Everything you think you know about women’s soccer pay is wrong. (Even if you think you know it all, which I did before I started doing spreadsheets.)
Having covered women’s soccer through the highs and lows of the 21st century, I’ve found myself immersed in the Great Pay Dispute of 2016, which continued into 2017 and was revived when the U.S. women played in (and eventually won) the 2019 World Cup.
Here are a few things I’ve written and developed, along with some primary sources, to examine the issue …
Download the spreadsheet, in which you can enter your own variables, at GitHub. A few scenarios I’ve run:
- Projection using current collective bargaining agreements (men and women)
- Scenario: Women win back pay in lawsuit
- Scenario: Equal pay for friendlies and smaller gap in bonuses
- Compiled attendance, TV ratings and revenue for the men’s and women’s national teams
- U.S. Soccer 990 forms and audited financial statements (including breakdowns of highest-paid employees and a bird’s-eye glimpse of revenue and expenses)
- U.S. Soccer media guides (including historical results and attendance)
- U.S. Soccer Annual General Meeting books (including detailed budget reports, usually going back through two years of actual finances and one year of projections, along with prior meeting transcripts — available for the 2017, 2016, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 meetings)
REMINDERS for examining the data
- 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, but the total compensation for the men’s team may be higher.
- 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.
- July 11, 2019: How the quest for back pay in the U.S. women’s team lawsuit could play out
- July 6, 2019: Tying national team pay to revenue would exacerbate pointless gender war
- June 30, 2019: Delving into the complexities of ‘equal pay for equal play’
- April 7, 2017: The US women’s soccer team achieved their goal – and perhaps a bit more
- Jan. 18, 2017: The US soccer pay dispute: will a fix be found before the NWSL season begins?
- Nov. 21, 2016: The US women’s national team are demanding equal pay. Is it realistic?
- Nov. 1, 2016: How turmoil in US women’s soccer could drive players to Europe
- April 11, 2016: The US women’s soccer pay dispute: a tangled web with no easy answers
MORE ARTICLES WITH DETAILED ANALYSIS
- July 13, 2019: On the matter of the USWNT and equal pay, it’s complicated (LA Times, Kevin Baxter)
- July 8, 2019: Fact Checker: Are U.S. women’s soccer players really earning less than men? (Washington Post, Meg Kelly)
- The MNT has historically done far better than the WNT in revenue, ratings and attendance. In 2018-20, with the men failing to qualify for the World Cup and women winning one (ratings dropped but media interest anecdotally is the highest since 1999), the WNT will bring in more.
- A sign of optimism for the women: 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.
- Accordingly, women’s players have been paid more and will be paid more than the men — for now. Missing out on a World Cup wipes out a lot of earnings potential for the men, but missing out on a World Cup medal (as could have happened in 2019) would be devastating for the women.
- The 2017 women’s collective bargaining agreement 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.
THE TOUGHEST ISSUE
U.S. Soccer’s negotiating history with the men began in earnest with a standoff at the 1995 Copa America, where the MNT went on to an impressive result. The women’s negotiations revved up after the 1999 World Cup, especially with a dispute over scheduling the team’s games after the Cup. (One vestige of that negotiation is the “Victory Tour” after a World Cup or Olympic medal, which is being scaled back now that women have professional club opportunities.) In these negotiations, U.S. Soccer started paying the MNT a decent percentage (the players, of course, would ask for more) of FIFA prize money.
In doing so, it’s unlikely anyone thought, “Hey, wait a minute — if we’re paying the men a total bonus of $X million and comfortably covering that cost with FIFA prize money, what happens when the women want the same bonus even thought the FIFA prize money is barely 10% of the men’s prizes?”
So what do you do now? A couple of options, which I call “slash or bath”:
- 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.)
- 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.)
And a final reminder: 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. That’s not likely to happen again.
Draw your own. And if you see a resource worth adding to this page, please let me know.