An Observation Concerning… Equal Pay (Oh Girl, Here We Go)

“But if you ask for a raise it’s no surprise that they’re, giving none away, away, away.”
-Pink Floyd, “Money”

Do players on the United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) deserve equal pay? Yes.

I wish it was that simple of an answer and that a pay bump solves all problems, but it’s not and it doesn’t (fair warning: get ready for a long post). There’s something that needs to be addressed beforehand: international pull. Unfortunately, the rest of the world may not care as much as we do, and that’s a major speed bump on the road to equal compensation. What a lame attempt to be clever.

Graham Hays, ESPNW.com- USSF says USWNT has made more than men

Let’s start with Graham Hays’ July 29 article stating, well, you can read the headline above. U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordiero provided an independently-performed financial report that reviewed the salary difference between U.S. men and women soccer players over the last decade. Hays said, “Among the conclusions, which U.S. Soccer said were verified by an independent accounting firm, are that women’s players were paid $34.1 million by the [USSF] from 2010 to 2018 in salaries and bonuses,” later adding, “members of the men’s national team were paid $26.4 million by the [USSF] over the same period, the analysis concluded.” I’m not too keen on math, but I believe there’s a difference that may become detrimental toward an “equal pay” argument here.

However, numbers and reports from unnamed firms are somewhat on the same level as the assumptions of lobbyists and members of congress. Hays quoted USWNT players’ spokesperson Molly Levinson, “This is a sad attempt by the USSF to quell the overwhelming tide of support the USWNT has received,” later adding, “the numbers the USSF uses are utterly false.”

We’ll get to those pesky congress members later.

Those are some rash claims by Levinson, and she does cite some things said, but “things said” don’t necessarily compare to things analyzed. Both teams are separate businesses, and everything is revenue driven. I was happy to see that the NSWL got an ESPN contract for 14 games, and the first game after the USWNT’s World Cup title was a sellout. How many sellouts were there before the World Cup? There have been ratings studies in the past that show there’s a general interest in women’s soccer leading up to, during and after the World Cup, but each time the numbers tend to decline during the three years between the buzz quieting and then returning.

People are too caught up on the U.S. side of things though, and it’s the wrong federation to be targeting. If the claim is for the USWNT to make the same as the USMNT then you can complain to USSF all you want, but they can only do so much. It’s FIFA that creates the problem.

But is there an actual international problem, and is FIFA just viewing this as business practicality? With the exception of a handful of countries, how many women’s national teams can say, “Hey, we deserve this because we perform equally or better than the men”? Wait, I answered the question before I asked it: a handful.

Now, the argument itself needs to be revised as well. If the main point for equal pay is international success then that’s a tough way to approach the debate. Let’s go over World Cup winners and runner-ups, but only start in 1990 to make it fair. Here’s how it would play out:

  • Women’s teams more successful than men’s teams (5): United States, Japan, Norway, China and Sweden.
  • Women’s teams equally successful as men’s teams (1): Germany.
  • Women’s teams not as successful as men’s teams (6): Italy, Argentina, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Croatia.

Now, that’s pretty close (damn U.S. hogging all the glory from the rest of the women). Here’s the main difference between the women’s and men’s world cups: prize money. France received $38 million for winning the 2018 title and the USWNT received a measly $4 million for their 2019 championship. That’s quite unbalanced, but is it actually fair mathematically?

Prize funds are generated from World Cup revenue, and the men have had 21 world cups in comparison to the women’s 8. That’s about two-thirds more exposure and two-thirds more time to generate revenue and growth. In World Cup terms alone, the men have been building a brand for 88 years while the women have been at it for 28.

  • Revised Women’s teams more successful than men’s teams (4): United States, Japan, Norway and China.
  • Revised Women’s teams equally successful as men’s teams (1): Sweden.
  • Revised Women’s teams not as successful as men’s teams (11): Germany, Uruguay, England, Italy, Argentina, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Croatia, Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic and Slovakia, but it would unfair to count them both) and Hungary.

Things are starting to look a little different. Though, you could assume two-thirds more World Cups should only account for two-thirds more money. So if we’re being truly “even Steven” then the purse for winning the women’s World Cup should be around $13 million. It’s going to get there sooner rather than later. In 2014, Germany’s prize for winning the men’s World Cup was $35 million, and in 2015 the USWNT received $2 million. For the men’s side, 2018 was around an 8.6 percent increase, while on the women’s side, 2019 was a 100 percent increase. That is incredibly promising, and people need to look at positives like this.

Still not convinced? That’s fair; there’s still an argument. So let’s get to the real deciding factor: international star power.

In 2018, Croatian and Real Madrid star Luka Modrić won the Ballon d’Or, and Norwegian and Lyon star Ada Hegerberg won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or. Here’s how the kids measure popularity these days: Instagram.

  • Luka Modrić followers: 17.2 million.
  • Ada Hegerberg followers: 310,000.

Though the 2019 finalists have been announced on both the women’s side, how many of these women below were household names in the U.S. before the 2019 World Cup?

  • Lindsey Horan
  • Megan Rapinoe
  • Amandine Henry
  • Amel Majri
  • Wendi Renard
  • Marta
  • Sam Kerr
  • Pernille Harder
  • Lieke Martens
  • Dzsenifer Marozsan
  • Saki Kumagai
  • Christine Sinclair
  • Lucy Bronze
  • Fran Kirby

Megan Rapinoe, Marta and Christine Sinclair should all be a “yes” if you have followed women’s soccer for at least the last decade. Lindsey Horan, Sam Kerr and Lieke Martens are a “maybe” in addition to Hegerberg, but the rest are probably only well-known to people who are citizens of the countries they represent or are truly devout followers of international women’s soccer—which I don’t believe to be the case in the U.S. I think we know our own players, there’s no denying that, but what about the rest of the world? And vice versa. Does the rest of the world care about our players?

