Commentary

Adding up the U.S. women's strongest arguments for an improved contract

The U.S. women’s national team can make a great argument for a better contract.

They can say there’s no substantive difference between a men’s friendly and a women’s friendly, and players should have the same base pay and bonuses for those games. They can say that in the absence of the tough but potentially lucrative World Cup qualifiers the men play, they should have bigger bonuses for the SheBelieves Cup and Tournament of Nations. They can argue that, given the difficulty they’ll face winning the World Cup in the future, they should have bonuses for advancing to the knockout round and quarterfinals.

But when we run the numbers, it’s hard to believe any of those things would be a stumbling block in a mediation process with U.S. Soccer.

So what else are the women asking for?

The other remaining options would be either asking the federation to take a loss on World Cup bonuses or asking for an amount of back pay that is making the federation balk.

From U.S. Soccer’s point of view, the PR cost and the legal fees are surely more than they would pay under some of these scenarios, as run through my pay calculator.

Here’s how I ran this hypothetical:

Basic parameters: I used actual results from 2013-18 to give us a representative six-year sample of games. That range included 127 games, including 101 friendlies (15-19 per year), a World Cup win in 2015 and an Olympic quarterfinal in 2016.

Current compensation: Using all the available numbers from the current women’s collective bargaining agreement and specifically the per-game bonuses paid in 2019 and 2020, the women would make $36,042,676 over this representative six-year span.

Hypothetical - Equal friendlies: Non-salaried U.S. women’s players who’ve played at least seven games with the team earn $4,000 for making a gameday roster in 2019 and 2020. (It’s $500 less for less experienced players.) In my hypothetical, I’ve adjusted the women’s pay so that the per-game bonus for a non-salaried player ($4,000) plus the results bonus (X for a win vs. a top opponent, Y for a win vs. a second-tier opponent, Z for a loss, etc.) matches the bonus men would receive.

Example: A men’s player gets $5,000 for a loss. A women’s player gets a per-game bonus of $4,000 but no bonus for the result. I’ve added a results bonus of $1,000, so the total is $5,000, equal to the men’s bonus.

(For salaried women’s players: A $100,000 salary pro-rated over this hypothetical six-year span would translate to base pay of $4,724 per game if they played all 127 games. Add the bonuses, and they would therefore earn $724 more than men in a comparable game -- again, if they played all 127 games. If they play fewer games, their per-game pay is obviously higher.)

This change bumps the women’s pay up to $38,719,926, a difference of $2,677,250 over a six-year span compared to the calculation based on the current CBA.

Hypothetical - World Cup bonuses for earlier rounds: These bonuses would be nice, especially as European teams get better and increase the odds of the USA taking an early exit, but they won’t affect this projection because the USA finished first in the World Cup in question. If, in future years, the women’s bonuses for earlier rounds equal 100% of the prize money from FIFA, the net effect on U.S. Soccer bottom line is nil.

Hypothetical - 100% of FIFA prize money for any World Cup finish: As it stands now, between the $2.53 million World Cup bonus and the $1.4 million for the Victory Tour, that’s 98.25% of the $4 million FIFA gives U.S. Soccer. If USSF gives all $4 million in bonus money and lands a sponsor for the Victory Tour, which seems to be no problem these days, that’s once again no impact on U.S. Soccer bottom line.

(There’s also an escalator clause in the CBA so that the women will be paid more if FIFA raises its prize money.)

FIFA’s prize money for each round in 2019 is on page 60 of their stats kit.

Bottom line here is that the USSF ends up paying an extra $70,000, so now the difference is $2,747,250.

Hypothetical - more apples to apples items: We’ll give the women the same World Cup per-game bonus (a raise from $4,500 to $6,875) and World Cup roster bonus ($37,500 to $68,750). The World Cup qualifying bonus is tougher to calculate because the women split it among 20 players and the men split it among more than 50, but we’ll bump it from $37,500 to $50,000, a little above the mean for the men.

We’ll pay women the same World Cup qualification results bonuses (as with friendlies, adjusted to incorporate the $4,000 per game bonus) as the men get for the pre-Hexagonal round.

Maybe they should get the same bonuses the men get for the Hexagonal, but Women’s World Cup qualifying is barely a blip in the schedule, and this hypothetical gives the WNT more for these games than they get for crowd-pleasing friendlies scattered across the country. It’s hard to say $15,625 is an underpayment for drubbing Trinidad & Tobago in front of 3,996 fans. (The men drew 19,188 to beat T&T at home in the 2017 Hex. We won’t speak of the away game.)

So, in short, we’ve equalized that which can be easily equalized. The projected total compensation is $42,679,301, a difference of $6,636,625.

Or $1,106,104 per year.

We’ll double the SheBelieves Cup and other mini-tournament winning bonuses from $5,000 to $10,000. Now we’re up to $43,239,301, a difference of $7,196,625, or $1,199,437 per year.

