Ah, the 21st century: a time of progression, improvement, and constructive discussion. Not to say that there aren’t still problems. Five players from the U.S. women’s national soccer team (Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Rebecca Sauerbrunn, and Alex Morgan) filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding the U.S. Soccer Federation’s (USSF) wage discrimination in paying men far more than women.
So do they have a case? According to the New York Times, women make $3,600 per friendly (of which there are 20 in a year) with a $1,350 bonus if they win. The men, on the other hand, pocket $5,000 per game and average $8,166 in bonuses for each win. All told, the maximum the women can make in a year is $99,000 while the men can pull in $263,320. Furthering this, the women won the World Cup in 2015 and shared a $2 million purse among the squad. Meanwhile, the men failed to advance beyond the round of 16 and still raked in $9 million. Along with this the USSF projects the women to be approximately $5 million in the black as the men drop $1 million into the red.
But, as usual, the issue isn’t black and white.
For starters, the collective bargaining agreements for the men and women are very different. The women are salaried (and have certain benefits the men don’t such as health care and severance) while the men are on a pay-for-play model. Most who have reported on the story more or less ignore this fact, choosing instead to skew the stats by citing the average per game. Also of note, though this is currently a point of contention between the two sides, the CBA for the women’s national team was looked at as recently as 2013. The pay discrepancy is defended by some by rationalizing that many men have demanding club schedules; the National Women’s Soccer League is actually run by the USSF and is a great deal (10 teams compared to a typical 20) smaller.
But all of this aside, the elephant in the room has to be addressed: the men’s game (both participation and financial figures) is astronomically larger than the women’s. The 2014 Men’s World Cup saw $529 million in sponsorship revenue before the women’s dragged in a paltry $17 million in 2015. To answer the concerns about World Cup bonuses, most fail to realize that this money comes directly from FIFA—the USSF has no control over this—and is, again, related to revenue. Finally, on a closely related note, while the USSF is seeing more of a profit from its women’s team, it’s difficult to discount the men’s team (through no virtue of their own other than being male) being distinctly more visible.
Should any of this really make a difference? No, not really. Both squads are doing the same job, and in this time of equal opportunity and equal pay, no one should bat an eyelash to see identical paycheques. But, as with anything else, it’s all about money—profit and maximizing advertising opportunities/visibility. When Tim Howard suits up for Everton or even Michael Bradley for Toronto FC, there are eyes watching them, on TV and in the stands. Fans know who they are. Fans know they’re USMNT players. But if Alex Morgan, one of the more popular women’s players, hits the pitch for the Orlando Pride, the question on most people’s minds would be whether a team called the Orlando Pride even exists. Recognition.
It should also be noted that, while it pains me to say this, the USSF choosing to pay their women equally could set a dangerous precedent that could hurt the women’s scene. While the popularity of women’s soccer in the USA is at an all-time high, other countries are not as fortunate. Even on the biggest stage, the Women’s World Cup only has 24 teams as opposed to the men’s 32. If the U.S. women are successful, the world could see other countries—countries with less money to work with—having to follow suit, whether that be due to ethics or just to placate the masses. The fallout could be several national women’s programs being cut altogether since there just wouldn’t be enough financial support.
So if the question is merely whether women should be paid the same, the answer is an obvious “yes.” However, with all the factors taken into consideration, women may have to suffer lower pay until such a time as the soccer world can actually support equality.