Commentary

Delving into the complexities of 'equal pay for equal play'

Whenever the U.S. women step into the limelight, we hear a familiar refrain:

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

27 comments about "Delving into the complexities of 'equal pay for equal play'".
  1. Bob Ashpole, June 30, 2019 at 4:35 p.m.

    Beau, I actually didn't finish the article. 2 problems:
    1. That the woman agreed to their lower compensation is not a defense.
    2. If pay is related to income, then why hasn't the women's pay gone up when USSF's income goes up?

    Moreover it does not explain things the the difference in per diem compensation. Those things are supposed to be based on expenses incurred. I haven't noticed anyone who has a menu just for women with lower prices or anyone who has different room rates for women than men.

    Obviously there is no sense in writing this article if you are going to discuss revenues in 2018 and 2019. The men essentially had a year that was supposed to be their peak year turn out to be zero. But in court those numbers are evidence too. They cannot be ignored. Moreover a company cannot give women lower wages for doing the same job because they are work is sold for less money. Wages is different than being paid by commission or being paid by piece work. Because in either case, gender should have nothing to do with the pay. You can't give women a lower commission rate than men. You can't give women a lower piece rate than men. 

    There is no significant difference for a women training for the world cup than for a male athelete. There is no significant difference in the effort the female head coach goes through than a male head coach regardless of the gender of the team. The fields are the same. The balls are the same. The Laws of the Game are the same. The stress of the job is the same.

    Worse yet, USSF exploits the women as a cash cow having them do national tours after the world cup at their lower pay.

  2. Beau Dure replied, June 30, 2019 at 7:03 p.m.

    Bob -- I made none of the points you suggest.

  3. Peter Bechtold replied, July 1, 2019 at 10:21 a.m.

    Bob A.: You are guilty in your response of what I always warn my college students about: The "cardinal sin" of "circular reasoning", i.e. essentially beginning with a conclusion and then searching for data to substantiate your earlier arrived at thoughts. This became clear with your phrase"I actually did not finish the article...". Beau has given us a number of data ,apparently carefully researched and some of it drawn from the new (pro-women) book by Murray--well summarized in SA of several days ago.
    I have watched some of our WC players, current and former, on 4 separate national news programs presenting their case before the WC started, and came away with my own conclusion about this issue on which you and I can differ. They spoke about this being connected to womens empowerment not only here in the US but hopefully worldwide also. That is their business.
    What is clear to any observer of the internationaol game is that the US women are far from victimized but are,in fact, priviledged by their advantages via other countries, especially resulting from our college sports system and even more so from Title IX.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, July 1, 2019 at 12:22 p.m.

    Peter, after reading your comment, I went over my response and don't see "a conclusion" or a "search for data" that you are suggesting. I don't see any "circular reasoning" either. My comments are a critique of Beau's article, not a thesis of my own.

    As Beau points out, I bought up some points about the case that Beau did not make. The case has very complicated legal and factual issues. 

    This is a brief summary of a very complex area:
    https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs-epa.cfm

    My understanding of information available, is that USSF is primarily raising affirmative defenses rather than saying that the women receive equal pay and benefits. I expect them to admit nothing, but USSF carries the burden of proof once a significant difference in pay is established.

    What I would compare is minimum compensation and the mode rather than talk about compensation to the "star" players. The first and most important issue is determining what the "establishment" is, not what the data says. 

  5. Bob Ashpole, June 30, 2019 at 4:38 p.m.

    Of course when USSF fired Solo they had no intention of chilling the other players involved in the contract negotiations and the pay dispute. No. Of course not. It was just coincidence.

  6. Peter Bechtold replied, July 1, 2019 at 10:25 a.m.

    Come on, Bob. Hope Solo was "fired" for behaviour and language that I would not want to hear from any person, male or female. Did you do your research ?

  7. R2 Dad replied, July 1, 2019 at 11:01 a.m.

    My understanding is that HS was suspended for saying, "“But I also think we played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today,” after their loss to Sweden. Yeah, probably shouldn't have said it, but she's never been Sweet Polly Purebred. And I don't recall this type of filter being applied to the men, which really should be the issue. Clint has always had an edge that bordered on Unsporting (https://www.sounderatheart.com/2015/6/18/8802259/clint-dempsey-is-the-asshole-you-chose-to-love), but was he ever suspended from the USMNT for his comments or behavior? Or what about deeds? I could understand if Hope had slept with a teammate's husband--that would have been out of bounds. But John Harkes was allowed by Bruce Arena to represent the USMNT in 99 after Sampson dumped him before the 98 World Cup for shtupping Wynalda's wife.  THAT would seem a fireable offense, but I have not read anything like that occuring with HS.

