It’s been one of the longer lasting sagas in American sports, as the U.S. Women’s National team seeks either a new contract or a resolution to their lawsuit against U.S. Soccer that sees them make huge gains in pay for representing their country. U.S. Soccer would have you believe that it’s recently made an offer that will solve everyone’s problem. But like everything else in this fight, it doesn’t feel that clear.
U.S. Soccer says its offer is the exact same contract for the two teams, to combine them under one CBA. They have said in the past they have offered this to the women before, and it was rejected. The USWNT says that’s never happened, though when the judge threw out this part of their lawsuit against U.S. Soccer, he agreed with the organization.
Offering the women the same exact, pay-to-play deal isn’t quite as simple as it seems. The women’s team has a salary structure for their top players, decided on by the national team manager every year, which they get no matter how much they appear for the national team. The men’s team are only paid when they’re called up to the national team. Whether the women want to give this up is a question, because obviously, their salary with their club teams doesn’t come close to what the men make with their club teams. It’s a six figure salary for each of them, and that’s a lot of money to give up, depending on how the pay-to-play numbers come in.
But that’s not the real talking point with U.S. Soccer’s latest offer, though the details aren’t crystal clear. U.S. Soccer has said in its offer that bonuses from the World Cup, a major sticking point for the women’s team, will be equalized. It doesn’t really say how, though. What we know is that for the 2022 Men’s World Cup, every team will split $440 million. For the 2023 Women’s World Cup, every team will split $60 million in prize money. Clearly, these aren’t equal. We can synthesize that what U.S. Soccer is proposing, and this is just speculation, is to pool both sets of prize money and distribute it equally between the men and women who participate in those World Cups. Depending on how far each team progresses in their respective tournaments, that pool could go up.
Which is… a solution? Whether it’s the best solution… it’s hard to get there. Yes, it would equalize pay between the two teams, which has been the stated goal. And maybe that’s enough for everyone. Though it’s kind of hard to picture the men’s team taking a pay cut, and a pretty big one at that, to equalize pay for the women. Maybe they’re just that nice.
What it sort of feels like, is U.S. Soccer putting the responsibility of equal pay onto the men’s team, and if the USMNT were to balk at this proposal, well then U.S. Soccer can wipe their hands and say it’s all the men’s team’s fault and there’s nothing more they can do. Again, this is all speculation, but that’s certainly the way this feels.
It could be that U.S. Soccer’s offer just contains the same percentage for bonuses from World Cups, which would not be equal value given the disparity in prize money between the two tournaments. We don’t know yet. Is that a satisfactory solution? While much has been made of countries like Brazil and England announcing equal pay for their men’s and women’s teams, all that involves is what the FA pays for call-ups and friendlies and games outside FIFA and UEFA competitions. When it comes to those with prize money, all those FAs have promised their womens’ teams is the same percentage of prize money that the men get. Not equal money.
The other problem running right alongside the first one is that should this offer not work, there isn’t much U.S. Soccer can do to equalize World Cup prize money. Like we said, men’s teams are splitting $440 million in Qatar. Women’s teams will be splitting $60 million in 2023 in Australia and New Zealand. U.S. Soccer just doesn’t have the difference in those two totals lying around underneath the sofa cushions. And as unsympathetic as U.S. Soccer is, it shouldn’t be on them to clean up FIFA’s problems.
As I’ve stated a few times, the real fight is with FIFA, who decides who gets what for the World Cup. When selling TV rights or sponsorships, FIFA does not delineate between the two competitions. When FOX bought the TV rights, they bought them as a package, as every other broadcast company around the world does. When Coca-Cola sponsors it, it sponsors both. There has to be an argument to be made somewhere that this entitles the women’s teams to far more than they’re getting at the moment. But wading through the laws of international court might be a headache that the USWNT doesn’t want or just might be beyond them.
U.S. Soccer would like everyone to believe the finish line is in sight. You can claim that when you’re constantly moving the goalposts… and for whom you’re moving them.