Will the U.S. women’s back pay demands hurt future women’s soccer players?

I’ve been covering women’s sports for about three decades now. Not as 100% of my job — through most of my employment, I’ve had a lot of editing and online responsibilities as well as reporting — but I’ve amassed a considerable amount of women’s soccer stories (and a book) and a lot of women’s coverage in my Olympic sports work.

Lately, that’s been less game coverage and more issue coverage. How can we keep young athletes safe from sexual predators like Larry Nassar? How do Olympic sports athletes support themselves? How can an athlete stay in a sport in which women have been denied a spot in the Games?

It hasn’t been good for my career. I lost money on my book, though I could’ve done a better job reporting it. An editor (a woman, and she was a great boss) once told me I should cut back on covering women’s soccer, and I didn’t.

I’ve also delved deeply into U.S. Soccer finances. Haven’t made a lot of money on that, either. The Guardian and Soccer America are good to me, but I’ve done so much extra work on this that my income is far under minimum wage.

I’ve also covered youth soccer. It’s a mess. That’s a big reason why I have a book out now called Why the U.S. Men Will Never Win the World Cup.

But it also has the potential to ensure that the 2019 Women’s World Cup win will be the USA’s last. The rest of the world is catching ahead, and staying ahead will require well-spent money.

So when I see that the U.S. women are looking for $66 million, I have to go back to the math.

U.S. Soccer, of course, has countered with a motion for a summary judgment of $0. I’m guessing negotiations aren’t going well.

And we should say at the outset that such motions, no matter how many volumes of documents are printed in support, still don’t force the court to play “all or nothing,” as the eminent sports law professor Steven Bank points out.

But if the women were seeking $10 million, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all. $20 million? Possibly.

Here are a few points demonstrating that neither the Fed ($0) nor the players ($66 million) have taken a justifiable stance.

$66 million is more than even the most generous computation I can find.

I ran the numbers last summer, using the assumption that the U.S. women would ask for the same bonuses the U.S. men would have received had they won the World Cup. That wouldn’t meant the women, who under the current CBA get close to 100% of FIFA prize money if they win (once you include the Victory Tour bonus, which is paid on top of their regular pay for four friendlies), would have received more than 1,300% of FIFA prize money in 2015. (The winning country received $2 million. The men’s bonus for winning would’ve been more than $26 million.)

I came up with $50,365,524.

You can make your own calculations and run different scenarios if you like using this spreadsheet. You can also download from GitHub.

The Federation’s mandate is to grow the game, which will make it possible for the men to get better and the women to stay on top

A lot of people look at pay in a vacuum, as if U.S. Soccer is an NBA team and players should get a specific part of the revenue. But we’re not talking about billionaire owners here. (Yes, we’re talking about overpaid executives — we’ll get to that.) This is a nonprofit organization that is responsible for coaching education, referee education, Paralympic soccer, youth national teams, etc.

The Federation is way behind other federations in this respect

U.S. Soccer doesn’t have the scouting or coaching infrastructure that other countries have.

That’s one reason the men haven’t done as well as anyone would like.

That’s one reason the women’s youth national teams haven’t done well recently, either, and that bodes ill for the future.

The Federation is trying to address this by spending a pile of assets it accumulated, much of it by hosting the Copa America Centenario, on new programs

The initial idea was to spend it down to $50 million. Thanks to legal fees, that’s now $42 million.

Which is less than $66 million.

That said, we don’t know how well the Federation is spending that money

Take a look at the Federation’s budgets — not just in FY 2019 but in past years as well.

A couple of things seem sensible. They’re spending more on the U.S. Open Cup and much more on referee and coaching education. They’ve also spent a bit on technology so they can keep track of players and shore up the Fed’s awful web sites. They’ve launched a terrific Innovate to Grow grant program that was a big hit among state federations (who deserve none of the blame for the Federation’s spending or contract negotiations) at the Annual General Meeting.

But in the Annual General Meeting book (see AGM books tab on the spreadsheet linked above), they have a $3 million line item for “Various.” And executive pay is out of whack. Maybe they can go without replacing Jay Berhalter. (Not Gregg. They still need a men’s coach.) Maybe they don’t need to hire so many staffers and relocate them to Chicago.

Still, the new CEO will probably command a lot of money, maybe even more than Dan Flynn made. They need someone good.

It’d be cool if they hired a woman, right? Maybe a former Board of Directors member?

Historically, the Federation hasn’t treated the women as well as they should have

There’s a reason the women went on strike in 2000. There’s a reason they filed an EEOC complaint. And the new collective bargaining agreement should have equalized some things that could’ve been equalized. (You could argue that hiring lawyers who have lost multiple times to U.S. Soccer was a bad idea on the women’s part.)

Hank Steinbrecher is gone. Dan Flynn just left. Sunil Gulati is an ex officio member of the board.

And to be sure, they’ve invested more into women’s soccer than other federations. Yes, even Norway and Australia, with their much-hyped “equal pay” deals that (A) don’t account for the differences in prize money that the U.S. women clearly want to address and (B) don’t pay either team that well, especially in Norway.

But they left a mess. There’s no reason the women’s CBA shouldn’t have equal bonuses for friendlies at the very least.

One important myth to debunk here: Typically, the WNT’s revenue is not equal to the men. Not close. But the women can still make a case. Go back to the notion that the Federation is a nonprofit that’s supposed to grow the game. They’re not going to make a profit on beach soccer (which has a new women’s team), Para soccer and youth programs, but they have to do so anyway. They may not make a profit on women’s soccer, but it’s their mandate to support it equally anyway.

I’ll write more for various outlets on this at some point, but I hope everything above is helpful.

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