Since FIFA held their first Women’s World Cup in 1991, the U.S. Women’s National Team (“USWNT”) has been steadily growing in popularity. In fact, in 2015 the Women’s World Cup final was the most-watched soccer match in U.S. television history for both men and women, averaging 25.4 million viewers. To compare, the 2015 NBA Finals only averaged 19.9 million viewers. As viewership of the Women’s World Cup continues to increase cup to cup, FIFA should feel some pressure to equalize or lessen the gap of the World Cup pay between genders. However, that is another battle to tackle another day.
The USWNT is currently facing a legal battle with the U.S. Soccer Federation to equalize pay between the men and women players. The USWNT filed a wage discrimination action against U.S. Soccer. The complaint comes less than nine months after the women’s team hoisted up the gold trophy at the 2015 World Cup, a feat the men’s team has never accomplished.
While the team has agreed to wage amounts in past collective bargaining agreements (“CBA”), their current CBA is on the verge of expiring. On the brink of a new CBA, U.S. Soccer has stated that they will not pay the women as much as they pay the men. It is unclear if the USWNT is allowed to strike to encourage their pay increase, as they are in active litigation with U.S. Soccer to determine if their current CBA has already expired or if it will expire later this year.
Despite winning the most-watched soccer match in U.S. television history, members of the USWNT are paid 40 times less than their male counterparts; who lost in the first round of the knockout stages at the 2014 World Cup. The men pocketed $9 million after reaching the round of 16 in their 2014 World Cup, the women — who blew through the round of 16, and won the championship, pulled in just $2 million to divvy up between themselves.
A wage discrimination claim must adhere to the following requirements:
- No employer having employees shall discriminate, between employees on the basis of sex by; paying wages to employees at a rate less than the rate at which he/she pays wages to employees of the opposite sex for,
- Equal work on jobs
- Of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions.
The complaint addresses these requirements by stating:
“…The pre-game, game and post-game duties, as well as the skill, effort, responsibilities and working conditions of USWNT players are substantially the same and/or greater than those of the Men’s National Team players (“MNT”).” The complaint goes on to list U.S. Soccer Federation expectations of its players, both men and women. Despite all the skills and expectations being equal amongst genders, the pay is not. This is the crux of the complaint and the understandable allegation of unfairness being brought by the USWNT.
One of the main arguments for the USWNT is that the team has been the driving economic force of U.S. Soccer over the past 2 years. The team generated nearly $20 million more in revenue for U.S. Soccer with their World Cup heroics in 2015. Revenue production of U.S. Soccer over the most recent 4-year cycle has indicated that the MNT has generated a total revenue of approximately $60 million. While the women have generated a total revenue of approximately $51 million. While the men still lead revenue production over the past 4 years, the women have been carrying the Federation for the last two and are projected to continue to do so.
According to the complaint the most recent annual report released by U.S. Soccer initially projected a combined net loss for the national teams of $429,929 for 2016. However due to, almost exclusively the success of the USWNT, U.S. Soccer now projects a $17.7 million profit in connection with these teams. This spike in revenue is most likely attributed to the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio; of which the MNT have recently lost their bid and will not be attending the games. Also for 2017, the Federation projects a net profit from the USWNT of approximately $5,000,000, while projecting a net loss of nearly $1,000,000 for the MNT.
Others may argue that because U.S. Soccer is a non-profit organization that competes internationally; unlike women’s tennis that is a for-profit organization, then the revenue production should not even be a consideration in the law suit.
U.S. Soccer has their hands full with this one. As stated by one of the team’s leaders Hope Solo, “The numbers speak for themselves. We are the best in the world, have three World Cup championships, four Olympic championships, and the [men] get paid more to just show up than we get paid to win major championships.”
For the women, the next step will be waiting to hear back from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as it investigates the claims made. If the EEOC sides with them, the players could receive millions in back pay.