The U.S. women’s national team (USWNT) triumphed in this summer’s soccer World Cup in France, blowing out opponents and winning a few games by tight margins before beating the Netherlands 2-0 in the final in Lyon. This marked the team’s second consecutive World Cup victory. However, the team’s celebrations and path to the final were marked by a pay dispute, as well as a public war of words between Megan Rapinoe—the tournament’s highest goal scorer and best player—and President Donald Trump. Along with Rapinoe and Trump’s disagreement over politics, the women’s team made its anger over national team salaries widely known. The team is currently suing the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination, on the grounds it receives less pay than the men’s team for equal work. Due to the media attention this issue has received, there is a significant amount of misinformation regarding the problem, which needs to be addressed.
One of the central points of confusion regarding equal pay is who actually writes the paychecks for the national team. The U.S. Soccer Federation is responsible for paying the salaries of the men’s and women’s teams. These salaries are based on revenue, or so the U.S. Federation likes to claim. Critics tend to point out that the U.S. men brought in more revenue and argue that this justified the disparity in pay between the two sides. However, in games from 2016 to 2018, the women’s team actually raked in more revenue, at $50.8 million compared to $49.9 million for the men. Sure, the U.S. men failed to make the 2018 World Cup, which might have boosted revenue. However, the poor play and overall mismanagement of the men’s team should not be used as an excuse for bringing in less money than the women’s team. It should be proof that at the very least, the USWNT should pull in the same in base salaries and be paid comparable game bonuses to the men’s side.
A different point of misinformation involves equal pay advocates. Many have pointed to the disparity in prize money that FIFA pays out the winners of the World Cup. The men’s pot continued a total of $400 million for the 2018 World Cup, with $38 million of that going to the winning side, France. The Women’s World Cup in 2019 had a total pot of $30 million, while the U.S. Women’s team only took home $2 million. This major disparity is based on the revenue generated for FIFA by the World Cup through deals and sponsorships. The issue lies with the viewership in other nations: a majority of viewership for the Women’s World Cup comes from a U.S. consumer base and Americans support the women’s game at a clip far higher than any other nation, so the Women’s World Cup is left with a far smaller pot.
The final point of clarification relates to the money that men and women earn in domestic professional leagues. In Major League Soccer, America’s male professional league, players earn a minimum of $60,000 and have salaries as high as $7 million. In contrast, the National Women’s Soccer League pays its players a minimum of $16,538 and a maximum of $46,200. The discrepancies here are enormous, and it is one of the reasons that U.S. women often play abroad in search of better opportunities. However, this pay difference has zero basis in gender discrimination, as the NWSL draws in roughly 7,000 fans in comparison to the MLS, which draws over 21,000 fans a game. While the two organizations do not share their revenues, the MLS boasts 21 sponsors and is one of the fastest growing professional sports leagues, while NWSL is the third iteration of a women’s soccer league in the United States, only has four sponsors, and lacks a major television deal.
The pay difference in the national teams is an issue that needs to be addressed outright. Not only are the U.S. women underpaid, they receive less investment in youth and academy development than the men do, something European clubs are already attempting to mitigate with their women’s sides. Despite this, there are reasons for optimism regarding the U.S. side. While there are definitely many improvements to be made, the United States is the standard bearer for women’s athletics around the world. One of the reasons the national team is so successful is because of the support of millions of Americans who buy tickets, merchandise, and tune in to games every four years. However, these same women who play in the World Cup come home to domestic leagues with weak competition and small crowds. If equal pay advocates want to see the women’s game elevated to come anywhere close to competing with men’s professional leagues, they should put their money where their mouth is. Instead of going to see a professional baseball or football game, attend a NWSL match. Once major television providers and other companies see an increased interest in the women’s game at home, they will leap to sign lucrative deals that will increase the dismal salaries that don’t support a living. This goal is attainable, as just 15 years ago the MLS was an afterthought to most sports supporters. Now, it sells players to major European clubs and is lining itself up for a major television deal. While the attention surrounding the women’s team lawsuit is vital, it is also vital to understand the nuances of the situation and support the team while they are not in World Cup action, where they spend most of their playing years.
Jack Leger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.