Surely none of this is keeping U.S. Soccer from shaking hands and proudly announcing a new deal.

So what could be?

Olympic bonuses: In 2018, the U.S. Olympic (now also Paralympic) Committee bumped up bonuses to $37,500 per gold medalist. The USOPC has some issues right now and might be conservative in the next raise, so we’ll say $40,000 per player. That’s a nice $720,000. Under the current CBA, the women receive $100,000 per player, or $1.8 million, if they win gold.

In this hypothetical, I’ve left that money alone, and the result that’s plugged in is the 2016 quarterfinal exit. But another Olympic triumph would cost U.S. Soccer another seven-figure outlay. The federation has been willing to take that loss thus far, but do the women want more?

World Cup bonuses: Let’s say the women want 200% of FIFA’s prize money ($8 million). Now we’re up to $47,239,301, a difference of $11,196,625.

Let’s bump it to 300%. Now $51,239,301, a difference of $15,196,625.

Let’s go all the way up to the men’s potential World Cup bonuses, bearing in mind that the elapsed men’s CBA would give the MNT barely two-thirds of the FIFA prize money if they somehow won. We’ll use the men’s group-stage points bonus and apply it to the 2015 Women’s World Cup, in which the women got seven points in the group stage.

Now we’re up to real money. That’s $65,272,301, a difference of $29,229,625.

Back pay: From the lawsuit, the women are asking for “(a)ll damages that the individual Plaintiffs and the class have sustained as a result of the USSF’s unlawful conduct including, but not limited to, back pay, front pay, general and special damages for lost compensation and job benefits that they would have received but for the discriminatory practices of the USSF.”

If the U.S. women are asking for every cent they would’ve received if they had signed the men’s CBA instead of their own, we would be talking about a ton of money. In an earlier calculation, I pegged the total from 2013-18 at more than $50 million. Imagine if they’re going back farther than that.

Yes, U.S. Soccer has a surplus. But that’s based in large part on a one-time windfall from hosting the men's Copa America Centenario, and the Federation has a lot of plans for that money and a lot of crumbling infrastructure on which to spend it. The U.S. women’s youth teams aren’t doing so well right now, so perhaps some of that money should go toward keeping the WNT competitive in future World Cups rather than simply handing everything to the current over-30 players who won’t be there.

In all likelihood, the women aren’t asking for the world. The women can see beyond themselves. They’re not out to rob future generations.

But I’ve been talking throughout this analysis about facts that aren’t in dispute. Each side can look at the CBAs and the published FIFA prize money, then do the same calculations I’m doing.

That may be the extent of the facts on which they agree. U.S. Soccer’s public barrage of numbers drew a quick, testy response from players (not players association) spokeswoman Molly Levinson, who called the numbers “utterly false” while disputing one matter of interpretation -- whether these numbers should include the players’ NWSL salaries. (My hypothetical does not, and yet the women get considerably more than the men unless the men make a strong World Cup run.)

And this case won’t be decided by slogans or morning-show interviews conveniently scheduled immediately after the news of the mediation breakdown (if inconveniently scheduled to conflict with NWSL practices).

This case will be decided by dueling accountants.

We can only hope it won’t be televised.


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Soccer America archive of USWNT discrimination lawsuit coverage HERE.

22 comments about "Adding up the U.S. women's strongest arguments for an improved contract".
  1. James Madison, August 22, 2019 at 7:03 p.m.

    If I were counsel for the women and I was looking for an agreement, I would looking to synch the expiration dates of the men's CBA and the women's CBA, so US Soccer cannot talk apples oranges in the fuure.

  2. don Lamb replied, August 22, 2019 at 8:03 p.m.

    The expiration dates of CBAs have nothing to do with this being an apples/oranges comparison though. This is more about the many aspects that are different between the men's and women's contracts with USSF. Chief among these differences are: a. the women are paid a salary from USSF [for their LEAGUE play], b. the women also have a contract with salary through the Fed for their national team play. The men get paid as bonuses with no salary guarantees. c. Revenue for the two teams varies dramatically, especially when it comes to money from World Cups which are based on advertising dollars.

  3. R2 Dad, August 22, 2019 at 9:12 p.m.

    I would pay good money to watch Key and Peele as dueling accountants: Laptops At 20 Paces, with HP12Cs for Close Combat.   

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, August 22, 2019 at 9:38 p.m.

    I have explained the elements of an Equal Pay Act case before. I won't repeat them.

    What most people don't seem to grasp is the back pay part of the claim is not the most significant in terms of changing how USSF manages the sport. It is the Title VII gender discrimination claim that has the most far reaching impact on the sport, because that may impact the millions of amateur players rather than just a few professional players.