Have you heard of these nobodies?

  • Cristiano Ronaldo
  • Antoine Griezmann
  • Kylian Mbappe
  • Lionel Messi

If you haven’t heard of at least two of them, you’re lying. Here’s something to think about: The combined Instagram followers of the 15 2018 Women’s Ballon d’Or finalists (7.6 million) doesn’t come close to the individual total of any of those four male stars above (177.9 million, 26.9 million, 32.8 million and 127.2 million respectively). And to try to make it fairer, I will add USWNT stars Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Julie Ertz, Mallory Pugh and Rose Lavelle (11.6 million). That brings us closer to Griezmann’s 26.9 million followers.

To clarify, I’m not trying to demean or discriminate against women at all; I’m just trying to prove a point that has been overlooked. The USWNT deserves equal pay and they want it, but the rest of the world is hindering the cause in a sense, and some of the media is framing it in a way that feeds the chants.

Nike released a statement that boasted the fact the USWNT’s jersey was the No. 1-selling kit, men’s or women’s, ever sold on their website in one season. That’s an amazing feat, but how many of those sales came within the U.S. compared to other countries purchasing the jersey? Also, it’s just one season. Can this consistency keep up when the momentum of the World Cup declines once again?

Headlines that have been filtering around the internet claim that the 2019 women’s World Cup final was watched by millions more viewers than the 2018 men’s final. That’s true—in the U.S. FIFA reported that 3.5 billion people globally tuned into the men’s final. For all you non-population buffs, that’s half the world. We will see what the final global numbers for the women’s final was in October. If you’re going to use international success as a talking point, you need to talk international numbers.

The world: we get back to our true problem with the progression of women’s soccer. Women’s soccer is huge in the U.S., and our women are damn good at what they do; the proof is in the titles and there’s no question they are the world’s best—not just now, but of all-time. FIFA doesn’t just look at the U.S. market, however, they look at the global impact of the game.

Let’s finally get to those pesky congress members. Oh man, do we have to? Tell me if you think this is dumb: Hays’ reported, “Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virigina, introduced a bill earlier this month that would deny federal funds for the 2026 Men’s World Cup, to be hosted jointly by the United States, Canada and Mexico, until the American federation agrees to pay its men’s and women’s teams equally. Last week, Rep. Doris Matsui, D-California, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, introduced a similar bill in the house.”

That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard, and the government does a lot of dumb things. First of all, you can’t make that decision for Canada and Mexico who are just kind of piggybacking off the U.S. as joint hosts. Second, that’s a childish, selfish and rash reaction to a report that didn’t provide the answer you wanted.

“I didn’t get my way so I’m going to ruin everything for everyone!”

How many people in the U.S., Canada and Mexico agree with this bill? How many people in the world agree with this bill? Like it or not, it would affect all countries that make the 2026 tournament, not to mention tourism revenue for all hosting states. You would be taking away a quality World Cup from billions of people who consider this “The World’s Game” and don’t give two shits about your petty agenda that only helps a small percentage of this country.

We don’t consider the other variables; we just consider what’s on the surface and what we assume.

Here’s another interesting statement to dissect: Hays’ quoted Levinson again, “Here is what [USSF] cannot deny: For every game a man plays on the MNT, he makes a higher base salary payment than a woman on the WNT. For every comparable win or time, his bonus is higher. That is the very definition of gender discrimination.”

Meg Kelly, Washington Post- Are U.S. women’s soccer players really earning less than men?

Now, hold on there a second. Washington Post contributor Meg Kelly reported, “A contract player on the women’s team makes a base salary and can earn performance-based bonuses. (Players without a contract have a different pay schedule.) On the men’s team, players earn only bonuses.” Kelly added a quote from Sports Illustrated writer and University of New Hampshire Law professor Michael McCann, “The male players are paid when they play, but not when they sit. USMNT players must thus be on the roster to be pay eligible, USWNT players, in contrast, are guaranteed pay.”

This is because both teams have separate collective bargaining agreements. Levinson may need to reword her statement, or either her or McCann are wrong. So who do we believe?

Back to the question at hand from around 1900 words ago: Do players on the USWNT deserve equal pay? Yes—in the U.S.

Maybe Japan, Norway, China and Sweden have arguments as well, but there are too many variables that prevent an easy solution: revenue and sponsorship obtainment and distribution, collective bargaining agreements, international comparisons and star power and FIFA.

The fans need to show their support consistently, ESPN and other networks need to offer more than 14 games to viewers and FIFA needs to do a better job promoting women’s soccer globally because smaller countries need more help gaining exposure, and don’t have the national structure to do so alone.

Don’t just blame the USSF; a lawsuit isn’t going to solve anything, and, just like in life, everything is a trade-off. A lawsuit just means someone else is going to lose. However, organic progression, as we have clearly seen over the last 28 years at a fast pace, is something incredible.

I’m ecstatic that revenue is increasing, popularity is rising and publicity is becoming more prominent, and I think the USWNT has a valid argument. I still play soccer, now in a co-ed league, and I know how great women are and how well they compete against men.

Fans, if you really want to support the USWNT, here is their upcoming victory tour schedule:

  • USWNT vs. Republic of Ireland- Aug 3, 2019
  • USWNT vs. Portugal- Aug 29, 2019
  • USWNT vs. Portugal- Sep 3, 2019
  • USWNT vs. South Korea- Oct 3, 2019
  • USWNT vs. South Korea- Oct 6, 2019

Get a ticket or tune in, and keep the momentum for a team that has proven themselves.

What about U.S. Olympians and equal pay then? They always win, too!

No! I’m tired of writing. That’s a whole other thing.

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