When the U.S. women’s soccer team defended its World Cup title by defeating The Netherlands, its fans embraced their victory with chants of “Equal pay” mixed with “U-S-A.”
The No. 1-ranked women are mired in an equal pay lawsuit — now in arbitration — with the U.S. Soccer Federation. Yet they have outperformed the No. 30 men, who failed to make the 2018 World Cup field, in comparative competitions and at the bank.
The Wall Street Journal reported, “From 2016 to 2018, women’s games generated about $50.8 million in revenue compared with $49.9 million for the men, according to U.S. Soccer’s audited financial statements.”
But it hasn’t paid off. “Women players earn a base salary of $3,600 per game while men earn $5,000,” Vox reported. “Women who play on the world stage — like in the World Cup — get a $15,000 bonus; male soccer players earn a bonus of $55,000.
In 2015, the U.S. Soccer Federation gave the women a $1.7 million bonus for winning the World Cup. The men got a $5.4 million bonus for losing in the Round of 16 in the 2014 World Cup.
The New York Times calculated each player on the women’s team will earn an extra $250,000 for winning the World Cup — splitting the $4 million first prize from FIFA, soccer’s international organization, plus bonuses and pay for a four-game victory tour. Overall women’s prize money was $30 million.
The 2018 World Cup champion French men split $38 million. The men’s overall prize money was $400 million.
FIFA is finally taking notice that the women’s game is no longer the poor stepchild, buoyed by an estimated 1 billion TV viewers worldwide and soaring merchandise sales.
The women’s final drew 20% more viewers in the U.S. than the men’s 2018 World Cup championship. Half of Britain watched the U.S.-England semifinal. A third of all Dutch viewers tuned in to their semifinal against Sweden. Records were set in France, Brazil, and Italy.
Fox reaped unexpected rewards. It bought World Cup tournament rights from 2015 through 2022 for $420 million. Women’s Round of 16 advertising rates of $40,000 per spot in 2015 soared to $140,000 this year.
Nike said U.S. women’s 2019 stadium home jersey — retailing for $90 — broke sales records at nike.com for men and women.
The U.S. team dominated social media. All top 10 Twitter trending topics were about U.S. women’s soccer after Alex Morgan mimicked sipping tea following her goal in the win over England.
The U.S. women displayed astonishing skills (Rose Lavelle’s goal against the Dutch was nothing short of magical) to complement their brashness.
Before the match, the Dutch had expressed their appreciation that the U.S. had raised the bar, posting a tribute video, “You showed us where dedication and ambition can bring you.”
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Yet women still carry a lot of historical baggage. For instance, during World War I, English women popularized their game while the men fought, but a backlash banned them from playing until 1971.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino wants women’s prize money to double to $60 million in 2023, but the men will get $40 million more.
Soccer, though, isn’t an outlier.
Two years ago, players on the world champion U.S. women’s hockey team were making only $6,000 annually before threatening to boycott international tournaments.
They sought a “living wage” of $71,000. USA Hockey sought to replace them with high school and recreation league players.
The National Hockey League interceded, kicking in $25,000 per player.
The NBA considers itself progressive, but the average WNBA player makes $75,000 — albeit on a shortened schedule — but can earn as much as $600,000 overseas.
According to Southern Utah University economics professor David Berri, NBA players negotiated an agreement for 50% of revenues. Women, he estimates, only get 25%.
Tennis is another ball game. Men and women perform on the same stage at Grand Slam events, which have had pay parity since 2006. Wimbledon splits $49.4 million equally between men and women. Champions get $2.98 million.
Thank the legendary Billie Jean King, who made pay equity her crusade after winning the 1970 Italian Open. She got $600. Men’s winner Ilie Nastase earned $3,500.
“Everyone thinks women should be thrilled when we get crumbs,” King said, “and I want women to have the cake, the icing and the cherry on top, too.”
U.S. women’s soccer has made its case for U.S. Soccer to serve it a full course.
Whether this is a watershed moment, though, may hinge on the fate of the National Women’s Soccer League, which has a new ESPN contract. The national team’s engaging individuals will be dispersed to their home venues. They’ve given fans reasons to follow them, but will they?