Arguments for and against equal pay for the USWNT

Matthew Rago, Editor-in-Chief

The debate over whether the United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) deserves equal pay has reached a fever pitch over the past few years. Proponents claim that since the USWNT consistently outperforms the men, they deserve as much, if not greater compensation than their male counterparts. Opponents argue that differences in revenue and skill negate any legal argument put forth by the USWNT’s team of lawyers. Let’s explore and dissect both sides of the argument. First, the facts:

The U.S Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) and U.S Women’s National Soccer Team operate under different compensation structures under the current collective bargaining agreement. Where the women earn a base salary of $100,000 (plus performance based incentives), the men exclusively earn bonuses in lieu of an actual salary. 

Additionally, the USWNT and the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) have offered conflicting narratives on the pay gap. The USWNT contend they are routinely paid less than their male counterparts, whereas representatives from the  USSF state that the women have outpaced the men in pay over the past eight years. In fact, from 2010-2018, USSF representatives contend that the women earned a total of $34.1 million more than the men between both salary, benefits and in-game bonuses.

Unfortunately, constructing a straightforward comparison between the pay for the women and the pay for the men is more complex than one might anticipate. Second and tertiary variables such as games played, qualifications relative to calendar year, sponsorship money and outside mandates skew the figures. 

In the official lawsuit put forth by the USWNT, representatives for the USWNT cite a hypothetical scenario that compared compensation between male athletes and female athletes should each team win 20 games. The lawsuit reads that, should each team win 20 consecutive games, women would learn 38% less than their male counterparts. However, if each team were to lose all 20 games, each team would make the same amount, as the men receive a $5,000 bonus for losses ($5,000 x 20 = $100,000, which is the base pay for women). Unfortunately, this calculation was made under bygone collective bargaining guidelines. The Washington Post Fact Checker obtained a copy of the new collective bargaining agreement and concluded that, under the same circumstances, the women would earn $28,333 less, or 89% of what the men make.

Arguments In Favor

Quite frankly, the USWNT is more successful relative to their field. While the men’s team recently failed to qualify for the upcoming World Cup, the USWNT have won two consecutive World Cups (2015, 2019) and four since 1991 (1991, 1999, 2015, 2019). Furthermore, they’ve captured four of the last six Olympic Gold Medals (1996, 2004, 2008, 2012) and eight of nine CONCACAF Gold Cup Championships (all but 2010). 

Meanwhile, the men have never won a FIFA World Cup or Olympic Gold Medal, though they have captured five CONCACAF Gold Cups (1991, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2013, 2017). In fact, the men have never finished top two in either the FIFA World Cup or Olympic games, with their best finish being a third place finish in the 1930 FIFA World Cup. In short, the USWNT has enjoyed exponentially greater success in international competition than their male counterparts. 

Furthermore, in the three years following their 2015 World Cup victory, the women brought in slightly more revenue than the men, earning $50.8 million to the men’s $49.9 million. However, in the two preceding years, the men brought in an aggregate $20.02 million more than the women.

Though sponsorships are sold collectively, and therefore unattributable to either the men or women, the timing of the increase in sponsorship revenue–sponsorships surged immediately after the USWNT sued the USSF–suggests that the women’s brand is enjoying a boost in popularity. 

Argument Against

Opponents to equal pay between the U.S. National Men’s Soccer Team and the U.S National Women’s Soccer team emphasize two points: difference in skill and difference in FIFA World Cup revenue. From a domestic standpoint, we can reference a Supreme Court case titled Cullen v. Indiana. In this case, the female Director of Respiratory Therapy, Deborah Cullen, was paid less than the male Director of Physical Therapy, Sandy Quillen. The Supreme Court determined four standards that dictate whether equal pay is warranted: skill level, workplace conditions, effort and responsibility.

The USWNT contends that they operate under adverse and disadvantaged working conditions due to a lack of marketing investment from the USSF, an argument some opponents contend offends the integrity of the legal condition. However, skill level is where the argument gets complex.

While the USWNT is significantly more successful in their field than their male counterparts, highly ranked women’s squads have a history of losing to amateur boys teams. For example, during a scrimmage game in preparation for a match against Russia, the USWNT lost to the U-15 (under 15 years of age) Dallas FC boys squad by a score of 5-2. Additionally, three months prior to winning the World Cup, the USWNT was defeated by the U-17 USMNT by a score of 8-2. 

The USWNT team isn’t the only national women’s organization to lose to a team comprised of teenage boys. Australia’s Women’s National Team, at the time ranked No. 5 in the world, lost 7-0 to the U-15 Newcastle Jets.

Finally, revenue generated from the FIFA World Cup poses an enormous obstacle in the women’s quest for equal compensation. The total prize money afforded to field in the 2015 Women’s FIFA World Cup was $15 million, 40 times less than the $576 million earned by the men’s side. As FIFA Women’s World Cup Champions, the USWNT brought home $33 million less than the men’s champion, Germany.

However, women actually netted a higher percentage of sponsorship revenue than men. The women’s tournament earned $17 million in sponsorship revenue. From that, the USWNT earned 11% compared to the 6.6% of the $529 million in sponsorship revenue pocketed by the Germans. However, because of the disparity in sponsorship revenue, the Germans still made exponentially more money.  However, considering that the USMNT failed to qualify for the upcoming World Cup tournament, this particular point will have to wait another four years for a follow-up comparison.