It’s just over a week since the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) won their fourth world soccer title, and the celebration has been non-stop – a tickertape parade in New York City along with TV interviews and awards shows. These honors have been well earned. The U.S. women played the “beautiful game,” beautifully, as did their opponents. The quality of play captured fans’ attention around the world, as reflected by game attendance and TV ratings.
In further recognition of the quality of the tournament, chants of “USA” and “Equal Pay” reverberated through the stadium during the medal ceremony. As most fans know by now, the union representing the USWNT sued U.S. SOCCER, the governing national federation in the United States, for equal compensation to that provided the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT). Despite the existence of a collective bargaining agreement covering the period 2017-2021, both parties sensibly agreed prior to the beginning of the World Cup to mediate the dispute after the tournament concluded.
Establishing the facts of the case, in the absence of emotional exuberance, should provide some clarity on the situation. The USMNT and USWNT have separate collective bargaining agreements with U.S. SOCCER. They have distinctly different terms. USMNT players receive higher per game compensation for their national team appearances than the women. Moreover, USMNT training facilities, transportation and lodging arrangements, and medical care are reportedly substantially superior.
U.S. Soccer pays each USWNT member a $100,000/year salary to play for a soccer team in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Thus, USWNT players who play for NWSL clubs, earn this salary from U.S. Soccer in addition to any amounts paid by their clubs. The highest salary league clubs currently pays their players is reportedly $46,000/year. The men receive no salary from U.S. Soccer, because their professional clubs pay them for playing on their teams. In reality, the salary is as much a U.S. Soccer subsidy to the NWSL as it is compensation to players for their league participation. As such, it should be disregarded from any fair evaluation of national team compensation.
The difference between men’s and women’s FIFA world cup bonuses should likewise not factor into consideration. U.S. Soccer cannot control these amounts, although its decisions with regard to future compensation for the USWNT can show leadership within FIFA on the direction it should take on compensation for future FIFA Women’s World Cups. To its credit, FIFA leadership has already announced that it will double bonuses for the 2023 women’s tournament.
Revenue generation is a major factor in the equation. Over the last three years, the USWNT earned more in game ticket sales than the USMNT. However, that is the only direct revenue-earning comparison that can be made, because TV coverage of the two national teams is combined with a contract covering Major League Soccer (MLS) games and sponsorship income is also often bundled as well.
Brand value, however, is as dependent on intangible factors as financial. The USWNT is the only four time FIFA Women’s World Cup winner and has played for the championship five times. On the men’s side, only the Brazilian team has won more world titles, five, followed by Germany and Italy, which have won four each. The women have also won four Olympic Gold medals. The USMNT has reached the World Cup quarterfinals once, the knock-out rounds twice more, and failed to qualify for the tournament at all in 2018. While the U.S. women were earning glory in France this year, the U.S. men lost a regional championship game to Mexico in Chicago.
People and companies are recognizing the USWNT’s implicit value. David Neal, Executive Producer of FIFA World Cup on Fox, stated after the World Cup that “[T]he shining star of U.S. soccer is the USWNT. These women are heroes and that carries great value.” Even U.S. Soccer has recognized that the USWNT brand is the federation’s best product. Just take a look at the U.S. Soccer website.
The U.S. women are champions, and Americans should be proud of their graceful and determined representation of the United States during the tournament. The men simply are not; yet they are better paid and supported. U.S. Soccer needs to change these facts and compensate the members of the USWNT as the champions they are. “Equal Pay” is as insufficient a slogan as it is compensation. Instead, just pay them what they are worth.
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