If only this entire debate, which has engulfed the image of the national team in recent years, was that simple. Unfortunately, this motion has received its fair share of backlash and resistance from several parties, including USSF, sparking an ongoing lawsuit seeking “equal pay” for the USWNT. Being the numbers guy that I am, I had a few questions in mind when I first became aware of this dispute. First, how much do the women’s national team players actually make, and how does it compare to wages for the men’s team? And second, what are the respective teams’ revenues, and what percentage of profits account for the salaries of each squad? Since my understanding of “equal pay” is an equal percentage of revenue, which accounts for both amount and quality of work, the USWNT are more than worthy of a paycheck of equal proportions to the men’s. So are these proportions the same, and if not, how different are they?
How much do USWNT players make? Under the 2017 collective bargaining agreement for the USWNT, each player earns a base salary of $100,000 a year plus performance bonuses and benefits including health and dental insurance, paid child-care assistance, paid pregnancy and parental leave, severance benefits and 401(k) plans.[i] Additionally, under the 2017 CBA, players earning national team salaries are required to play in the NWSL as an “allocated player” where the USSF is responsible for their domestic salaries ranging from $72,500 to $77,500.[ii] This stipulation is meant to help grow the domestic league, but puts a penalty on player seeking to earn more in club wages overseas. When the USWNT won the world cup in 2019, players each received approximately $250,000 extra. $75,000 of which were awarded by USSF for qualifying for the tournament, and the rest being direct prize money from FIFA.[iii]
How much do USMNT players make? Players on the men’s team are paid on a per game basis rather than with a salary. If using a 20 game scenario, (which is the minimal number of required games under contract for both teams) the men’s team players would make the same amount as the women given they lost every game ($100,000) due to the men making $5,000 per loss. If they won every game, the men would make $28,333 (11%) more than the women, given the same USMNT plays every game.[iv] For the world cup, upon making it to the group stages in 2014, the men’s team players could make a maximum of $679,321 (given they won every qualifying match and collected all 9 points in their group).[v] Ultimately, winning the final would have netted each player a whopping maximum of $1,114,429.
How much revenue does each team pull in? Here is where things get a bit tricky. The statistic that is often cited is that from fiscal 2016 to 2018, the women’s games generated about $900,000 more revenue than the men’s games. USSF rebutted this statistic by pointing out that if you extend the calculations to include fiscal 2015, in order to give each team a world cup cycle, the men’s team brought in $10.8 million more for the federation.[iv] Although, in recent years when the men’s team was not playing in a world cup, the total game revenue for each team was nearly the same, if not higher for the USWNT team. It is worth pointing out though, that the men’s team has generally higher per game revenues, but higher team expenses as well. The USWNT, on the other hand, plays more home games with lower average revenues and expenses.[vi] Nonetheless, games only account for one-quarter of USSF revenue while sponsorships and television rights make up a whole half. At this point, it is very difficult to denote a percentage value of that half attributed to either of the national teams because those packages are sold together. In order to take a deeper look, television viewership statistics can be dug up and compared in order to assign estimated values to broadcasting rights.
How does television viewership compare? The 2019 WWC final had an average U.S TV viewership of 15.6 million people.[vii] In comparison, the USMNT knockout match against Belgium in 2014 (both games were played on weekday afternoons) drew 22.7 million viewers. In international tournaments such as the world cup and gold cup the USMNT consistently achieves higher U.S based viewership, but the broadcasting rights to these matches are sold by the international federations, not USSF. So how do friendly and WCQ matches compare? Based on a small sample in early 2019, the USMNT averaged 542,000 viewers per game and the USWNT averaged 346,000 (English-language only). It should be noted that the USWNT had the largest viewership total (758,000 vs England) for a single game, despite being lower on average.[ix] If this small sample were to represent the value of broadcasting rights, the USMNT would lay claim to 61% of its revenue. But, seeing as this sample is rather limited, the margins of error make it difficult to draw any direct conclusions about a significant difference without further data analysis.
How do payment proportions compare? When it comes to exact percentages of salary compared to total revenue, it is difficult to be precise due to the bonus structure in place for both teams. But, as demonstrated by the numbers above, when the men’s squad does not play in a world cup, the revenues of each team are relatively similar. This would entail that yearly earnings for both groups of player should be equal. Yet, in the case of both teams winning all of their games, the USWNT would still make 11% less. The world cup, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter where the women make a much higher percentage of total revenue, as agreed upon in the 2017 CBA. If the USWNT wins the world cup, they are awarded 126% of the prize money by USSF (more than FIFA gives USSF). If the men were to win the world cup, they are awarded only 24% of the grand prize ($9.4 of $38 million).[v] The rest would be pocketed by the federation.
