The U.S. women’s national soccer team won the World Cup title in 2015 — an achievement never equaled by a U.S. men’s team — but the glory doesn’t come with full benefits. On Wednesday, five women’s team players filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming that the U.S. Soccer federation engaged in wage discrimination by paying the women far less than the men.
The complaint, filed by Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn and Alex Morgan, says the men’s team takes home far more than the women’s team for no discernible reason other than being male. After the filing, the soccer federation issued a statement wherein it highlighted its support for women’s soccer in the United States and across the globe. It did not address the specific allegations of pay discrepancy. The complaint also contains the minutes from a federation meeting in which the budget shows the federation expects the women’s team to produce more revenue than the men’s team in fiscal years 2016 and 2017.
Based on our findings — using financial statements released by the soccer federation for fiscal year 2015, along with the USWNT’s collective bargaining agreement and memo of understanding released in court after the federation sued the players union over an earlier negotiating dispute — top men’s players earned almost twice as much as top women’s players from the federation during their respective World Cup years, despite the women’s victory in 2015 and the men’s early knockout elimination in 2014.
We compared the differences in how male and female players are compensated by the federation under similar working conditions — namely, preparations for and participation in the 2014 FIFA men’s World Cup in Brazil and the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. Because not every member of a national team is paid the same, and to properly compare apples to apples, we focused on two similar sets of players from the women’s and men’s national teams — Lloyd and Solo for the women, and Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard for the men. Here, we have two major goalscoring threats and two veteran goalkeepers who played every minute (or, in Dempsey’s case, all but three minutes) of their respective World Cups.
The first thing we need to do is set aside the salaries that Lloyd and Solo earn, because USWNT compensation works a little differently than setups across the world. Typically, a club pays a player a salary, and a national federation compensates the player for caps and other appearances. For the USWNT, however, it’s the federation that pays the club salary; the women then draw a second salary for their national play — a departure from the U.S. men. (If you think this arrangement is odd, you’re not wrong. The National Women’s Soccer League is owned and operated by the federation, which pays the club salaries for national team players to offset costs for club owners.)
In the case of Lloyd and Solo, this salary totaled $126,000 in 2015 — $72,000 for falling into the “Tier I” salary bracket (reserved for veterans who also were named to the 23-player World Cup roster) and an additional $54,000 for playing in the NWSL.1
Now that we have salaries separated out, we can see from the collective bargaining agreement and memo of understanding that the women’s national team is paid in a similar fashion as the men: appearance fees for U.S. Soccer sponsors; bonuses for qualifying for major tournaments (along with bonuses based on tournament finishes); a share of ticket revenues in friendlies played on U.S. soil; and bonuses for winning those friendlies. The USWNT also earned a $1.8 million bonus for the Victory Tour, 10 friendly matches played in the U.S. from August through December of last year.
|INCOME SOURCE||LLOYD/SOLO 2015 EARNINGS|
|World Cup roster bonus||15.0|
|Victory tour bonus||78.0|
|USSF World Cup victory||75.0|
|Olympic qualifying bonus||15.0|
|Subtotal without salaries||240.0|
This is an itemized breakdown of the projected non-salary earnings for Lloyd and Solo in 2015, based on all the data contained in the memo of understanding. When it comes to shared bonus pools, we assume the money is being divided evenly among all players on the roster. However, that may not be true, as there is no language in either the collective bargaining agreement or the memo of understanding that would stipulate even distribution. In fact, based on comments Solo made in her 2013 memoir, veteran players may get a larger share of the bonus pools.
Below we compare Lloyd’s and Solo’s estimated 2015 earnings with Dempsey’s and Howard’s earnings for 2014, when the U.S. men’s team lost in the World Cup’s round of 16. The men’s earnings are based on U.S. Soccer’s financial statements for fiscal year 2015 (which ran from April 1, 2014, to March 31, 2015).2
- Lloyd and Solo: $240,019 each
- Dempsey: $428,022
- Howard: $398,495
Dempsey is pocketing almost $200,000 more than Lloyd; Howard gets almost $160,000 more than Solo. How can that be? (U.S. Soccer declined to comment for this story.)
While the men’s team’s bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer is confidential, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl discovered some figures before the 2014 World Cup that would account for at least some of the disparity:
- The men’s shared bonus for qualifying for Brazil totaled $2 million. The women’s total qualifying bonus for Canada was $300,000. The men played 16 qualifying games, whereas the women played only five, but that is still a difference of $125,000 per game vs. $60,000 per game.
- The men’s bonus for being named to the final 23-player World Cup roster was $55,000 each; the women earned $15,000 each.
- In addition to the share of ticket revenues for home friendlies, the men earned $1,500 per game in the three-match send-off series leading up to the World Cup. The women earned $1,350 per game, and only if they won them.
- For each friendly, including the send-off series, the men earned between $7,500 and $14,100 per win, based on the FIFA ranking of the opponent. They earned between $5,000 and $6,500 for draws and $4,000 for a loss. The women earned $1,350 for wins, receiving no bonus for draws or losses.
- The men earned bonus money for every point earned in the World Cup group stage, as well as $5,500 for each group-stage match for which they were rostered. The women earned no such bonuses.
The caveat here, of course, is that the women draw a salary for playing on the national team, while the men are only paid by U.S. Soccer for participation in camps, friendlies and tournaments. If the women’s salaries were replaced with the men’s bonus figures for friendlies, players would have earned $109,600 in 2015, nearly $40,000 more than their $72,000 national team salary — and that’s before we include any other bonuses or fees they’d receive for being named to tournament rosters and other non-game events.3
While U.S. Soccer is not responsible for FIFA prize money, it’s worth noting that the men’s prize money for losing in the round of 16 amounted to $9 million. The women’s prize money for winning the whole tournament was $2 million. If we distribute these totals evenly across the 23-player rosters, Lloyd’s and Solo’s earnings increase to $326,976 each. Dempsey’s and Howard’s, meanwhile, increase to $819,326 and $789,799, respectively. The 2014 men’s World Cup generated approximately $4.8 billion in revenue for FIFA. Revenue for the 2015 Women’s World Cup have yet to be reported but will certainly be much lower.
On top of the specific financial disparities laid out above, the women’s inability to specify what kind of field surface they play on, when such consideration is offered to the men, is surely a sore spot, one that blew up in December when the USWNT boycotted a friendly over concerns about the quality of the artificial turf at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium.
Another footnote in the memo of understanding concerns travel arrangements. The women’s national team is booked to fly economy for the majority of its travel, while the men exclusively fly business class.
Granted, the women’s and men’s national teams both collectively agreed to these respective compensation structures — and since the men are neither salaried by the federation nor play in a league owned and operated by the federation, it could be argued that their compensation should be distributed differently than the women. But it is interesting to observe the discrepancies in areas where one would assume they would be equitably compensated. Also, the USWNT players’ complaint to the EEOC could expose the lack of transparency by U.S. Soccer relative to the revenues the women’s national team generates, which may have artificially depressed the players’ market value.
The court will decide whether U.S. Soccer’s memo of understanding with the players union is a valid labor agreement at the end of May; dates for potential action on the EEOC complaint have yet to be determined. Regardless of either outcome, it appears that the U.S. women’s national team has a real case regarding the gender pay gap. Negotiations for their next collective bargaining agreement will continue all year, and the likes of Lloyd and Solo intend to leverage their recent success for better treatment by their employers.