The Equalizer: Equal Pay for Equal Play? It’s complicated

The U.S. Women’s National Team is ranked No. 1 in the world. An unprecedented four players were shortlisted for FIFA’s player of the year award days ago. Earlier this summer, they danced — almost gliding past opponents rendered invisible — to their record fourth World Cup win with a panache seldom seen on the world stage.

It wasn’t surprising, then, that pay discrepancies with the men’s team led to a national outcry that followed the U.S. women’s team throughout the World Cup and its ensuing victory tour stateside.

The slogan “Equal Pay for Equal Play!” has since dominated any conversation about the women’s team. The chant drowned out Carli Lloyd’s lifting of the World Cup trophy skyward on the winner’s podium; “equal pay” overshadowed a moment where only sunshine and joy should triumph.

Like most things though, it’s not that simple. Understanding these nuances is crucial to understanding the state of men’s and women’s soccer in the U.S.

The men and women have different contract bargaining agreements (CBAs), which means they have different pay structures. For example, from 2010 to 2018, the women made $34.1 million in salaries and game bonuses, while the men only made $26.4 million, according to the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). 

Part of the reason the women made more domestically is because they are salaried employees, whereas the men are paid on a per-diem basis. Furthermore, the women have added health benefits — something the men lack entirely. The men don’t mind, though: The wealthy professional clubs they play for pay them more money with better benefits than the USSF ever could. 

FIFA’s tournament bonuses only cloud the issue. For example, in the 2018 World Cup — oh wait, the men didn’t qualify. And that was detrimental to their earnings that year. In fact, as Soccer America’s Beau Dure has explained, it would have been hard for players on the men’s national team to make $100,000 in 2018. 

On the other hand, 19 players on the women’s team were guaranteed at least $100,000 at the start of 2018. That makes sense, as the men don’t need FIFA money — they’re paid by their clubs. The women, on the other hand, depend on the national team to make a living.

In 2014, the men’s team made it to the round of 16 of the World Cup, reaping a FIFA bonus of $9 million — more than double the $4 million that the women’s team earned when they won the tournament. 

Earnings are also largely contingent on TV deals. If FIFA could quantify how much the women’s and men’s World Cups were worth on TV, then perhaps it could provide more equitable bonuses.

However, FIFA packages the women’s and men’s World Cups together. How can you ask how much to be paid when you don’t know how much your product is worth?

At the same time, women’s soccer has never been more popular than it is today, as indicated by this summer’s TV ratings. FIFA would be smart to market the tournaments separately in the future so that they can begin to compensate the participants equitably — not to mention financially capitalize on one of the fastest growing sports events in the world.

 


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