Congratulations to the US Women’s National Soccer Team for once again taking home the FIFA women’s cup. This time around the USWNT did so with a dominating and free spirited style that many found entertaining and many more found offensive for one reason or another.
Frankly, I could personally care less about complaints over allegedly callous scoring celebrations (don’t like it? Stop them) or hypersensitivity to perceived political snubs (athletes aren’t required to pay homage to the white house folks).
There is, however, one major area of policy discussion that the USWNT has taken the forefront in engaging that is absolutely worthy of analysis, both for the empirical data surrounding it and for the importance of its implications. That policy issue, of course, is equal pay.
The USWNT even prior to traveling to France for their most recent bout of athletic excellence had brought forth a lawsuit alleging pay discrimination against the US Soccer Federation. Every member of the team signed on in order to fight for, in their eyes, an equal share of the loot that the men were getting.
At first glance (and if one is just looking to confirm a sexism bias) this has a lot of validity to it. Women athletes, especially our USWNT for soccer, often vastly outshine our men’s team in the same sport and yet they seem to be taking home a lot less money when all is said and done.
Of course, if one cares to truly investigate the matter and crunch into some of the potentially daunting numbers related to the international sports market, that validity starts to look a lot shakier. So, let’s get into it step by step. As per the LA Times,
“According to financial reports from the U.S. Soccer Federation reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, USWNT games generated more total revenue than the USMNT games from 2016 through 2018: $50.8 million in revenue vs. $49.9 million for the men.
So, wait? Women’s games make more money? Well, then of course they should earn more!
Well… no actually that total number is based on total games and because the men’s team is a whole lot worse (not even qualifying for the cup sometimes) they play a lot less games. In simplest terms, the men’s games rake in more money per game. Let’s keep it going with some info from Yahoo Finance for a moment,
And then there’s FIFA. In the discussion over soccer pay, it is key to distinguish between two separate spheres: regular season, where base pay is determined by U.S. Soccer, and World Cup years, in which payouts come from FIFA.
The overall prize purse for the 2018 FIFA World Cup was $400 million, and the winning team, France, got $38 million of that to divvy up among its players and staff. By comparison, the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup purse was $30 million, and the USWNT got $4 million of that. So the winning men’s team last year earned more than the entire Women’s World Cup purse this year.
In 2015, the USWNT prize purse was just $2 million. In 2014, the USMNT divvied up $9 million after exiting in the Round of 16.
If you were to engage in a little critical thinking (and didn’t instantly screech sexism) you might surmise from those prize payouts – which are absolutely not equal as per the laws of math – that this isn’t because of sexism, but because the men’s league just rakes in a lot more dough. And you’d be right! Taking it back to the LA Times we learn,
“FIFA’s 2018 financial report said it earned revenue of $5.357 billion from the men’s tournament in Russia, meaning the total prize money amounted to less than 10% of revenue. And France got less than 10% of that.
Forbes estimated the Women’s World Cup will generate about $131 million for the four-year cycle ending in 2022. That makes the women’s purse worth more than one-quarter of revenue. And the U.S. got more than 10% of that.
Some quick calculations show us that this means the men’s league in FIFA makes ~41 times what the women’s league does in revenue. Regardless of whether anyone thinks it’s ‘fair’ or not, the market is simply much larger. Welcome to Capitalism. When we have that information, things start to make a lot more sense from that initial issue.
*But* the women’s national team issues aren’t specifically with FIFA, they’re actually with the US Soccer Federation whose revenue (the first numbers we looked at up above) is a lot more closely matched; putting aside the disparity in games played. And that could actually be a fair thing to do when, after all, the entire point of a sports team is to play and win every game they can and thus win the championship.
Well, even bearing that in mind when we look at the underbelly of the Federation financials we can figure out why this isn’t only not really a case of sexism, it’s a discrepancy the Women’s team *literally bargained for* in previous disputes. Keeping with the LA Times we learn,
The women’s lawsuit and the equal pay argument focus largely on bonuses and other issues related to national team games. A player on the U.S. men’s national team can make as much as $17,625 depending on the opponent and the outcome, court documents allege. A women’s player would get about half that for a comparable result.
What the lawsuit leaves out, however, is the fact the union representing the women’s team negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with the federation two years ago that pays national team players a base salary of $100,000 a year, plus another $72,500 for playing in the National Women’s Soccer League, the domestic league that U.S. Soccer subsidizes.
That means the top 18 players in the women’s national team pool will earn $172,500 from the federation this year before factoring in bonuses and game-day pay. Other players get slightly less, and the federation also pays health insurance as well as maternity and adoption leave.
Male players get none of that and are paid only if they make the 18-man roster for an international game.
In other words, there isn’t really a pay gap within the US Soccer Federation as much as there’s a pay *structure* discrepancy between the men and women. The women’s team not only chose, but engaged in litigation, to ensure their pay structure was much more based on flat guaranteed pay and benefits as opposed to men who don’t have any benefit structure and get paid *only* on a per game basis. So, of course, they make more when it comes to gameday their salary structure, unlike the women, is defined by that.
In conclusion regarding the financial mess that is the soccer pay discrepancy I actually find the words of particularly famous (or notorious) USWNT star, Megan Rapinoe, surprisingly apt.
“Everyone is kind of asking what’s next and what we want to come of all of this,” Rapinoe said hours after the World Cup final. “It’s to stop having the conversation about equal pay. It’s time to sit down with everyone and really get to work.”
In a society where equality of opportunity doesn’t always end up with equality of result, and where men and women’s markets – like it or not – are vastly different, hopefully Rapinoe and co, who truly are stellar athletes, are satisfied when that work is finished.
Either way here’s hoping they bring America many more victories to come.