“One Nation, One Team”—a slogan promoted by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) over the course of the past two summers has led campaigns supporting both the men and women’s national teams in their pursuit of their respective World Cups. While 2014 and 2015 served as milestone years in the evolution of soccer in America; 2016 has proven to shake the foundation of the American soccer empire.
On Tuesday, March 29, 2016, five star players from the United States Women’s National Team filed a formal complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). These players—Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, and Rebecca Sauerbrunn—claim that the U.S. women’s national soccer team (USWNT) were being paid significantly less than their male peers.
The law firm of Winston & Strawn is currently representing these women, with one of their chairmen, Jeffery Kessler, serving as the lead attorney. Kessler has vast experience in dealing with high profile sports cases involving players and their respective professional associations and leagues. Including, most notably his recent defense of New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady against the National Football League.
As the news of this filing became public, Kessler released a statement on Thursday, March 31, 2016, stating, “The women on the team are very much aware of their role and responsibility to bring this issue to the forefront, not just for themselves but as a model for women in general…They really do hope that this filing will lead to some progress on this issue.”
While the EEOC begins its investigation into this complaint, there is still a huge elephant in the room.
In January, the Women’s National Team Players Association appealed for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the United States Soccer Federation and the players. The players’ union petitioned for there to be a new CBA signed that would enact a clause requiring “equal pay for equal work.” In response, the U.S. Soccer Federation submitted a federal waiver hoping to clarify that their current CBA does, in fact, run through the year of 2016 and ends on December 31 of this year.
The filing of this lawsuit to the EEOC is considered to be a result of direct correlation to the stagnation of current CBA talks. Current ESPN soccer analyst and former player for the United States men’s national team, Alexi Lalas, said, “I think if I were [still] a player on the men’s team, I would look to support this. [Because] it will set a precedent where the players and their unions can get out of their CBA.”
With the Olympics coming up this summer in Rio, it is still unclear whether the women’s national team would decide to boycott or protest their current working/pay conditions until there is a more clearly definitive resolution in sight. On Thursday, March 31, 2016, US Women’s National Team Captain, Carli Lloyd, spoke on NBC’s Today show stating, “I think we’ve proven our worth over the years. Just coming off a World Cup win, the pay disparity between the men and women is just too large. We want to continue to fight. The generation of players before us fought. And now it’s our job to keep on fighting.”
The sensitivity of this lawsuit can be felt throughout the sporting world, as it could set the precedent for all other sport associations to review their pay structure comparing men and women.
Book II: Dollar Discrimination
When you peruse through the financial books and follow the money, rarely do you just stumble upon coincidences. For what can often be the most difficult part of any legal action case, financial reports prove to be the stable force when there are numbers being thrown around from all sides.
As reported by ESPN, “The filing, citing figures from the USSF’s 2015 financial report, says that despite the women’s team generating nearly $20 million more revenue last year than the U.S. men’s team, the women are paid about a quarter of what the men earn.”
Granted, this figure is merely based upon the 2015 campaign, in which the women’s team participated in the World Cup. To fairly evaluate the figures and revenue numbers, analysts commonly group these reports into four year cycles, in which both the men’s and women’s World Cup are included.
The argument the USSF has expressed is that the USMNT has generated more revenue in this four year cycle and therefore qualifies the team to be paid at a higher rate.
“I think we’ve proven our worth over the years. Just coming off a World Cup win, the pay disparity between the men and women is just too large. We want to continue to fight…” -Carli Lloyd
Documents from the United States Soccer Federation’s Annual General Meeting, explicitly detail the federation’s balance sheet and income statement. Based upon the four-year cycle of revenue, dating from 2014-2017 (with 2016 and 2017 projected), the USMNT has earned and is projected to accrue a revenue stream of $75,245,600. The USWNT has earned and is projected to accrue a revenue stream of $57,703,299.
