[guest post by JVW]
As we celebrate the victory of our United States Soccer Women’s National Team (USWNT), and their curb-stomping of every single Eurotrash nation who once thought they could colonize our lands (Did anyone else notice that we beat, in order: Spain, France, England, and the Netherlands? Ok, ok, we’re missing Russia.), talk has turned to the women’s demand for what in unhelpful shorthand is being referred to as “equal pay.” Because much of this debate seems to be arguing from premises that are not shared by each combatant, I thought it might be helpful to outline the two athlete compensation streams that are being discussed.
World Cup Revenue
Those who seek to dismiss the USWNT’s complaints out of hand are quick to point out the obvious fact that the revenue for the men’s World Cup dwarfs the revenue for the women’s event. Total revenues for the 2018 World Cup (for men) in Russia were estimated at $6 billion dollars, which includes event sponsorships, ticket sales, television rights, merchandising, and whatever else is sold under the auspices of FIFA, a corrupt international body of sleazy bankers, corrupt lawyers, and assorted louche princes and counts from defunct royal courts. The women’s event held the past several weeks in France, by contrast, is believed to have brought in $131 million, or about 2.2% of the haul of the men’s event. As such, the members of the French team which won the men’s title split $38 million in prize money, while the American women must make do with a pot of only $4 million, though it should be noted that the women share a much higher percentage of the total revenue than the men do. Short of socializing the funding for both events in order to even out the payoffs, I don’t see that there is a lot which can be done here.
National Team Pay
This is where the women’s team has their strongest argument that they are being treated unfairly. The USWNT is currently in mediation with U.S. Soccer, seeking to be paid stipends commensurate with the men’s team. They have also filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and filed suit against U.S. Soccer in U.S. District Court in Central California. Additionally, former USWNT goalie Hope Solo has separately filed suit against U.S. Soccer, also alleging pay discrimination.
The women’s logic is understandable, and it is laid out in an informative article by Michael McCann, a lawyer who writes about legal issues for Sports Illustrated. First and foremost, they have clearly been more successful than the men in international competitions. Documents filed in support of their position show that between 2016 and 2018, the USWNT ticket sales exceeded the men’s team sales, albeit slightly, and with the women’s World Cup victory coupled with the failure of the men’s team to qualify for last summer’s tournament, this could be a year where women’s team merchandise outsells men’s team merchandise. Given the wokedy-woke attitude of corporate America these days, one would assume that sponsorships would at the very worst be even, with the marketability of the women’s team perhaps surpassing that of the men’s team.
So, the thinking goes, why not pay women’s team members a stipend equivalent to that of the men’s team? The last real piece of revenue that hasn’t yet been mentioned is television revenue, and because U.S. Soccer packages both teams together in network deals it is hard to determine which is the more valuable piece of the pie. Traditionally the men have had higher television ratings than the women, but again, the recent success of the USWNT coupled with the on-field egg-laying by the fellas might change the numbers there and bolster the argument for a more equitable division. Olympic sports such as swimming and track & field provide a uniform stipend system irrespective of sex, and in some sports it would seem that it is the men’s team members who are getting shafted while the more popular women’s team members get by. The easy thing to do here is to simply draw up a new deal that dictates the U.S. Soccer Women’s National Team members receive the same organizational pay that U.S. Soccer Men’s National Team members do, right? At least one Presidential candidate believes so:
The @USWNT proved even before their World Cup win yesterday that they have what it takes to succeed. They generate more revenue than the men’s team and now hold the record for most FIFA Women’s World Cup wins. The world is watching — it’s time they were paid what they deserve.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) July 8, 2019
But hold on; not so fast.
It turns out that the USWNT’s compensation was the product of a a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by their own player’s association with U.S. Soccer. The men’s and the women’s teams have separate player’s associations, and thus each squad reached a different sort of deal. The men’s team pay is highly dependent upon the number of games in which a player appears for the national team; a player who makes ten appearances in a year makes 25% more than a player who makes eight appearances, and a player who is injured and does not appear for the men’s national team gets nothing for a stipend. By contrast, all women’s players in the national team pool are guaranteed a flat sum, and in return they get a smaller per-game appearance fee. This way a player who appears in ten games makes only slightly more than the player who appears in eight games, but the player who sits out the year with an injury (or, perhaps, maternity leave) still makes something. If the women choose a model so that everyone gets at least a little something while the men choose a model where you are paid to play, I don’t see how that violates any equal pay principles.
(To be completely fair, though, I do think the USWNT has a legitimate point when they complain that the men’s team has better training facilities and more luxurious travel. This is something that U.S. Soccer ought to rectify and make equal.)
One would think that a good pro-labor Democrat like Kamala Harris might be a little bit skittish about demanding that a collective bargaining agreement which is in effect for another 30 months be tossed aside just because one side now has a stronger hand to play. Imagine if the USWNT had lost in the round of 16 to Spain, and had thus ignominiously bowed out of the tournament much earlier than expected. Would U.S. Soccer be justified in demanding that the collective bargaining agreement be reopened and the player’s compensation adjusted downward? It’s impossible to see Senator Harris supporting that kind of move, so why should she be in favor of abrogating the agreement now?
It would be a classy move — and justifiable too — if U.S. Soccer would address the disparities in training and travel between the two teams, and provide a better experience for the women players. If they want to reopen the collective bargaining agreement and revisit compensation then I have no problem with that, but I am against the idea that they should somehow be compelled to do so by outside activists. The men’s and women’s player associations could also explore the idea of merging into one organization which would ensure that both sides are treated equally, though the USWNT may find itself having to compromise here and there to keep the men aboard. Who knows, with the success of the women’s team perhaps it would be a smart move for the men to latch on for the ride. But simplistic chants of “equal pay” and turning this into yet another tiresome grudge in the grossly misleading “pay gap” argument will only serve the purposes of the professional activist crew.