equal pay

As the President of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) walked off the 2019 World Cup finals field, the supportive American crowd erupted in dueling cheers…

“USA!” “Equal pay!” “USA!” “Equal pay!”

The cheers manifested themselves in various media forms as the victorious U.S. women’s soccer team arrived home last week, as three months before the Cup, all 28 members of the women’s team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation. Their legal complaint is described as follows: 

“The United States Soccer Federation, Inc. (“USSF”) is the single, common employer of female and male professional soccer players who play on the United States Senior Women’s National Soccer Team (“WNT”) and the United States Senior Men’s National Soccer Team (“MNT”). Despite the fact that these female and male players are called upon to perform the same job responsibilities on their teams and participate in international competitions for their single common employer, the USSF, the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts. This is true even though their performance has been superior to that of the male players – with the female players, in contrast to male players, becoming world champions.”

According to the lawsuit, from 2013-2016 the women each earned a maximum of $4,950 per friendly, non-tournament victory compared to an average of $13,166 for the men. The fact that the women are paid less in sum is not in dispute. 

This happens not only in World Cup soccer. Note the example of professional basketball; the players’ median salaries in the WNBA are $71,635, which pales in comparison to a minimum salary of $582,180 for those in the NBA.

The unique challenge in soccer, no less, is how much this women’s team is beloved. As The Los Angeles Times recently wrote, “The U.S. women’s soccer team outperforms the men’s team when it comes to victories, domestic viewership, name recognition and general awesomeness.”

Yes. Awesomeness. 

The Times goes on to ask the question behind the cheer. “U.S. women’s soccer outperforms the men in every way possible. Why are they paid less?” 

Gender discrimination has been illegal in this country since 1963. So the more insightful question is whether the pay difference is due to discrimination. 

This year’s prize money for the women’s World Cup was $30 million across all 24 teams. That equates to 7.5% of the $400 million distributed for the 2018 men’s World Cup. In 2022 in Qatar, that number will rise to $440 million. The revenue generated globally for men’s soccer is strikingly greater than for women. The pay disparity, therefore, is directly related to the revenue disparity.

In order then to be compensated comparably, the women are arguing they should receive more, even if that money comes from the men’s play.

So is it a matter of unequal pay?

Or is it a matter of merging ethics and economics?

Perhaps the issue is best summed up in a 2016 headline from The New York Times:

“Pay Disparity in U.S. Soccer? It’s Complicated”

Not only is it complicated; it’s far more than a supportive crowd’s cheer.