With USMNT Out of World Cup, USWNT’s Equal Pay Fight Takes Center Stage
When the final whistle blew on the United States’ Men’s National Team 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago, it signaled a bitter end for USMNT’s hopes to make the World Cup. For the first time since 1986, a USMNT team will not head to the World Cup. It was a disaster result for everybody associated with United States soccer. Fans and supporters called for the ouster of everybody connected with the calamity, but for every single person rending their garments after the dust had settled, there was a tiny contingent that could not help but feel a little vindicated; the United States Women’s National Team. The USWNT has been embroiled in an equal pay dispute for quite some time now and with the USMNT’s loss, the women have the perfect argument for why they should get equal pay. However, while sites like Bloomberg profess that the loss proves the value of the USWNT’s claim, they might be exactly right… to the detriment of the USWNT.
With all things being equal, the USWNT players should get paid the same as the players on the USMNT. However, all things are not equal. Yes, the two play under the same organization, but their revenue streams are entirely different despite engaging essentially in the same sport (unlike women’s and men’s hockey, the rules between women’s and men’s soccer are in fact the same). This “revenue generation” has been at the heart of the dispute. The USWNT brought a claim to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) seeking equal pay from the men because they play they same sport, yet the men get paid more even after the newest CBA for USWNT closed what was a gap of more than $160,000. The USWNT even hired Jeffrey Kessler (yes that one) as their lawyer in the dispute.
The Double-Edged Sword of USWNT’s Claim; the Good
The last thing the USWNT expected when they brought their claim to the EEOC was for the men’s side to miss the World Cup in Russia. However, now they have the perfect opportunity to show the EEOC and the rest of America how much money they bring in. The good news for the USWNT is that at last check they still have a fair-trade clause in their Collective Bargaining Agreement, which states:
“If in any calendar year, the ratio of aggregate compensation of women’s national team players to the aggregate revenue from all women’s national team games (including all games in U.S. Soccer promoted women’s tournaments) is less than the ratio of the aggregate compensation of the men’s national team players compensation to the aggregate revenue from all men’s national team games (including all games in U.S. Soccer promoted men’s tournaments), then U.S. Soccer will make a lump sum payment to the women’s national team player pool to make the ratios equal.”
The reason it has never been used is, according to U.S. Soccer, the USWNT has never triggered the clause. That might soon change. If that does happen (and 2018 seems like the best bet with the USMNT staying home from the World Cup) the USWNT has a huge feather in their cap, and a feather that might be dipped in gold. If they can trigger that clause, it would be the tip of the iceberg for USWNT’s argument for equal pay; “not only do the men perform poorer comparatively speaking, but we are also more cost effective.” That is the type of argument that wins not just hearts, but also wallets. Win the bottom line argument, you win everything.
The Double-Edged Sword of USWNT’s Claim; the Bad
However, it could backfire catastrophically for the USWNT. If they somehow do not trigger that clause in a year where the USMNT misses out ON THE BIGGEST TOURNAMENT IN THE WORLD, when would they ever show they are equals when it comes to the bottom line? The U.S. Soccer’s record keeping is dubious at best, but an independent auditor concluded that in the fiscal year’s of 2014 and 2015, U.S. Soccer $49.8 million on the men and $18.8 million on the women. In addition, U.S. Soccer estimated that in 2017 it would see a loss of $1 million on the men’s side and a net profit of $5 million for the women. But remember Kessler? He says that is all besides the point in his claim representing the USWNT to the EEOC. Kessler avoids the revenue argument and sticks to the stance of, “reason they are entitled to equal pay is because they are engaged in equal work.”
Kessler is one of the smartest lawyers out there. He is sticking to the “equal pay for equal play” argument specifically because he knows that if he put his money on the “revenue generation” argument and it failed, he would have nowhere to go. He is leaving the possibility open that USWNT does not generate the same revenue and is claiming that it is a moot point to his argument. It was a gamble that most people did not comprehend at the time he said it, but now he looks like a prophet; the one thing we will know for sure in 2018 is how important is the USWNT to creating revenue for U.S. Soccer. There is no men’s side to boost sales. There will be no watch parties at local bars. There will be no need to spend money on advertising the world cup because the nation does not have a participant. U.S. Soccer can drastically downsize the amount of money they spend in 2018 on the USMNT, which means that almost all of the money and all of the exposure will be focused on the USWNT.
Almost all realistic “Equal Pay” arguments boil down to the bottom line. If you generate the same amount of money, you should be paid the same. That is as American as apple pie and baseball. The USWNT has said they deserve equal pay because they actually make money compared to the men, and they perform better. But U.S. Soccer refutes that and says the men’s side generates more money. Now, with the men incapable of generating World Cup revenue in 2018, it is time for the USWNT to show what they are made of, and what they can make. All of U.S. Soccer’s eggs are now in the USWNT basket. Can the USWNT carry it to safety, or will they drop the basket and watch their case crack open? Thanks to the USMNT missing out the World Cup, we will all finally found out the answer in 2018.