First, read my piece at The Guardian. If you haven’t been following the saga of the Great Equal Pay Standoff of 2016-17, that’ll help you catch up.
You may notice there’s a lot we don’t know. It’s not as if U.S. Soccer and the union held a press conference and went over the CBA line by line. “It’s a private document,” I’ve been told by someone who wishes to remain anonymous. A BigSoccer poster captured the release of information perfectly:
Exact terms not to be disclosed until you’ve lost interest.
And indeed, the previous CBA and Memorandum of Understanding weren’t released until everyone started suing each other last year, and Jonathan Tannenwald tossed the whole thing up at Philly.com for the world to see because he’s a great guy who works about 80 hours a week.
You may remember those days. Julie Foudy wondered why the U.S. women weren’t enforcing “equal pay” clauses in the existing deal. We all gasped as we realized the U.S. national team’s labor agreement dictated the terms of non-U.S. national team players in the NWSL.
And indeed, the limit on non-WNT pay is one of the few things that has come out about the new deal. You don’t find out by asking people. You find out when Grant Wahl goes on Fox and casually mentions it in passing while reporting on the Marta-to-Orlando deal (which has a lot of unanswered questions of its own, mainly why in the world Rosengard would give up Marta on a “free transfer” as suddenly as Trump changed his mind on Syria).
So here are some of the things we know about the deal, from various sources:
1. The maximum salary for a non-USWNT player in the NWSL is $41,000 (Source: Grant Wahl). (Or maybe $41,700, per Jeff Kassouf. * – see update below) That’s not a ton of money, but a lot of people in their 20s manage to live on that.
And with that said, bear in mind — U.S. Soccer may not have the right to dictate as much to the NWSL as we think.
(Also noteworthy from Jeff’s tweet: The minimum salary is now $15,000, comparable to what MLS “developmental players” earned many years ago. Still not enough to be fully independent of other sources of income, but maybe enough for me to shut up those people on the local youth soccer message board who scoff at the Spirit having “so-called pro players.”)
2. U.S. players have gained some measure of control over their image rights (various sources). We don’t have details. It’s hard to say what this entailed in the past as well. When a player writes a book, does she have to pay U.S. Soccer for a photo of herself? Or just the photographer? .
3. The minimum number of players under U.S. Soccer contract is dropping (Source: Grant Wahl). At first, that may seem like a “win” for the federation and a loss for the players. But maybe not. We’ve all fretted that U.S. coaches haven’t had much flexibility with the player pool in the past. Now, they should have more, and the players on the fringe of the national team also benefit because …
4. “Floater” pay will improve (various sources). We don’t know details, but it’s important to note that this was indeed addressed.
5. Players will “commit” to NWSL in exchange for improved conditions (Grant Wahl, plus my own reporting). One thing I understand from my own reporting: No, Crystal Dunn doesn’t have to immediately pack up and leave England. It’s more complicated than that. There are numbers involved, and the number of players that can be overseas will be higher in a non-tournament year (like this one) than it will be in a World Cup or Olympic year.
6. There’s no outright ban on artificial turf for home friendlies (Andrew Das). The men also played on turf recently in Chattanooga. But does the deal ramp up field inspections to avoid another Aloha Stadium situation?
7. The Victory Tour is … dead? Maybe? (my own reporting). Someone close to the players told me the new bonus structure might make the Victory Tour irrelevant. I hesitate to share something with such shaky sourcing, but I hope this prods people to give us a definitive answer.
8. Travel is better (various sources, including my own reporting). I asked specifically if this means a player based overseas would get a business class flight to come over and play for the USWNT. I was told she would. Other than that, I’m not sure how much else would change. The old deal called for business class or charter for any flight of three hours or more, and even the men’s team might be in economy for something shorter than that. (The men’s team, though, has more international games, so it may come up less often.)
9. The difference in men’s and women’s per diems over the past two years will be paid retroactively (various sources, including my own reporting). This was always a silly issue. Had cooler heads prevailed in 2016, the per diems would’ve been evened up. The cost to U.S. Soccer from a PR point of view is far greater than the financial cost of chipping in a few extra bucks per day per play. But perhaps because of that PR cost, the players used the per diems as a bludgeon against USSF last year.
And that’s just one of the many ways in which the USWNT’s stance from 2016 backfired. It’s not a question of a “hard line.” The players were still taking a hard line — they needed another three months after firing Rich Nichols and easing the more combative players to the back benches to make a deal. They were taking a reasonable line in every sense — a firm stance based on reason.
Add it all together:
Will players get better pay? It certainly appears so.
Did Jill Ellis and any future U.S. coach get more flexibility to bring in new players and have legitimate competition for places on the team? Also appears so.
Will this deal benefit NWSL players? This one’s a little murkier. Non-USWNT players still have an individual salary cap, and we’ll have to see what U.S. Soccer can really do about some aspects of NWSL life. The NWSL’s deal with A&E may bring about more change than anything U.S. Soccer does. But in any case, NWSL players are organizing separately. (Expect news on that sometime in the near future.)
And, again, the NWSL was not a party to these discussions or this agreement. U.S. Soccer does a lot to support the league, but the league is not a dictatorship, even a benevolent one.
How much money will the U.S. women get if they win the next World Cup? And here we’re in the complete unknown.
Something to consider on bonuses: FIFA is (or should be) under pressure to bump up the bonuses it pays out. The 2015 WWC champion (USA) got $2 million. That’s far less than a men’s team gets just for making it to the final 32.
So if you’re negotiating for the WNT, do you ask for your bonus as a percentage of the FIFA bonus rather than a flat fee?
I’ve been told players get nearly all of whatever bonus money FIFA pays. But wouldn’t you rather see that in writing?
In any case, there’s more to fair treatment than what’s written on a piece of paper. From my Guardian piece: “In some areas, what counts more than anything else is what actually happens over the next few years.”
At the very least, we have a fresh start. And that’s progress.
Update: The NWSL has released competition and roster rules. The former aren’t particularly interesting, though it’s always worthwhile to make note of the tiebreaking procedures, and I can’t remember seeing so much detail about who forms what committee on a lightning delay. (The TV producer is included in the conversation, though you’d have to imagine that’s just to keep the broadcasters informed.)
The roster rules are worth browsing, though they raise a few questions. The biggest questions in my mind are on the salary cap, which is $315,000 per team, “spread across a minimum of 18 Players … based on adjustments for Federation players.”
The quick math here: $315,000 divided by 18 equals $17,500. If a team carried the maximum roster of 20, then it’s $15,500. That would make it virtually impossible for any player to make significantly more than the league minimum.
So does that mean the “Federation players” (those allocated by the USA or Canada — Mexico is still listed as a Federation even though it isn’t allocating any players at the moment) are simply exempt from the cap? I’ve asked the league.