Women’s soccer: How about equal spending in general, not just equal pay?

Harvard Business Review had a piece on lessons to learn from the U.S. women’s soccer team’s “equal pay” push, which may be premature given that the lawsuit hasn’t proceeded yet (and, based solely on what’s going to end up presented in court, may not go well for the women).

Here’s how I responded:

I’ve covered women’s soccer for two decades, and I’ve covered the pay issue for several years. This piece makes a few assumptions:

  1. That the USSF data is incorrect and the data associated with the women’s team, such as the dubious “38 percent” claim, is correct.
  2. That the differences between the MLS and NWSL broadcast deals are somehow related to U.S. Soccer even though the federation has heavily subsidized the NWSL. (Yes, you could argue that the overlapping entities of U.S. Soccer, MLS and Soccer United Marketing have amounted to a subsidy for MLS, but that case isn’t made here and hasn’t been fully made elsewhere to my knowledge.)
  3. That the USSF is to blame for a lack of outside investment in the NWSL even though all the pundits and media personalities who jump on the “equal pay” bandwagon have failed to cover or invest in the last two women’s leagues.
  4. That “equal pay” is easily defined. The U.S. women play under a vastly different set of circumstances — no high-stakes trips to hostile venues in Central America and the Caribbean, scant competition for places — in addition to a salary structure that the women declined to go without when they agreed to the last collective bargaining agreement in 2017.
  5. That the women’s aggressive and often misleading stance in 2016, led by Hope Solo’s recommended lawyer Rich Nichols, didn’t hurt their bargaining position when they signed their deal in 2017.
  6. That the Manchin bill would help the U.S. women even though the men’s World Cup will be a money-maker for U.S. Soccer that can only help the women’s program.
  7. That the national teams, not youth programs where the USA is falling behind European countries, are the priority for additional spending.

Simply put, it’s not that simple.

In my work, I try to present the facts as they are, but I have a bias — I want to see women’s soccer succeed at ALL levels, especially because soccer success trickles up from the youth ranks, not down from the national team.

It’s easy to make a case that U.S. Soccer — which, it must be said, started investing in women’s soccer before nearly any other country in the world did — should spend more on development for women (and actually a bit more for the men as well). It’s not just “equal pay” for a handful of players who actually earn more than the men in many scenarios, including the real-world scenarios of the last several years. It’s equal spending.


2 thoughts on “Women’s soccer: How about equal spending in general, not just equal pay?

  1. Seriously?
    1- If you don’t believe it, show why/how you come to that conclusion.
    2-US Soccer is partially responsible for NWSL broadcast deals since they furnish admin support that is lacking at every level.
    3-USSF is to blame for lack of outside investment in NWSL in part because the league isn’t marketed adequately. That pundits or media don’t cover the league is a separate issue.
    4-Equal pay is easily defined. All other matters can be handled through a bonus structure – of equal proportions.
    5-No mention of how they bargained is made, so assuming they didn’t consider it is..specious.
    6-You miss the entire point of the bill. (I think the bill is grandstanding by Manchin, but..) It isn’t about help, it’s about equality.
    7-The issue is equal pay, not additional funding of youth teams. That is a separate issue.

    I try to look at things from your side, but I think you really miss the entire point when discussing equal pay. It starts with seeing the work required to play and represent at the NT level as deserving to be treated equally. From pay to facilities, to promotion, to travel, to every kind of support afforded a senior NT, all should be equal. The opportunity to be compensated equally in all these facets of the program should be codified and enforced. The lawsuit will be argued from both sides using information from the past, it’s all they’ve got, but the opportunity to change everything going forward is in USSF’s hands. If they were willing to accept these things should be equal, they could easily have gotten out of arbitration with a favorable outcome for players and federation. As it is, both sides will suffer to some extent, no matter who wins in court.
    But, coming back to the article, this just misses the point.


  2. 1/4. https://www.socceramerica.com/publications/author/113/beau-dure/ (which draws on https://github.com/bdure/NT-pay-calculator )

    2/3. I don’t think broadcasters and sponsors are unaware of the NWSL’s existence. (Nor do we really know how much USSF tried to pitch the league — which really isn’t its responsibility — to various networks and sponsors. I can tell you it’s not zero. That said, you can always raise the question of why Soccer United Marketing doesn’t bundle the NWSL with its other broadcast deals, especially now that several MLS owners are in the NWSL as well.)

    5. It’s not mentioned directly, but I think it’s worth bringing up to see how we got here.

    6. Not sure I follow.

    7. My point here is that a lot of people are focusing heavily on national team pay and not more fundamental issues.

    No. 7 is going to come up again when we start to hear more about the men’s negotiations. Their CBA expired Dec. 31.

    In my most recent Soccer America piece on this, it became apparent that the U.S. men make more than their counterparts in many respects. Is it possible that the best way to get equality is to give the men only a small increase? (The union, of course, will NOT want to see me raise that hypothetical.)

    All else should be equal, of course, but I’m not sure how that will play out in court — as you say, it’s mostly backwards-looking because it has to be. Can you quantify playing too many games on turf? Or flying business class (which is actually a more complicated issue that it seems because the men travel back and forth across the Atlantic more often and tend to gather in one spot before flying to Central America via charter)?

    And some of these things are indeed codified. I’ve seen the women’s CBA. To no one’s surprise, it includes an explicit escalator clause saying the WNT’s per diem will rise to match whatever the men get in their new CBA. Travel is, again, more difficult to figure out, but it seems a lot of progress has been made on that front.

    The turf issue, though, seems rather vague in the CBA.

    But I don’t think that’s the holdup in settling things. The holdup is back pay, where creative accountants can earn a lot of money. If it were all easy to quantify, I’d think (but would need to check with Neil Morris and Steven Bank) that an arbitrator would’ve helped quantify it.

    Thanks as always for keeping me on my toes!


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