Commentary

Tying national team pay to revenue would exacerbate pointless gender war

“If there’s war between the sexes, then there’ll be no people left,” sang Joe Jackson in Real Men, a song memorably covered by Tori Amos.

But that’s what we’re seeing in U.S. soccer right now. The teams themselves are staying out of the fray, but fans -- and journalists, though the distinction between the two is increasingly blurry -- who apparently care about one team but not the other are in open conflict.

The fans attacking the women’s national team are armed with vitriol rooted in male insecurity. To fix that, we’ll need a culture shift beyond the scope of soccer journalists. We can help, mostly by covering women’s soccer as a sport and not just as a metaphor or a poorly designed social-science experiment.

The fans attacking the men’s national team are armed with misinformation. They offer a lot of hot takes but not much by way of facts. Some, such as this tweet that has drawn 38,000 “likes,” are clever:


The reality: The women’s team wouldn’t want to trade paychecks with the men’s team this year. And certainly not last year, when a World Cup-sized hole in the national team schedule severely reduced the men’s earning power.

By my calculations, U.S. men would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to earn more than $100,000 in 2018. Coincidentally, $100,000 was the base salary for 19 women last year, and many could easily clear $200,000 or $250,000.

For background: The U.S. men are playing under an expired collective bargaining agreement that set one level of payment for 2011-14 and another for 2015-18. The women signed a new CBA, which they hailed as a breakthrough at the time. The deal maintains salaries for core players -- something men don’t receive, a distinction to which neither team objects -- while bumping up bonuses and even obtaining “partnership bonuses” if Soccer United Marketing, the much-scapegoated affiliate of Major League Soccer and controller of many U.S. Soccer Federation marketing rights, exceeds revenue targets.

As mentioned last week, I’ve been working on a calculator that would let users see the current values of each deal and how they affect each team’s pay, then adjust the numbers to see different ways to make a new deal. That calculator is now available for download at GitHub or Box.com, though you might want to consider it as a “beta” release. Both unions and the federation have been invited to comment and submit any corrections, as has anyone who wants to check it out.

There’s no way to compare apples to apples here, so I just created a lot of apples and a lot of oranges. Maybe even some lemons.

What deal works best is up to the user. But one conclusion I’ve drawn is this:

Tying a men/women compensation split strictly to revenue would be a bad idea for both teams.

Several reasons for this conclusion:

1. Year-to-year fluctuations. The men, who receive only bonuses, are used to this. They get most of their money from their clubs, anyway. If they fail to get a hefty World Cup bonus, it’s like a CEO missing out on the lottery. If the women fail to receive such a bonus, which could have happened this year if not for a dubious penalty call against Spain and is more likely in the future as European teams improve, they’re going to lose out on prize money and post-event tour revenue that they may be counting on.

2. What do you include? If you include FIFA prize money, in which a men’s team reaching the round of 16 in the World Cup would earn three times as much money as a women’s team that wins the whole thing, the women would have trouble making up the revenue gap if the men reach the knockout rounds again.

3. How do you quantify how much of a sponsorship is predicated on the women’s success and how much is predicated on getting a logo in front of a Gold Cup crowd or a World Cup qualifying TV audience?

4. An inherent conflict between financial and competitive concerns in scheduling. Playing a few games overseas is good for development. It’s bad for each team’s share of the revenue. And imagine the complaints if one team is trotting around the USA to reap easy money (or playing Mexico’s men to bring in 60,000 or so paying fans) while another team is playing World Cup qualifiers or an important tournament overseas.

The current WNT deal includes some bonus money for revenue that SUM takes in. That works.

And if you give each team a bonus based on how much revenue the two teams get together, then you’ve wiped out any reason for each team’s fans to snipe at each other. Only then will “One Nation, One Team” be anything other than an empty slogan.

It might be too late to do much about it since the women signed a new deal in 2017, unless a court orders U.S. Soccer to shred the agreement. More likely at issue is back pay, in which women could easily demand far more money than the federation could hope to make off their World Cup prize money or tickets sold for home dates. If that’s the case, good luck with that.

But the men are due up. Overdue, in fact. Perhaps an agreement through 2021 would bring both teams to the table at the same time in a couple of years, and then something fair can be hammered out for all.

Photo: Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire

FURTHER READING:
Delving into the complexities of 'equal pay for equal play'

Key legal issues in U.S. women's discrimination lawsuit explained by Steven Bank, UCLA law professor

4 comments about "Tying national team pay to revenue would exacerbate pointless gender war".
  1. Bob Ashpole, July 6, 2019 at 4:29 p.m.

    Good article, Beau.

  2. Beau Dure replied, July 6, 2019 at 8:09 p.m.

    Thanks very much, Bob

  3. Peter Bechtold, July 7, 2019 at 2:55 p.m.

    Beau,
    especially the headline and your first paragraph should be required reading for all those popping off in various blogs and tweets. Thanks; you have done us a real service.

  4. Don Woodman, July 9, 2019 at 11:25 p.m.

    I really appreciate the work you've done digging in to all this.  It really helps illuminate the issues.  In the end your conclusions make sense.  

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