the united states women’s national soccer team recently won the women’s world cup for the fourth time. but team compensation remains the subject of considerable controversy.
Chants of “equal pay” erupted after the team’s victory over the Netherlands and during their triumphal parade in New York City.
Reading: Women’s vs men’s soccer revenue
the women’s team sued the us. football federation, its parent organization, on the march against gender discrimination. which followed a 2016 wage discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
weeks after the team filed the lawsuit against u.s. soccer, 35 senators called for equal pay for the team in a letter to u.s. president of the football federation carlos cordeiro.
and several Democratic presidential candidates have taken up the team’s cause.
sen. elizabeth warren of massachusetts, a presidential candidate, signed the letter and tweeted her support.
“The @uswnt is #1 in the world and brings in more income for @ussoccer than the men’s team, but they still get paid a fraction of what the men make,” warren said. “women deserve equal pay for equal (or better!) work in offices, factories, and on the soccer field.”
We wanted to take a closer look at the problem.
We found evidence to support the team’s case, and most of the experts we contacted for this fact check found Warren’s tweet to be well-founded. but there are other parts of the story that complicate the narrative. Ultimately, compensation formulas are too variable, and too little is known about the governing documents, for us to put Warren’s claim on the meter of truth.
here is the end result of what we found:
For the three years following the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the women’s team generated slightly more revenue from games than the men’s team. while marketing and sponsorships are sold as a package deal, there are anecdotal signs that women’s branding is gaining popularity.
However, it is more difficult to say whether women are ultimately paid less than men, due to a lack of transparency and the complicated variables that go into compensation. several experts said the reality may be murkier than a shouted slogan can capture.
“while warren is 100% correct that uswnt is #1 in the world, the economic part of his tweet is more complex than he suggests and the accuracy of his description depends on measurement tools that are not indicate in the tweet,” said Michael McCann, a law professor at the University of New Hampshire who specializes in sports law.
The lawsuit, filed by 28 players on International Women’s Day, alleges that the US. football pays the women’s team less, gives them unequal playing conditions and does not promote their games as much as the men’s team.
The women’s team has won four world cup titles, while the men’s team has won none, the lawsuit states. and if both teams played and won 20 “friendly” games in a year, the women would earn a maximum of $99,000 and the men an average of $263,320, according to the suit. in this scenario, the players on the women’s team would earn 38% of what the men earn.
Jeffrey Kessler, an attorney representing the women’s team, told Politifact that Warren’s statement is “totally accurate.”
“women earn more than men, they are world champions and they earn much less,” kessler said. “It is legally and morally wrong.”
A week after the women’s team filed its lawsuit against u.s. football, Cordeiro responded in an open letter he tweeted. she said that the federation acts as an advocate for women’s football.
“U.S. Soccer believes that all female athletes deserve fair and equal pay, and we strive to uphold this core value at all times,” she said.
in the eight fifa world cup tournaments held on the women’s side, the us. uu. the women’s team has won four and placed second or third in the others. By contrast, there have been 21 FIFA World Cup tournaments, but the US. uu. the men’s team failed to qualify for half of the tournaments, only reaching third place once, in 1930.
There are certain areas where women have generated higher incomes than men in recent years.
Let’s start with gaming revenue, which recently accounted for about a quarter of the federation’s gross revenue.
When the wall street journal audited the federation’s financial reports, it found that the us. women’s soccer matches won more than men’s, in total, for three years after the women’s team won the world cup in 2015.
Specifically, between 2016 and 2018, the women’s team generated $50.8 million in revenue, while the men’s team generated $49.9 million. that’s a difference of less than 2% in favor of women.
Looking at it year by year, 2016 was actually the only year in which the women’s team generated more revenue from games: $24.11 million, compared to $22.24 million for the men. in 2017, both teams generated roughly the same revenue of $14.61 million, and in 2018, the men’s team generated $13 million compared to $12.03 million for the women.
This pattern marked a change from previous years: In 2014 and 2015, the men’s team earned $8.31 million and $11.71 million more than the women’s team, respectively.
beyond gaming revenue, usa. uu. soccer generates money through marketing and sponsorships; this category accounts for about half of total revenue in recent years. marketing and sponsorships, including the sale of broadcast rights, are difficult to attribute to men or women, as these transactions are done jointly, not separately for each team.
