Equal pay. Or, as the mantra used to be, “equal pay for equal play.”
The only trouble is that no one has defined the term. We’re not talking about a man and a woman holding identical faculty positions. We’re talking about people who have negotiated different contracts for different competitive paths.
“Equal play” is itself a slippery term, not for any condescending depiction of how women play but for the vagaries of the competitions for each team. From 2014 to 2017, the last quadrennium in which both teams played in the World Cup, here’s a breakdown of which team played what:
• Home friendlies: men
22, women 52 (including SheBelieves Cup and Tournament of Nations)
• Away friendlies: men 12, women 18 (including Algarve Cup and a tournament in Brazil)
• World Cup and Olympic games: men 4, women 11
• World Cup and Olympic home qualifiers: men 8, women 10
• World Cup and Olympic away qualifiers: men 8, women 0
• Continental competition (Gold Cup, Copa America, Concacaf Cup): men 19, women 0
The playing agendas are simply different. The women cross the country to please the fans, making sure Morgan and Rapinoe -- before them, Wambach and Solo -- are on hand. The men are trying out players -- more than 60 in some years -- to try to get back to the World Cup and deal with intense international competitions, while the women put together showcases on home soil.
But that doesn’t mean the problem can’t be answered.
To that end, I’ve compiled a painstakingly detailed spreadsheet comparing men’s and women’s pay as best we can given what we know. We have the most recent men’s collective bargaining agreement, which expired in December but has not been replaced. We have the deal under which the women played until December 2016. We have U.S. Soccer’s 990 forms that list the federation’s top employees, which usually include 3-5 players.We don’t have the new women’s CBA covering 2017-21 in its entirety, but Caitlin Murray has published many details in her book The National Team and in a recent story in The Guardian.
Using these numbers, I’ve come up with this …
Based on current deals and results, the women are likely making more than the men.
We know from the 990 forms that the top women have certainly done better than the top men in recent years. The four players over the threshold to be listed on the 990 in 2017-18 were all women making between $247,000 and $258,000. Those figures must include NWSL salaries, but the calculations of the men’s salaries -- of which we can be reasonably confident because that CBA is public -- came up with no man making more than $183,000 in that time.
The women’s contract that ran through 2016 left plenty of room to improve. The negotiations took place in 2005, when women’s soccer was its lowest point of the past couple of decades. The WUSA had collapsed. The 2003 Women’s World Cup was a shadow of 1999. Most of the recognizable faces moved on after winning gold at the 2004 Olympics.
When the NWSL launched in 2013, the deal was extended and amended with a Memorandum of Understanding, but the numbers were still low. In my calculation for 2018-19, if that old deal was still in effect, the top women’s players would have topped out around $124,000, and the total compensation (not including NWSL salaries or sponsor appearances) worked out to around $3.1 million.
And still, that would be more than the men in 2018-19, in which they only played 13 games thanks to the World Cup qualifying disaster. That calculation yielded total compensation of $2.33 million spread out over 60 players, with only one player (Wil Trapp) cracking six figures.
Even under the old deal, the women would out-earn the men in years with big victories. In 2015-16, the top players on the 990 form were all women making $225,450 each -- again, likely including NWSL pay. In 2012-13, with Olympic gold and no NWSL, the only players listed on the 990 were Alex Morgan ($282,564), Becky Sauerbrunn ($274,871) and Christie Rampone ($272,913).
In any case, we can conclude that the widely reported notion that the women’s players make “38 cents on the dollar” in comparison to the men is fanciful, or at least based on results that have not existed in recent years.
With a new deal in place, the women should be doing considerably better. The total compensation for the women in 2018-19 (not including the World Cup, which is taking place after the end of the fiscal year), using Murray’s reported figures and a couple of estimates of how various bonuses are awarded, works out to roughly $5.8 million -- not just far more the double the men’s pay for the same year but more than $1 million ahead of what the men earned in 2017-18, when they won the Gold Cup and collected several World Cup qualifying win bonuses.
These figures are being shared with the respective players’ associations for further comment.
That said …
When the men earn any sort of World Cup bonus, they earn much more.
Had the U.S. men qualified for the World Cup, they would have split a $2.5 million bonus, to be divided as the players association saw fit. Roughly 35 players saw the field in qualifiers through that cycle, so it’s not a game-changing bonus per player.
