Women’s soccer pay resource page

Facts and links about the U.S. women’s soccer team’s lawsuit against U.S. Soccer.

If you see a resource worth adding to this page, please let me know in the comments, email me or DM me at Twitter.

Timeline

  • July 1995: On the way to the Copa America, the U.S. men decide to strike over their contract offer.
  • Nov. 20, 2011: MNT collective bargaining agreement, retroactive to Jan. 1, sets pie-in-the-sky bonuses for World Cup success.
  • Jan. 12, 2006: WNT collective bargaining agreement, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2005.
  • March 19, 2013: WNT Memorandum of Understanding, extending previous CBA but with new financial terms.
  • Feb. 14, 2016: U.S. Soccer complaint asking court to affirm that the women’s no-strike clause was valid, stopping the chances of labor action before the Olympics.
  • March 30, 2016: EEOC complaint. Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn file discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of the WNT.
  • Dec. 28, 2016: Rich Nichols exits his post as executive director of the WNT players association.
  • March 2017: New WNT collective bargaining agreement, retroactive to Jan. 1. The 2017 deal is a vast improvement over the previous deal, but that’s a low bar to clear. The old one was written in the mid-2000s, when women’s soccer was virtually invisible after the collapse of the WUSA and the retirements of Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy et al.
  • Dec. 31, 2018: MNT collective bargaining agreement expires. As of June 2020, it has not replaced.
  • Feb. 5, 2019: Right to sue. After taking no action for nearly three years, the EEOC grants the WNT the right to pursue their case in court instead.
  • March 8, 2019, The women’s team sues
  • July 29, 2019: Open letter from then-USSF president Carlos Cordeiro with various claims on finances.
  • May 1, 2020: Summary judgment goes mostly in favor of U.S. Soccer

(Will update to add details of negotiations as stated in court documents)

Lawsuit analysis

Disclaimer: Not a lawyer

THE BASICS

The specific complaint: “The USSF discriminates against Plaintiffs, and the class that they seek to represent, by paying them less than members of the MNT for substantially equal work and by denying them at least equal playing, training, and travel conditions; equal promotion of their games; equal support and development for their games; and other terms and conditions of employment equal to the MNT.” (USWNT: March 8, 2019, ¶ 4)

What the WNT wants: In simplest terms: “This action seeks an end to the USSF’s discriminatory practices, and an award to make Plaintiffs and the class whole, as well as to provide for liquidated and punitive damages and all other appropriate relief.” (USWNT: March 8, 2019, ¶ 5). Back pay is specifically mentioned, without a specific amount. (USWNT: March 8, 2019, ¶ 109, ¶ 116)

KEY POINTS

Leaning heavily on work by Elon law professor and former Davidson soccer player Andrew Haile, who argues for better treatment for the women’s team despite reservations about the case.

Scope of work: A vital argument here, touching on three of the four aspects Haile mentions (the “same establishment,” “equal work” and reasons “other than sex” for a pay disparity). The WNT says they’re required to “perform the same job duties that require equal skill, effort and responsibilities performed under similar working conditions as the male MNT players” (March 8, 2019, ¶ 39). U.S. Soccer argues that they are “physically and functionally separate organizations” that play in separate spaces and competitions.

A few differences between the MNT and WNT (up to the reader — or the judges — to determine how important these are):

  1. The men play the bulk of their games in tournaments — particularly World Cup qualifying and the Gold Cup (and now the Nations League) — under more pressure than the women face outside the World Cup and Olympics.
  2. The women have a very easy path to the World Cup and Olympics because few countries in CONCACAF make any investment in or have any tradition in women’s soccer.
  3. The women have an easier path to winning the World Cup and Olympics because few countries around the world make any investment in or have any tradition in women’s soccer. (That’s changing — the 2019 World Cup had several teams capable of winning, and professional soccer has caught on in Europe. In the 1990s, the best soccer league in the world was likely college soccer’s Atlantic Coast Conference.)
  4. The women can make money at the Olympics. The men can only play in the Olympics if they’re under 23 years old or picked for one of the three overage slots, and the only pay they get would be the small medalist bonuses from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
  5. The women play more games.
  6. Men are rarely called in for every camp and game the MNT plays, and more than 50 players usually get playing time in a given year. The women’s team usually calls its core players every time they’re healthy, and fewer than 35 players see the field in most year. That means the top women’s players may be paid more and will be listed on the 990 forms, even in some years in which the total compensation for the men’s team is higher.
  7. The game is the same. It’s soccer. The “women put in less effort and have lesser skill” argument was so far off the mark that it forced the exits of U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro, U.S. Soccer in-house legal counsel Lydia Wahlke and many of the federation’s hired lawyers.

