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:
- That the USSF data is incorrect and the data associated with the women’s team, such as the dubious “38 percent” claim, is correct.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.