  8. Beau Dure replied, July 1, 2019 at 1 p.m.

    Solo was retained despite a long list of offenses (the 2007 comments, the Can incident, behavior with police) as long as she was undoubtedly the best keeper in the world. After the 2016 tournament, in which she didn’t play very well, it was clear she wasn’t likely to be the No. 1 keeper in the world the next time a major tournament rolled around (2019). So the negatives finally outweighed the positives. 

    If she hadn’t been so good, she would’ve been let go long before. 

    That’s not a defense of USSF. It actually paints them as rather cynical. But the notion that she was let go for “speaking up” doesn’t hold water. Carli Lloyd was as vocal as Solo, and she’s in France even though she’s not a starter. That’s because Lloyd didn’t do all that other stuff. 

  9. Beau Dure replied, July 1, 2019 at 1 p.m.

    Solo was retained despite a long list of offenses (the 2007 comments, the Can incident, behavior with police) as long as she was undoubtedly the best keeper in the world. After the 2016 tournament, in which she didn’t play very well, it was clear she wasn’t likely to be the No. 1 keeper in the world the next time a major tournament rolled around (2019). So the negatives finally outweighed the positives. 

    If she hadn’t been so good, she would’ve been let go long before. 

    That’s not a defense of USSF. It actually paints them as rather cynical. But the notion that she was let go for “speaking up” doesn’t hold water. Carli Lloyd was as vocal as Solo, and she’s in France even though she’s not a starter. That’s because Lloyd didn’t do all that other stuff. 

  10. Ginger Peeler replied, July 1, 2019 at 1:02 p.m.

    Peter, I have to agree with Bob and R2! If you’ve worked for a large corporation, you KNOW some of the CEOs dislike being embarrassed for whatever reason. Hope Solo and her husband embarrassed U.S. Soccer. 
    Kaepernick embarrassed the NFL. Both fired or “let go” for what sound like valid reasons. No doubt paperwork that validates the firing can be brandished. And, it didn’t hurt that the women who are challenging their contracts were effectively put on notice by seeing one of their teammates being fired. Some corporations are brutal to work for and some are a delight. In some, if you don’t play the game well, you’ll find yourself without a job. Many corporations claim they have an open door policy where employees are encouraged to speak up about perceived injustices. While true for some, a lot of people who have, in good faith, spoken up find themselves out of work not too much later. And now there are some going after Rapinoe, purportedly because she doesn’t put her hand over her heart and sing when they play the National Anthem. Hello?.... Watch Jozy Altidore over the years. The ONLY man on the USMNT to sing since day one is MICHAEL BRADLEY! Dempsey? Nope. Donovan? Nope. I was surprised when almost all of the men sang before the Curacao game. It’s been years since that’s happened. But if an athlete, for whatever reason, choses not to put hand over heart and/or sing, I refer to my dad, a 30 year lifer in the military. As he used to say, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight for your right to say it”.  Democracy 101. 

  11. Hat Trick replied, July 3, 2019 at 5:01 p.m.

    Bob, how dare you challenge a college professor.  

  12. Bob Ashpole, June 30, 2019 at 4:51 p.m.

    I looked further down the article. USSF is the employer for the women's club games as well as their national team games. It appears that you are treating the women's club compensation as compensation for the national team work but not treating the men's club compensation the same way. Before we get complicated, I would point out that MLS is formally a part of USSF. These are not unrelated businesses.

  13. Peter Bechtold replied, July 1, 2019 at 3:38 p.m.

    this is for R2D if link is available: I agree that Hope Solo was arguably the best womens' goalkeeper ever thus far. But I noticed her behaviour in response to a poster's guess about her being let go. (BTW, I also have worked for very large corporations and am more than familiar with ways of keeping subordinates in line.)
    I am reluctant about going public about private matters; but as you raised rightly the issue of John Harkes, I will mention that HS bragged to a national publication of having slept with the USWNT head coach, and what prudish readers could do about it. There is quite a long list, and as one who coached on two continents I have always stressed exemplary behaviour on and off the field. When one star player on my championship team misbehaved badly--off the field--I cut him after long discussions. Most members of the USWNT are great role models for young girls and women coming along; HS is not among them.

  14. Beau Dure replied, July 6, 2019 at 7:53 a.m.

    Bob - no, I’m not doing that. 

  15. R2 Dad, June 30, 2019 at 6:27 p.m.

    Great article--thanks for trying to put actual numbers to this pay parity issue. Because it's not apples-to-apples with the men's situation, it is harder to determine if their deal is "fair".
    So far the USSF's arrangement with the USWNT has allowed the women to continue winning at the highest level, but I think the status quo may not continue to enable our women to stay on top.
    I find the narrow number of women benefitting from this system (23) prevents other, younger pros from getting caps and fully developing. Of those 23, only Davidson and Pugh are 23 or younger. 11 of the 23 should age out at the next world cup--who replaces them, and whose filter is applied to the player pool for these selections?

