Players for the U.S. women's national soccer team should be commended for their decision to take on U.S. Soccer over contract negotiations and pay. Today, after months of positioning themselves for a proper challenge of their collective bargaining status and future terms of a new contract, five leaders for the U.S. women's national team filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Working on behalf of the entire U.S. women's national team, Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn and Megan Rapinoe are seeking an investigation into U.S. Soccer's contracts with broadcasters and marketing sponsors. In addition to pay disparity (they say they may 40 cents on the dollar to what the men's U.S. national team players make) the women contend that broadcast fees to U.S. Soccer and other sponsorship deals associated with the women's competitive and marketing success should bolster their pay.
In their complaint, the women contend that the 2016 profits will "thanks almost exclusively to the success of the WNT.'' U.S. Soccer now projects a $17.7 million profit in connection with these teams -- and it's not due to what Jurgen Klinsmann is doing on the men's side. With three World Cups win and string of gold medal Olympic wins, the U.S. women's national team is a juggernaut that ranks No. 1 in the FIFA World Rankings and continues to draw bigger crowds and TV ratings.
In an expose this week in the New York Daily News, Fox Sports head of business operations, David Nathanson, said the ratings' promise of the U.S. women's run in 2015 Women's World Cup was enough to make Fox's bid for rights a no-brainer. Fox paid $1.2 billion for both the men's and women's World Cups between 2015 and 2022.
“I can tell you that when we were bidding on the rights, we valued the Women’s World Cup almost as high as the men’s World Cup. We recognized at an early stage that the U.S. had the number-one ranked team in the world and there was a big opportunity to capture the interest of this country with that event. In fact, the Women’s World Cup final (in 1999) was the (second)-highest-rated soccer event. We knew there was tremendous value in it from an early stage, and we certainly considered that when we were bidding on the rights,'' Nathanson said.
Fox Soccer, which has very little women's soccer on its site in general, committed thousands of dollars in coverage for the 2015 Women's World Cup to have me cover the team strictly for the digital side of its operation. They knew what they were doing. They got the highest ratings of any soccer match ever broadcast in the U.S. The $17 million they expected in net revenue morphed into $40 million by the time Carli Lloyd netted her historic World Cup final hat trick.
“Women players are an inspiration,” Nathanson told the NYDN, adding: “You don’t have to explain that to advertisers.”
By their hiring of sports law expert Jeffrey Kessler, the women have finally graduated from trying to coerce U.S. Soccer into equal pay to arming themselves for a fight they can, and should, win. This complaint should help the women crack open U.S. Soccer's books and force an examination on how the federation structures its spending between the men's team and the women's team. As The New York Times stated today in its story, the EEOC complaint could, in fact, lead to millions of dollars in back pay for the U.S. women's national team players.
This is not a gamble by the U.S. women's national team players, as far as I can tell. They have a tremendous amount of leverage not just in terms of their popularity but in terms of inequitable distribution of revenue they help generate for U.S. Soccer. In their filing with the EEOC, the women cite numbers that show vast disparity in pay. For instance, they would earn $99,000 each if they won 20 friendlies, the minimum number they are required to play in a year as per their contract. The men would likely earn $263,320 each for the same 20 matches wins, and would get $100,000 even if they lost all 20 games. The women get no extra pay for playing more than 20 games. The mean get between $5,000 and $17,625 for each game played beyond 20.
In World Cup payouts, the disparity has already been widely reported. The U.S. women received a team total of $2 million when it won the 2015 Women's World Cup. The U.S. men played in the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, earning $9 million despite being knocked out in the round of 16.
Of course Lloyd, Solo and the rest of the U.S. women's national team needed to bring in a top-notch legal team to not only negotiate a new contract, but to break down U.S. Soccer's patriarchal "benevolence" of doling out compensation that it says is fair. Maybe U.S. Soccer is, underneath it all, feeling cursed for having helped created this unprecedented U.S. women's national team -- an enterprise that is without compare to anything in sports anywhere in terms of its success and historical significance.
The U.S. women know they have led a soccer revolution here in the U.S. and around the world. Women are playing soccer at advancing levels of skill, acceptance and marketability around the globe. But at home, it's finally time to crack the books, crack the code on what's fair. They built it. They've earned it. This is another significant step in the delineating what equality looks like and how it gets paid.
Is a former political and sports columnist who worked great cities like Albany NY, Seattle, Baltimore and Harrisburg PA. She lives New York.