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The U.S. Soccer Federation Claims the Women's Team Actually Earns More Than the Men's Team, Prompting Backlash

Both the men's and women's national teams have disputed the USSF's claims.
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 president of the United States Soccer Federation wrote an open letter Monday stating that members of the U.S. Women's National Team have actually earned more than their male counterparts over the past 10 years, sparking backlash from both national teams.

In his letter, USSF President Carlos Cordeiro said an extensive analysis of the organization's financials revealed that the women had actually been paid more. He released a fact sheet along with the letter that says the women's team has been paid a total of $34.1 million over the past 10 years, whereas the men have only been paid $26.4 million. He also disputes the women's claim that they only earn 38 percent of what the men earn. Cordeiro voiced support for narrowing the overt gender gap in FIFA prize money and also pointed to all the ways USSF has invested in women's soccer as a sport.

Molly Levinson, spokesperson for the USWNT, called the letter and fact sheet a "ruse" and a "sad attempt by the USSF to quell the overwhelming tide of support" the women's team has earned through its ongoing fight for equal pay. She claims the comparison includes the women's salaries from their National Women's Soccer League teams to inflate their apparent compensation (according to the fact sheet, the USSF pays WNT players who are contracted to regional club teams in the NWSL during part of the year a base salary of $67,500 to $72,500 on top of their guaranteed $100,000 salary for playing on the WNT). The USSF does not pay salaries for players of the national men's league, Major League Soccer, several of whom make over $1 million annually.

While the women have a guaranteed salary, the men are paid incrementally for attending training camps and games, plus game bonuses. Levinson offers an explanation for these different pay structures: "Any apples to apples comparison shows that the men earn far more than the women," she said in a statement. "The fact is the women's team requested the same compensation structure as the men have, so they would be paid equally for equal performance. USSF refused, offering lower compensation in every category for the women in a pay for performance structure. That is patently unequal pay."

Members of the men's team disputed the president's findings as well, and criticized him for prioritizing the federation's profits over fair pay for its players. They also noted they are still waiting for a response from the USSF about a proposed new collective bargaining agreement that would give the two teams equal compensation.

The women's team filed a lawsuit in March against the USSF for gender discrimination, arguing that the men are compensated significantly more despite the women's superior performance. The team's fourth Women's World Cup victory earlier this month strengthened the players' case.

In the past, the USSF has defended itself for paying the women less by arguing that the women generate less revenue. However, as I reported earlier this month, data from recent years makes that defense 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.

More and more people have championed the women's cause since their recent victory: Crowds at the World Cup chanted "equal pay" when FIFA president Gianni Infantino took the stage to hand out trophies, and celebrities and politicians alike have voiced their support for the women. New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez even offered to give the women's national team a tour of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., in lieu of visiting the White House after player Megan Rapinoe rejected President Donald Trump's invitation.