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The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team Is the Best in the World and Still Can't Get Equal Pay

The United States Soccer Federation has argued the women generate less revenue—a claim that is not supported by the current evidence.
Megan Rapinoe and the U.S. Women's National Team celebrate after winning the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup.

Megan Rapinoe and the U.S. Women's National Team celebrate after winning the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup.

The United States Women's National Team won its fourth World Cup Sunday, just months after filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination. The women's victory strengthens their case that they are paid less not just for performing the same job responsibilities as their male counterparts, but for out-performing them.

All members of the Women's National Team and Men's National Team are employed by the non-profit USSF, though they have separate player associations and collective bargaining agreements. In the lawsuit, the 28 members of the WNT accuse the USSF of purposefully paying female players substantially less than members of the MNT. The USSF has acknowledged the pay gap, though the federation has blamed outside forces, with an official noting that "market realities are such that the women do not deserve to be paid equally to the men," according to the lawsuit. The plaintiffs argue that this has remained the case "even during times when the WNT earned more profit, played more games, won more games, earned more championships, and/or garnered higher television audiences."

Under separate collective bargaining agreements with each team, the USSF pays women an annual salary plus a bonus per victory, whereas it pays the men a different amount if they win, lose, or tie each match. The WNT's new collective bargaining agreement took effect in April of 2017, and, under it, the Washington Post calculated, a female player would earn 89 percent of what a male player would earn if each team played and won 20 matches, and the two teams would be equally compensated if they lost all their matches. (Under their previous collective bargaining agreement, the plaintiffs argue, the WNT would have only been compensated 38 percent of what the MNT would have earned if each team had played and won 20 matches.)

Looking at total earnings for male and female players since 2008, the New York Times found many of the top players of both teams made near-equal earnings, though there was much more variation for lower-ranked players; additionally, the women have earned a significantly higher amount of bonus money from playing in and winning more games, indicating that any semblance of their equal pay is due to a greater amount of work and skill.

Why do the world champion female players still earn less money? Here are some possible explanations:

Women Generate Less Revenue Than Men

In a 2016 interview with Sports Illustrated, USSF President Sunil Gulati argued that a team's compensation should be partially based on revenue, and that the WNT does not generate as much revenue as the MNT. In recent years though, that would be hard to prove.

The USSF generates over half of its revenue through sponsorships and roughly a quarter through national team home games, with the remainder coming through a combination of various registration fees, coaching programs, fundraising, and other channels, according to the federation's fiscal year 2018 budget. In that year, the WNT's events generated over $1 million more in revenue. As the Washington Post reported, it's hard to directly attribute sponsorship revenue to either team, but the WNT has been contributing at least half of USSF's event revenue since fiscal year 2016.

Discrimination at the FIFA Level

When FIFA President Gianni Infantino came on the field to hand out trophies after the final in Lyon, France, on Sunday, fans began booing him and shouting "Equal Pay." While the USSF still compensates players during the World Cup, FIFA has been criticized for the pay gap in World Cup prize money, which is given to the winning country's national FIFA federation.

The first Women's World Cup was held in 1991, and winners were compensated for the first time in 2007, with the champions making $1 million, while the previous year the winning men's team took home $19.65 million. The earnings for this year's Women's World Cup total $30 million, with the winning team taking home $4 million. In comparison, FIFA awarded a total of $400 million in last year's Men's World Cup, with the winning team taking home $38 million.

Infantino has pledged to double the women's prize money to $60 million in the next World Cup, though the men's prize money is expected to rise to $440 million, according to Bleacher Report. At the current rates of increase, it will take until 2039 for the men's and women's tournaments to give out equal prize money, according to a calculation by the players' union Professional Footballers Australia.

"In my opinion, U.S. Soccer has been using sexism at the FIFA level to justify at least some of its own gender discrimination," Hampton Dellinger, a writer and lawyer who represented an international coalition of female soccer players protesting gender inequality at the 2015 World Cup, told the Washington Post.

Just Plain Sexism

To the players on the WNT, their lower pay grade has a simple explanation, which the U.S. Women's National Team Player's Association expressed in a statement.

"At this moment of tremendous pride for America, the sad equation remains all too clear, and Americans won't stand for it anymore," the statement said. "These athletes generate more revenue and garner higher TV ratings, but get paid less simply because they are women. It is time for the federation to correct this disparity once and for all."