However, when including expenses for each team that has been accrued and is projected, the variable net income expected for each team is much closer than the USSF would lead us to believe. The USMNT relative expenses total $60,971,476; the USWNT expenses total $47,973,949. The variable net income is projected to be $14,272,124 for the men and $9,729,350 for the women (All figures based upon national team events; excluding wages). Based solely on these financials provided by the USSF, it is clear to see why the USWNT has a legitimate case here for equal pay.
When we dig even deeper into the specific differences in pay based upon pure comparisons of similar events between the women and the men, the disparity becomes even more alarming.
Claims in the EEOC filing state that there is a huge gap in bonuses available based on performance. The bonus awarded per player for making the 24-person active roster for the World Cup is $68,750/player for the men’s team and only $15,000 for the women.
World Cup based bonus earnings for each team as reported by the NY Daily News, state that the men have the potential earnings in bonuses totaling up to about $ 24.9 million while the women have a meager $2.145 million in potential earnings (actual totals still being disputed).
Another staggering disparity comes from the bonuses that the Federation International de Football Association (FIFA) has recently released. The 2014 Men’s World Cup winner, Germany, received a stipend of roughly $35 million for winning the tournament—in comparison, the USWNT was granted a stipend of $2 million for winning their tournament in 2015.
Two of the main plaintiffs in this EEOC filing, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo, earned an estimated $240,019 each of non-salary revenue in 2015. In contrast, the USSF financial reports for 2014 had two of the most prominent players on the men’s team, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, accruing nearly double those totals—with Dempsey earning $428,022 and Howard $398,495.
Howard recently spoke out on the matter during an interview on ESPN’s Sportscenter. “We support the fact that the women should fight for their rights and fight for what they think is just compensation. We, on the men’s side, have been fighting that battle for a long, long time,” Howard said. “We certainly know what it feels like. We felt underpaid for a long time. We had to negotiate our way to a settlement.”
Upon interpretation of these figures by the EEOC and the courts, there will most likely not be any clarification unto which numbers are deemed reasonable and effectual.
Book III: Back to the Future
As these proceedings are navigated, it is imperative to judge where this might leave the landscape of American soccer. What impacts, negative or positive, could this situation and any possible rulings have on this generation and future generations to come?
Some outlets have suggested that this action may propose the risk of a rift between the US men and women’s national teams. The plausibility of this has largely been downplayed already due to the massive support of current and former men’s players including that of the famous Landon Donovan. Donovan tweeted on March 31, “…I’m not for equal pay, I’m for fair pay. If #USWNT generate more revenue, they should be paid more.”
In fact, many analysts have chimed in on what could possibly be the outcome of this situation, posing interesting questions as a result. Alexi Lalas, asked in a serious tone, “What would be the reaction if the USSF proposes equal pay by not raising the women’s wages, but instead lowering the men’s [wages]?” He then went on to ask, “Would that scenario be seen as success?”
Brenna Connell, a current player for the George Mason University women’s soccer team, answered that question posed by Lalas, replying, “No, I don’t think that would make sense. It wouldn’t be fair to the men…”
Suggesting a degradation of pay for the men in order to obtain equal pay, could very well come across as a negative consequence instead of a positive achievement for equal rights in sports.
As more players come forward, whether from the past, current, or future generation, it seems that the real consensus may not be the question of equal pay, but in fact, fair pay. Both sides want a solution; although they appear to be far apart on how to actually reach one. Between the current CBA negotiations and the varying numbers of revenues proposed by each side, this case could very well over-shadow any result in Rio this summer.
Would it be more beneficial for the women to hold a work stoppage and refuse to play in the Olympics? Or win the Olympics and possibly put even more pressure on the USSF?
Although these American women have three World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals, they may now face their toughest opponent to date. And until the EEOC brings forth a ruling, we are left as:
One Nation, One Two Teams.
The following players/organizations declined to comment on the matter:
Ian Darke; Michael Bradley; Clint Dempsey; Eddie Johnson; Julie Foudy; Kaka; Bruce Arena; Taylor Twellman; Seattle Sounders FC; Toronto FC; Orlando City SC; New England Revolution; Los Angeles Galaxy; Major League Soccer