The U.S. Women's National Team (USWNT) has gotten a lot of attention recently in part because of the controversial celebrating in their 13-0 win over Thailand, their back-to-back World Cup championships, and Twitter bouts with President Trump, but the thing we're still discussing is their on going lawsuit with the United States Soccer Federation (U.S. Soccer) for equal pay.
For those who don’t follow soccer, athletes play for “club and country.” Their club is like Orlando City or Orlando Pride, soccer’s equivalent to the Orlando Magic. The club is the primary focus for most of the athletes’ time and, in the men’s game, provides most of their earnings. Top athletes also compete for their country on their national team. Earnings from club plus earnings from U.S. Soccer plus international tournament bonuses seem to make up U.S. Soccer players wages, excluding endorsements.
For players on the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT), club salaries provide most of their earnings; for women the opposite is true. Salaries in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), which is where all 23 USWNT players currently play, are capped at $46,200 per year, with a minimum of $16,538.
Here’s the main problem with women’s club soccer - attendance is weak. Last year the NWSL average attendance was just 6,000 per game. In comparison the 2018 average home attendance for the MLS was around 22,000 per game.
The men’s team and the women’s team have different pay structures and their collective bargaining agreements are not made public, but what we know is that the women have negotiated for security and the men for performance. While U.S. Soccer has not provided details about the men’s bonus structure, the women earn a base salary of $100,000 per year, and an additional stipend per player as a salary for playing in the NWSL. They also have healthcare and a retirement plan. Conversely, players on the men’s national team are instead paid by training camp call-ups, game appearances and through performance bonuses. Based on this pay structure, men have the ability to earn higher compensation compared the women.
A lot of people are calling on international compensation to be based on revenue. Logically that makes the most sense. The team that makes the most should get paid the most.
A recent Wall Street Journal report, based on U.S. Soccer’s own financial documents, showed that in the most recent three-year period for which records are available, the women’s team earned $900,000 more — $50.8 million to $49.9 million — than the men.
But nearly half those earnings came in 2015, following the women’s title in the 2015 World Cup; the men made more in each of the other two years. And U.S. Soccer sells its TV rights as a package, so there’s no way to divide that revenue.
Looking year by year, 2016 was actually the only year in which the women’s team generated more revenue from games — $24.11 million, compared to $22.24 million for the men. In 2017, both teams brought in about the same revenue at $14.61 million, and in 2018, the men’s team brought in $13 million compared to the women’s $12.03 million.
FIFA Prize Money
France won the 2018 Men’s World Cup, taking home $38 million from a total prize-money purse of $400 million. The USWNT got $4 million for winning the 2019 Women’s World Cup from a total purse of $30 million.
The 2019 Women’s World Cup final set a record for the highest viewership of a soccer match in the U.S. It drew about 20 times more U.S. viewers than the Men’s World Cup final last summer, but world wide it’s a different story. Women’s World Cup viewers world wide were 22.2 million this summer compared to the 3.5 billion viewers for the Men’s World Cup. While viewership is on the rise for the women’s tournament, it still is nowhere near that of the men’s.
The say for equal pay is tough to assess objectively. Due to the lack of transparency and the complicated variables that feed into compensation based on the collective bargaining agreements, it’s hard to say whether the women are ultimately paid less than the men. While the USWNT has outperformed the USMNT on the international stage, club attendance and global viewership of international tournaments hurt their argument.