNT vs. USWNT revenue (market realities that prevent men and women from being paid equally) was the key factor for why the men and women were paid the way they were.

5. So why are the USWNT suing (again) now? 

a. Revenue trends for USWNT have been trending upward considerably since 2015.

i. “From 2016 to 2018, women’s games generated about $50.8 million in revenue compared with $49.9 million for the men, according to U.S. soccer’s audited financial statements.”

b. Well who brings in more sponsors? How are the TV ad deals worked out?

i. This is a toughy! US Soccer sells both the USMNT and USMNT sponsorship and TV deals as a BUNDLE. Yes as ONE. But equal? Not sure. They’ll have to get into the nitty gritty to prove how the funds are distributed (this is outside of the USSF being able to pinpoint exactly how much revenue the USMNT games have generated versus the USWNT games, as noted above).

c. What about FIFA and the World Cup? How does that work?

i. Broadcasting rights to the World Cup are sold by FIFA; USSF does not generate revenue directly from those rights.
ii. It's common knowledge that on the international stage, FIFA prioritizes men’s soccer over women’s soccer. FIFA distributes their prize money:

1. 2019 Women’s World Cup: $30 million (champion walks away with $4 million).
2. 2018 Men’s World Cup: $400 million (champion walked away with $38 million).

HOLY COW THAT’S A HUGE DIFFERENTIAL ... BUT FIFA can do what FIFA wants. FIFA does not pay the men and women in the United States directly. US Soccer does and US soccer dictates what money goes where and to which player. Yes, men’s soccer on an international scale generates more revenue (we’ve already discussed internally how the national teams compare in the US).

Perhaps they think the higher bonus structure would incentivize the men to play up to the competition? “At most, US Soccer would pay the women $260,870 each for winning the World Cup, which is roughly a quarter of what the regular starters for the men would earn en route to winning a World Cup.”

It’s not working though, considering the USMNT failed to qualify as one of the 32 teams competing for the World Cup in 2018 for the first time since 1986. So that pool of prize money above? The men got zilch.

6. So how do the USMNT feel?

a. The men are okay. So okay to the point where they’re willing to subsidize to fund the woman’s team.

Yep, feel free to read that again. 

7. Well what about the ratings?

a. The 2019 Woman’s World Cup final did just swimmingly here in the US (but, again, it’s hard to compare how the US men would have fared since they didn’t make it the year prior): 

8. And apparel sales?

Tomorrow the USWNT will hold their World Cup victory parade in New York City, a little over a week later they’ll sit down in mediation to discuss what they’re worth. 

How much is the most dominant female soccer team in the world worth? What they’ll be battling on the surface is largely institutionalized past perceptions of the women’s game and an internationally-based structure that prioritizes the men over women and their dictation of the funding. US Soccer has a choice here in the United States with how they treat their back-to-back World Champions. 

Investing in the current is done to ensure continued success in the future, isn’t that the American way? 

Call it equal pay, equitable pay, whatever, but the landscape of women’s soccer in United States has changed and will continue to change, it’s fine time US Soccer gets up to speed and changes with it.


Follow Natalie on Twitter: @NatalieEgenolf

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