Apples to Apples
By Stephen Tuttle | July 13, 2019
The United States Women's National Team (USWNT) just won the World Cup, the world championship of soccer. There was a chance they wouldn't play at all.
As the national debate about pay equity between men and women continues to bubble along, our soccer program for women might be the most glaring example of pay disparity we can find. Our players were not very happy about it.
They threatened to strike and forego the World Cup if they didn't get a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Among their complaints were these: The men have state of the art training facilities, while the women were forced to use whatever facilities they could; the men are flown to tournaments in first-class or business, while the women fly coach; and the men were paid far, far more just to participate.
The United States Soccer Federation (USSF), the governing body for our men's and women's national teams, acquiesced on some points but left the women with an ugly choice: Accept a new and wholly inadequate CBA or go on strike and likely miss the World Cup. As defending World Cup champions, they chose to play for less than they deserved.
The USSF brought out the usual list of specious reasons for the pay, facility, and training disparities. Well, don't you see, the men are paid more to play professionally, so we have to promise them more to lure them onto the national team. Or, they generate more revenue with their professional teams. Or, their professional leagues wouldn't let the men participate if they didn't pay them more ... and so on.
It's true enough the men's professional club teams, like those in Major League Soccer (MLS) here and in the European leagues generate far more income than the women's leagues. They have monstrously big television contracts, large stadiums, more advertising and sponsorships, and multi-billionaire owners.
But all that money stays with those clubs, leagues, players, and owners; none of it accrues to the national teams in those countries unless through charity. So how much somebody makes playing for, say, Manchester United in England has zero to do with income generation for their national team.
Things get sticky when the comparisons start being apples to apples — how much revenue is generated by the U.S. men's team vs. the U.S. women's team. Very, very sticky.
There is a bonus system for players on both teams that is dependent on how much they win in important tournaments like the World Cup or the Olympics. For the women, the bonuses added up to a tidy $250,000 each when they won. Had the men won a World Cup, however, their bonuses would have been $1.1 million each.
The prize pool at the recent World Cups is even more glaring. FIFA, the governing body for all international soccer and a place where corruption has long thrived, creates and administers the prize money. Last year the prize pool for the men was $400 million. This year's prize pool for the women was $30 million. FIFA has promised to double the women's purse next time, bringing them all the way up to … 15 percent of what the men get.
That has to be because the men bring in so much more money, right? FIFA loves that argument, and it might be true worldwide. But it isn't true in the U.S., where an apples-to-apples comparison exposes the argument.
According to Business Insider, since 2015, the U.S. women’s national team has generated more revenue, garnered higher television ratings generating more advertising revenue, sold more merchandise ... there really is no income or attention metric in which the women don't do better and produce more than the men.
Then there's the matter of performance. The men's national team has never made it past the quarterfinals of any World Cup and has never won an Olympic medal. Last year our men didn't even qualifyfor the World Cup, losing a final, must-win game against Trinidad and Tobago, a tiny island nation of less than 1.4 million.
The women, meanwhile, have been to eight straight World Cup semifinals, have won four times (no other country has won more than twice), and, as a bonus, have an Olympic gold medal.
The members of the U.S. women’s national team, all of them, sued our national federation in 2018 over discriminatory pay and working conditions. That suit is still pending, slowly heading to a court showdown. The naysayers are offended by the lawsuit: How could these women challenge the federation?
They could because the women’s team plays the same game with the same rules on the same pitch for the same length of time — and they do it far better than the men for a lot less money. And not for some professional team; for their country. Apples to apples.
The lawsuit critics are correct: The women shouldn't be paid the same as the men. They should be paid more.