The bottom line: Both teams have bargained significantly different pay structures. The USWNT have secured a more reliable salary that includes extensive benefits and protects against the fear of injury. The USMNT has a more lucrative deal per game, but gives no guarantee of a roster spot and sees players who get injured receive nothing. It weighs a pressing question, what’s more valuable, security/benefits or wages? In terms of total money paid out by USSF, the USWNT players receive more than the men on average due to their extended benefits and subsidized domestic salary.[i] Although, this comes at the expense of often playing more games than their male counterparts (mostly due to the NWSL season) and with the stipulation that they must win. The fact that the national team and domestic league have been intertwined can act as a double-edged sword. USSF foots the bill so the NWSL can attract attention with the world’s greatest players, but those players are then limited in their potential earnings. The USWNT should be paid equally based on their international involvement, without including their domestic salary. At the very least, the 11% gap should be closed and privileges such as transportation and playing surfaces should be granted equally to both teams.
This issue goes on to only scratch the surface of a much larger, systemic problem. Worldwide support for the women’s game is simply not there in the same magnitude as the men’s game. This fact is displayed by the huge disparities in FIFA prize money, which is a function of tournament revenue. The sport continues to grow, and prize money is expected to increase for future world cups, but it’s about more than just the biggest tournaments. If women’s soccer wants to experience true equality, it’s going to be up to the fans. We are the reason they get to be where they are, and it’s our job to show just as much support for them as we would for any other team. #1N1T
[i] Gajanan, “The USWNT Seeks”, Time
[ii] Murray, “‘You’re not cutting me out'”, Yahoo Sports
[iii] Das, “What’s a World Cup”, New York Times
[iv] Kelly, “Are U.S Women’s”, Washington Post
[v] Murray and Morris, “Revealed:”, The Guardian
[vi] USSF 2017 Annual General Meeting Report
[vii] Associated Press, “Women’s WC”, ESPN
[viii] Carter, “U.S.A. – Belgium”, New York Times
[ix] “TV Ratings Comparison for US Soccer mens/women”, Reddit
Carter, Bill. “U.S.A.-Belgium World Cup Game Drew 22 Million Viewers in Ratings.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 July 2014, www.nytimes.com/2014/07/03/business/media/usa-belgium-world-cup-game-drew-22-million-viewers-in-ratings.html.
Das, Andrew. “What’s a World Cup Title Worth? For U.S. Women, Six Figures and Counting.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 7 July 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/07/07/sports/soccer/womens-world-cup-bonuses.html?auth=login-email&login=email.
Gajanan, Mahita. “USWNT Equal Pay Lawsuit: How They’re Paid and Other Facts to Know.” Time, Time, 21 Feb. 2020, time.com/5653250/uswnt-equal-pay-lawsuit/.
Kelly, Meg. “Analysis | Are U.S. Women’s Soccer Players Really Earning Less than Men?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 8 July 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/07/08/are-us-womens-soccer-players-really-earning-less-than-men/.
Murray, Caitlin, and Sam Morris. “Revealed: the $730,000 Gender Pay Gap in US World Cup Bonuses.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 28 June 2019, www.theguardian.com/football/ng-interactive/2019/jun/28/revealed-the-731003-gender-pay-gap-in-us-world-cup-bonuses.
Murray, Caitlin. “’You’re Not Cutting Me out of That Upside’: Rapinoe, USWNT Players Upset with New NWSL Pay Guideline.” Yahoo! Sports, Yahoo!, 11 Nov. 2019, sports.yahoo.com/youre-not-cutting-me-out-of-that-upside-rapinoe-uswnt-players-upset-with-new-nwsl-pay-guideline-191011758.html.
Press, Associated. “Women’s WC Final Viewers Top Men’s Final in U.S.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 8 July 2019, www.espn.com/soccer/united-states/story/3897087/womens-wc-final-viewers-top-mens-final-in-us.
USSF. “2017 Annual General Meeting Report”. United States Soccer Federation, 2 Mar. 2017
“r/NWSL – TV Ratings Comparison for US Soccer Mens / Womens.” Reddit, 2019, www.reddit.com/r/NWSL/comments/b78nqc/tv_ratings_comparison_for_us_soccer_mens_womens/.