That said, there is anecdotal evidence that the women’s team’s on-field success has given the federation a windfall.
“the world cup final in 2015 and this year’s final set viewership records in the united states for a soccer game,” said ryan j. Lake, a sports law specialist with the Denver Lake Law Group. “this year’s final was about 20 times better than last summer’s men’s world cup final, in the usa.” (The 2018 men’s world cup final pitted france against croatia.)
In addition, Nike has announced that sales of women’s t-shirts are breaking records for both men and women.
These achievements are all the more remarkable given what the women’s team argues in the lawsuit: that the us. football has given them fewer resources and they don’t announce their matches early enough to get the largest audience.
player compensation is more complicated to calculate because there are many variables involved and less information about the current compensation mechanism has been made public.
Earnings for both men and women are governed by collective agreements, and a player’s eventual earnings are affected by the number of games played and whether the team wins or loses.
In the lawsuit, the women’s team said that if each team won 20 exhibition games in a year, “women’s team players would earn a maximum of $99,000 or $4,905 per game, while men’s team players from similar position would earn an average of $263,320 or $13,166 per game.”
however, this calculation was made under the old collective agreement.
politifact was unable to obtain a copy of the current negotiating agreement, which has not been made public. The Associated Press reported that the 2017 deal for the women’s team, which runs through 2021, includes “increases in base salary and bonuses, as well as better provisions for travel and accommodation, including increased per diem.” >
In fact, under the new deal, female team members are paid a guaranteed salary and then get bonuses on top of that, while male team players are only paid a bonus, the Associated Press reported. . so that women have the security of a guaranteed flat.
Our friends at the washington post fact checker got a copy of the new agreement. when they calculated the same 20-game scenario as the demand for the previous settlement, they found that a female player on the women’s team would now earn “$28,333 less, or about 89 percent of the compensation of a similarly situated male player.”
In other words, based on this calculation at least, a player on a women’s team would earn less than an equivalent player on a men’s team, roughly 11% less.
but that comparison largely depends on factors like games played and games won. “If both teams lost all 20 games, the players would win the same amount,” the fact-checker calculated. “That’s because men earn a $5,000 bonus when they lose and women have a base salary of $100,000.”
The most lopsided element of compensation for the men’s and women’s teams is the money players receive for playing and winning the world cup. But this is not directly at issue in the lawsuit, because it is ultimately shaped more by international soccer’s governing body, FIFA, than by the United States. football.
Part of the problem is the general state of men’s and women’s football matches around the world. more money is flowing into the men’s professional leagues around the world, and that focus is channeled to the national teams.
for the 2018 men’s world cup, prize money was $400 million, compared to $30 million for the 2019 women’s world cup. given the large difference in total funds available to allocate, The women are basically guaranteed to end up with much less prize money than the men could, even though the women won the championship.
and this particular disparity is bound to continue.
“fifa announced that the prize money would be $440 million in 2020 in qatar and $60 million for the 2023 women’s world cup,” said cheryl cooky, a purdue university professor of american studies who is specializes in sports. “while doubling the prize money for the women’s tournament, fifa did so at the same time it increased the prize money for men. prize money for women is still only 14% of that for men.”
While Warren’s tweet focused on money differences, it’s worth adding that the lawsuit also establishes disparities that are not strictly economic.
“women’s national team players raise questions not only about compensation, but also about safe working environments (they are more often at risk by having to play on non-grass pitches than male players); travel (men fly charters, while women fly commercial); ticket prices (which are lower for free games compared to men’s); and marketing efforts (less investment in the women’s game),” said ellen j. staurowsky, professor of sports management at drexel university.
One notable difference, Cooky said, is that when the women returned from their 2015 World Cup victory, matches from the women’s professional league, the women’s national soccer league, were broadcast on YouTube. The Men’s League, soccer’s premier league, had a multi-year, multimillion-dollar deal to broadcast its games on major television networks like ESPN and Fox Sports.
This disparity reflects gender inequalities around the world in soccer and sports in general, Staurowsky said.
“when the us soccer federation defends its differential treatment of female players by pointing to market arguments, it feeds old stereotypes that people are not interested in women’s sports and that women’s sports are not interesting” , said. U.S. soccer “is failing to fully capitalize on what is arguably one of the most marketable teams in recent memory.”