The World Cup champions are taking the proverbial hand that is feeding them to court by filing a wage-discrimination action against the U.S. Soccer Federation. Among the main charges is the fact that the women’s program received almost four times less pay last year than the U.S. men’s national team, despite generating nearly $20 million more revenue.
The timing of the lawsuit could not be better. The U.S. women’s team has enjoyed a tremendous spell of success as of late, culminating with the World Cup win last summer. The 5-2 drubbing of Japan in the final also marked a resounding success off the pitch, with record setting TV ratings. To put into context, viewership for the final exceeded every game of the 2015 NBA Finals and exceeded the most watched men’s World Cup game.
An important point to keep in mind is that this court motion has nothing to do with the popularity of the men’s sport versus women’s, or with the fact that club soccer is a much more lucrative business on the men’s side. While debating the merits of the equal pay argument, we need to tread lightly with regards to Major League Soccer and any TV contracts related to club soccer and look at what the men’s and women’s national team programs have produced in real greenback dollars and cents. This is purely a U.S. Soccer Federation issue, the sport’s governing body at the national team level, which doles out the payments to both the men’s and women’s sides.
Optics aside, a potential counterargument from U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati (below) and his camp would be to point out that 2015 was an anomaly in terms of trends. Perhaps to no one’s surprise, the ratings for the men’s games are significantly higher versus the women’s across all other games. For World Cup group stage games, the men’s games bring in three times the viewership. For pre-World Cup “send-off” games, the ratings for the men’s games are almost twice as high.
Based on these figures, Sunil Gulati was quick to dismiss the wage discrimination action. It might be wise to reconsider. Even if the revenue brought in by the women’s program is not as high as claimed, there is enough momentum to reconsider the collective bargaining agreement and sweeten the deal for our ladies. With the Olympics around the corner, it makes sense to compromise and allow for a higher level of parity by bringing the women’s compensation higher. This is not the type of distraction needed prior to a major tournament. Let’s also keep in mind that revenue from national team participation makes up the bulk of personal income for the ladies. The women’s side does not have the luxury of falling back on generous club wages in the millions of dollars annually. In other words, the women need this bread more than the men. Time to pay the piper (or “piperettes”). There will not be a better time to take action and there isn’t a good reason for the U.S. Soccer Federation to delay the inevitable. There are enough arguments to raise wages on the women’s side instead of perpetuating regressive wage policies.
Bottom line: Pay the ladies.