How to compare pay: U.S. Soccer argues that the WNT has sought a different pay structure that hinders apples-to-apples comparison. “(N)o pay comparison can be made between the USWNT players, who earn guaranteed salaries and benefits, and the USMNT players, who are paid strictly on a match appearance fee basis.” (May 6, 2019, ¶ 51) But if you must compare, U.S. Soccer says, the women earned more per game than the WNT in the time covered by this suit.

Many in the media noted the irony that the WNT earned more per game because they were more successful than the men — the women earned nearly all the bonuses they could earn, while the men missed out on any World Cup bonuses. On the flip side, the women’s revenue was only higher than the men — an unusual occurrence — because the men flopped in World Cup qualifying.

The different contract structures: In his ruling granting most of U.S. Soccer’s motion for summary judgment, Judge R. Gary Klausner said this:

This history of negotiations between the parties demonstrates that the WNT rejected an offer to be paid under the same pay-to-play structure as the MNT, and that the WNT was willing to forgo higher bonuses for other benefits, such as greater base compensation and the guarantee of a higher number of contracted players. Accordingly, Plaintiffs cannot now retroactively deem their CBA worse than the MNT CBA by reference to what they would have made had they been paid under the MNT’s pay-to­ play structure when they themselves rejected such a structure.

SIDE ISSUES

Lawyers would have to weigh in on how much these arguments would matter in court as much as they do in the media.

Is U.S. Soccer required to pay equal bonuses on unequal prize money?: See calculations below.

Revenue, attendance and ratings: Some of the arguments here are subtle — the WNT notes that the 2015 World Cup final was the most watched soccer game in U.S. TV history; the USSF response agrees that it broke the record for being the most-watched soccer match on English-language television. (May 6, 2019, ¶ 41 — emphasis mine)

One bit of irony: In the years leading up to the EEOC filing, the MNT’s numbers were far higher than the WNT’s. In the time that passed between the EEOC filing and the lawsuit, the WNT caught up, again thanks to the men’s failure to qualify for the World Cup. The revenue in 2016 through 2019 helped WNT advocates in the media make their case, but is it legally relevant when we’re talking about collective bargaining agreements signed in early 2013 and early 2017?

Another bit of irony: Women’s revenue is increasing in part because U.S. Soccer started the SheBelieves Cup and Tournament of Nations, bringing more friendly games to the USA rather than traveling to the Algarve Cup in Portugal. The WNT, though, argued that U.S. Soccer should consider these tournaments the equivalent of the Gold Cup and Copa America, even saying it was just former U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati’s “opinion” that more ranking points are available at the Gold Cup and Copa America (empirically true) and that those tournaments are more prestigious (obviously true).

After the 2011 World Cup, in which the women earned a lot of attention but took second place, the USSF reported a financial loss on the team. After the 2015 World Cup, revenue increased 640%, so even with expenses nearly doubling, the women brought in an eight-figure net gain — nearly as much as the men after the 2014 World Cup.

For a full look at MNT and WNT revenue, attendance and ratings, see this spreadsheet. In short, MNT attendance and ratings are much better, except in World Cup years.

Economic analysis

Disclaimer: Not an economist

MNT AND WNT DEALS COMPARED

See this spreadsheet.

The biggest difference by far is World Cup bonus money. A few notable line-by-line comparisons:

FIFA World Cup prize money: 2018 men’s World Cup vs. 2019 Women’s World Cup (not including qualifying bonus or “prep money” before Cup)

  • Reaching group stage: $8m 2018 / $750,000 2019
  • Reaching round of 16: $12m / $1m
  • Reaching quarterfinals: $16m / $1.45m
  • Reaching semifinals: $22m / $1.6m
  • Finishing third: $24m / $2m
  • Finishing second: $28m / $2.6m
  • Champion: $38m / $4m

U.S. Soccer bonuses: 2018 vs. 2019 (including game bonuses)

  • Reaching group stage: $2.44m 2018 / $310,500 2019
  • Reaching round of 16*: $6.2m / $414,000
  • Reaching quarterfinals: $11.4m / $517,500
  • Reaching semifinals: $17.3m / $724,500
  • Finishing third: $18.6m / $1.3m + $1m for Victory Tour**
  • Finishing second: $23.6m / $2.6m + $1.2m for Victory Tour
  • Champion: $26.7m / $3.2m + $1.4m for Victory Tour

MNT bonuses* are given as a maximum. The team can earn $218,750 for each point (1 for draw, 3 for win) in the group stage.