  16. Bob Ashpole replied, July 1, 2019 at 12:40 p.m.

    Fair pay is not relevant to an equal pay case.

  17. Beau Dure replied, July 1, 2019 at 1:01 p.m.

    Bob - based on all available evidence, the women have never asked for the same contract as the men. 

  18. Bob Ashpole replied, July 1, 2019 at 4:11 p.m.

    Beau, to say that you must be making distinctions that are meaningless. There is a lawsuit, pay disputes, and contract negotiations. Are you saying that none of the women ever asked for more pay than they received? In the long run, it doesn't matter.

    As near as I can tell, USSF is still paying the women lower per diem rates. How can they justify that?

  19. Beau Dure replied, July 2, 2019 at 10:14 p.m.

    Bob -- USSF is absolutely not paying the women lower per-diem rates, and the new (as of 2017) women's CBA has a clause ensuring that if the men negotiate a higher per-diem rate, then women's rate will rise to match. 

    Given the lack of an identical contract, how do you define equal pay? That's basically what I'm trying to do and have been for some time.

  20. Bob Ashpole replied, July 2, 2019 at 10:42 p.m.

    That is good to know Beau. It has been that long since the equal pay issue came up. I figured that USSF would correct that because it was indefensible and hurt their position. 

  21. Bob Ashpole replied, July 2, 2019 at 10:54 p.m.

    Beau, it isn't a contract issue. You look at actual pay for men and women at the same establishment doing the same job. $50 a match is not equal to $60 a match. $100 an appearance is not equal to $110 an appearance. 

    Total annual earnings doesn't matter unless the amount of work is the same, which it will never be. So it needs to be broken down to some common unit for comparison. Equal pay is referring to the rates of pay.

    As I said earlier the first and most important issue is defining the "establishment". That link I gave earlier is actually a pretty good summary of the legal issues. The math is pretty easy. Please note that an equal pay act violation can happen when only one women is paid less than men are. It doesn't have to be every or even most women. That is one reason I would compare the minimum pay and the mode. 


  22. Beau Dure replied, July 6, 2019 at 7:58 a.m.

    Bob - we can’t even make a viable per-game comparison because the core women are on salary. They’re paid even if they aren’t called in for whatever reason - injuries, maternity, etc. 

    On the calculator I’ve launched, you can play around with win bonuses and so forth. But even then - the men are usually (except in some early-round CONCACAF play) playing teams that are a good competitive matchup, while the women schedule some crowd-pleasing pummelings. 

    It’s not the same job. That’s not a bad thing. It just is. And we have to recognize that before we figure out what’s fair. 

  23. Beau Dure replied, July 6, 2019 at 7:58 a.m.

    Bob - we can’t even make a viable per-game comparison because the core women are on salary. They’re paid even if they aren’t called in for whatever reason - injuries, maternity, etc. 

    On the calculator I’ve launched, you can play around with win bonuses and so forth. But even then - the men are usually (except in some early-round CONCACAF play) playing teams that are a good competitive matchup, while the women schedule some crowd-pleasing pummelings. 

    It’s not the same job. That’s not a bad thing. It just is. And we have to recognize that before we figure out what’s fair. 

  24. Peter Bechtold, July 1, 2019 at 10:27 a.m.

    Beau, thanks for your research. Looking forward to future comments.

  25. Ginger Peeler, July 1, 2019 at 11:49 a.m.

    Why, Beau...I think you’ve opened Pandora’s box several inches wider! No doubt “U.S. Soccer and the respective players associations” will be thrilled with your efforts after you have presented your spreadsheet for our use next week. However, as one more oriented toward visual, rather than verbal, information, and used to creating the actual graphics to illustrate said info manually, I think your spread sheet would end up being about 3 feet wide (if printed out) and jam packed with some headings that have no equivalents. Much better if you had presented your spreadsheet at the same time as presenting this article. Sorry, but it’s hard for me to read this without the suspicion that you’re “punking” all of us. Yet I know that’s highly unlikely.

  26. Beau Dure replied, July 1, 2019 at 12:55 p.m.

    Ginger - I’m working to present the spreadsheet in a tidy three pages, none more than 25 columns and maybe 80 rows! And it’ll still let people check my math.

  27. John Polis, July 8, 2019 at 8:58 a.m.

    Thanks so much Beau for putting this very complicated issue in perspective. The problem is, no one (other than you) has explained this to the general public. I saw a report on Fox News that racheted up the controversy by putting pure revenue figures up on the screen with no background on how many events, etc. I even copied your article and send it along to them. It's one of the many problems with journalism today -- the hook is the only thing reported in the story -- without any of the background. And people jump on the bandwagon because it's something they believe in and they transmit their own versions which, again, are lacking complete context. I am hoping you can repurpose your article and get someone to publish it in a format more wide-ranging than Soccer America. Seems like this might be a good time to approach someone about it. It's a story that needs to be told.

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