But the compiled bonuses for a nice World Cup run add up in a hurry. Start with $218,750 for each point in the group stage. Let’s say they earn five points, and we’ll round it to $1.1 million to run the hypothetical. Reaching the second round is another $4.5 million. Another $5 million for reaching the quarterfinals, matching the feat of 2002. Another $5.65 million for an improbable run to the semifinals. From there, add $1.25 million for third place, $6.25 million for second, and $9.375 million if the unthinkable happens.
So the total for a World Cup win would be $25.6 million, plus another $218,750 for any additional points in the group stage. That’s a nice percentage of the $38 million awarded to the French federation in 2018, and it’s more than $1 million per player. And that’s under the expired men’s deal -- a new deal could be even more.
In a more reasonable scenario such as a run to the round of 16 in 2014, the men still do pretty well. In the 2014-15 fiscal year, the top five earners on the 990 were men, ranging from Clint Dempsey at $428,002 to Jermaine Jones at $395,920.
It’s possible that the women’s team, at least some of them, would be better off if it simply accepted the same deal as the men.
I ran a scenario in which the women played under the men’s deal in 2018-19. The top women would have earned $368,488. Fifteen players would have earned more than $300,000, six more would have earned at least $200,000, and seven more would have earned at least $100,000.
A large chunk of that earning for the top players would have been in World Cup qualifying, which is where we run into the “equal play” question. All five Women’s World Cup qualifiers were at home. The attendance bonuses were negligible -- the games all drew four-figure crowds -- but they’d get a bonus for $18,125 for every Concacaf minnow they trounced on home soil. Then they’d split the $2.5 million qualifying bonus among far fewer players than the men would.
Total compensation would be around $8.25 million, more than $5 million more than the old deal and nearly $2.5 million more than under the estimated new deal.
To date, the women have not sought the equivalent of the men’s deal, and there are two reasons why the team and the federation would hesitate to agree to this deal.
From the women’s point of view: Some women’s players would lose more than $10,000 by switching deals. Others would be going without the security of injury and maternity pay, let alone the steady salary and health benefits that the women enjoy.
From the federation’s point of view: Giving women the same bonuses as the men would quickly eat away at the federation’s current surplus. The 2019 Women’s World Cup first-place money is $4 million, more than $20 million short of what the federation would need to pay the women if they win.
The Olympics, which feature full women’s teams but modified youth teams in the men’s competition, offer no prize money as such, though the U.S. Olympic Committee offers $37,500 per gold medal. That’s $675,000 for an 18-player roster, which would put the federation more than $25 million in the hole if the World Cup bonuses were paid for the Olympics.
So what are the priorities?
If the men and women already have equal pay based on typical results (men to the round of 16, women to the semifinals), is that enough? Should all available bonuses be equal, even if it means paying the women many millions more in prize money than FIFA gives U.S. Soccer or slashing the available bonuses for men? Should U.S. Soccer simply pay out large bonuses in the hopes of recouping the money through increased sponsorship, or should it try to put the money from a once-in-a-generation World Cup run into youth programs and other development?
And should compensation be based on revenue, even if that means the men stand to make more based on attendance and much more based on FIFA bonuses if they should win some World Cup games?
And should that compensation be spread over more players? The bulk of the women’s compensation is concentrated among roughly 23 women, and that concentration would continue as long as the stars are expected to tour the country like the Harlem Globetrotters. Should the women split their bonuses to reward the next tier of players and keep them in the game, just as the men’s pay is split among more than 60 players?
In the next week, I’m planning to publish a spreadsheet with built-in calculator that gives anyone a chance to figure out fair deals. Enter variables -- salaries, bonuses for friendly wins, World Cup bonuses, etc. -- and watch the numbers change -- total compensation, money to the top players, etc.
That spreadsheet will also include some revenue data, taken from U.S. Soccer financial statements and including lists of attendance and TV ratings -- contrary to anecdotal evidence, these do not necessarily favor the women’s team.
You may decide that “equal” works. Or you may find something that seems fair to you.
Then feel free to email your findings to U.S. Soccer and the respective players associations. They’ll surely appreciate your input.
Photo: Fotoarena/Imago/Icon Sportswire