Victory Tour bonuses** are paid on top of the fees and bonuses for each game on the Tour.

U.S. Soccer pay for friendlies (men/women; women’s accounting based on game pay for non-salaried players. Does not include attendance bonuses for home games.)

  • Win over Tier 1 opponent: $17,625 / $11,750-$12,750
  • Win over Tier 2 opponent: $12,500 / $9,750-$10,750
  • Win over Tier 3 opponent: $9,375 / $8,500-$9,500
  • Draw with Tier 1 opponent: $8,125 / $5,000-$6,000
  • Draw with Tier 2 or 3 opponent: $6,250 / $4,500-$5,500
  • Loss: $5,000 / $3,250-$4,250

Salaries: Men $0 / Women $100,000 for a limited number of players (20 players in 2017, then 19, 18, 17 and finally 16 in 2021)

Women also receive benefits that the men do not, along with subsidized salaries and additional benefits for playing in the NWSL.

U.S. SOCCER FINANCES

Note that the federation has planned to spend its reserves, which at one time reached $162m, down to $50m as part of a five-year plan about which the federation has released few specifics. (The areas that are definitely on the upswing are coaching education and technology.)

The 2016 Copa America Centenario accounts for more than two-thirds of the increase in U.S. Soccer’s net assets over a five-year span.

COVID-19 impact: See a hypothetical of how U.S. Soccer’s finances might look with a 50% cut in event and marketing revenue along with corresponding cuts in expenses, including the dissolution of the Development Academy, in this spreadsheet. You can also download and make your own hypotheticals. I also did a simplified version of that spreadsheet, without the formulas to make hypotheticals, for a Soccer America story.

For full details of USSF finances through March 31, 2019, see this spreadsheet and check the resources listed below.

EQUAL PAY ELSEWHERE

Various Olympic sports pay equally. (See Canadian curling.) I don’t know of any women’s sports team that is paid as well as its men’s counterpart. USA Basketball, which to my knowledge doesn’t pay players at all, is

The “equal pay” deals in Australia and Norway pay equally in many aspects but not in the prize money for World Cups and other tournaments, where the federations offer an equal percentage of the bonus money. In Australia, which pays better than Norway across the board, this arrangement would give the U.S. women $2m for their 2019 World Cup victory, less than they actually received and far less than the roughly $26m they say they’d be due if they played under the MNT’s CBA.

(For a couple of hypotheticals of USWNT and USMNT pay under the Australia and Norway deals, see this spreadsheet.)

Conclusions

A couple of possible solutions, which I call “slash or bath”:

  1. Slash the men’s bonuses, instead investing any future windfalls in federation programs and figuring the players will benefit in negotiations with clubs and sponsors after reaping the ratings from their World Cup runs. (Reminder: The 2014 USA-Portugal group-stage game drew higher ratings than the 2019 Women’s World Cup final when you add Spanish-language viewership — and if you don’t want to add the Spanish broadcasts, please explain why.)
  2. Take a financial bath of eight figures whenever the women win the World Cup, hoping that increased sponsor interest will make up the difference. (Here’s where the 2015 World Cup revenue, mentioned above, is of interest.)

Others …

  1. Accept unequal World Cup bonuses, with the WNT continuing to receive roughly 100% of FIFA’s prize money (when the Victory Tour bonus is added) while the MNT receives a much smaller percentage but a much higher payout in the unlikely event that they should ever win it.
  2. Put EVERYTHING in one pot and split it, which should eliminate any financial reason for one team or one fan base to root against the other. It would also help each team through various tough times such as the MNT failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup or the WNT failing to reach the 2016 Olympic semifinals.

Bibliography

LEGAL

Complete docket at RECAP. Many documents are available there, but some are only available for a fee at PACER. Users can add documents to RECAP when they pay at PACER.

Selected documents listed and linked here:

Hope Solo is suing U.S. Soccer individually. Her lawyer is Rich Nichols, who served as the U.S. women’s players association executive director during the contentious negotiations of 2016. A motion for her to join her former teammates in mediation was rejected, as was a motion seeking sanctions against the WNT and its legal team.

ECONOMIC CALCUATIONS

PROJECTIONS, SCENARIOS, ETC.

If you’d like to run your own pay scenario, entering variables and seeing how much each team is paid, download the spreadsheet at GitHub. A few scenarios I’ve run:

U.S. SOCCER FINANCIAL DATA

ARTICLES

Me at Soccer America

Me at The Guardian

Elsewhere