    After the women filed their administrative claim, USSF started the girls DA program, a decade after they started the boys DA program. That is not gender equality. 

    I will repeat this from before. The Title VII claim has similar facts to a Title IX claim against a public university for gender discrimination in the management of the women's athletic activities. So look to Title IX as a guide.  

  5. Bob Ashpole, August 22, 2019 at 9:48 p.m.

    Beau, this is not a contract case. It is a suit for back pay and for a suit for gender discrimination in the managment of women's and girl's programs under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

    Regarding the Title VII claim, just looking at the DA programs alone, USSF cannot claim they haven't discriminated for at least a decade.

  6. don Lamb replied, August 23, 2019 at 8:42 a.m.

    Bob - Don't the contracts come into play when considering back pay? The women don't want to include the money that was given to them from those contracts in the numbers, but how can you leave that out when considering what they have been compensated in the past?

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, August 23, 2019 at 11:30 a.m.

    No. For back pay, actual pay rates is what matters. Not promises.

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, August 23, 2019 at 11:34 a.m.

    Perhaps that wasn't clear. The evidence is in the pay records. A women is entitled by law to be paid at the same rate as a man doing the same job at the same "establishment". What is the establishment is the key issue. Looking at accounting records is mundane.

  9. don Lamb replied, August 23, 2019 at 1:55 p.m.

    But how do you compare pay rates when one group has opted to be paid by guaranteed salary (two, in fact) while the other has opted for non guaranteed bonuses, and when the pay is also tied to a third party that is allocating much of the funds?

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, August 23, 2019 at 2:29 p.m.

    You divide lump sums by a unit of work. Judge's typically will make calculations prior to the first status conference.

    I assume that your "tied" reference is to world cup bonus payments made by FIFA to the member nation FAs. USSF is in control of how it distributes the money FIFA gives it. The source of USSF's revenues is not material.

  11. don Lamb replied, August 23, 2019 at 3:03 p.m.

    Thanks, Bob. Appreciate your input. And, Beau, thanks for covering this in such detail and neutrality.

  12. Peter Bechtold, August 23, 2019 at 11:43 a.m.

    Bob,
    Here you go again; cherrypicking certain items and dismissing the rest. Plus circular reasoning.
    Not knowing you, I wonder what is driving/bugging you.
    All I can say is that the outcome,whichever way it goes, will hurt soccer in this country. Confrontation is good for lawfirms but not for a sport that all can and should enjoy equally.

  13. Bob Ashpole replied, August 23, 2019 at 1:13 p.m.

    Peter, I am a retired federal attorny. I did labor law and contract litigation among other things. Nothing is "bugging" me except misinformation. Litigators are hired to settle disputes that others have been unable to resolve.

    Litigation is a process, not a solution. Even if a case is fully tried, litigation never resolves every issue. Sooner or later the parties need to shake hands on an agreement if the parties' dispute is ever to be resolved. The earlier that happens the better for all.

  14. Beau Dure replied, August 23, 2019 at 1:41 p.m.

    Welcome back, Bob. 

    I've read the cases. I've talked with the principals. I've analyzed the contracts from throughout the century. I know the history of negotiations dating back to the 1995 MNT Copa America mini-strike and the 1999 post-Cup tour / 2000 WNT strike. I also take into account the differences in men's and women's schedule, along with the fact that women have -- by their own insistence -- a different contract structure. I know what's going on.

    I also know that other sports and other soccer federations have vastly different pay structures to that of U.S. Soccer. Compare what England and Belgium get for their men's World Cup success: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-cup/2018/06/26/england-squad-earn-half-much-belgium-win-world-cup/ 

    The question is how you define equal pay, whether you're talking about the present or the past.

    Thanks for your input.

  15. Peter Bechtold, August 23, 2019 at 1:36 p.m.

    Bob,
    Thanks for sharing your background. I was also with the federal government and spent some time with mediation exercises.
    Did you read the entire lawsuit? I read the 100+ particulars and came to the preliminary conclusion that there have been 4 main activists among the players and that most of the rest went along for the sake of unity prior to the WC. Legally all 28are on board, but I wonder if their hearts are in this. Their body language all along suggested that at least some have had some misgivings about the confrontational nature of the lawyers approach.
    As for me, I see little but bitterness coming out of this tack. It saddens me because I enjoy watching soccer whether played by men, women,youth or seniors like myself.

  16. Bob Ashpole replied, August 23, 2019 at 2:48 p.m.

    My view is that the Title VII claim could lead to more equitable support of girls and women's socceer, which is something that could impact millions of amateur players. From what I have seen, Mike Woitalla is the only journalist who has discussed the Title VII aspect so far.

  17. Jack DiGiorgio, August 23, 2019 at 7:35 p.m.

    Women International Champions Cup last weekend attendance (double header): 
    Thursday 5,426 and Sunday 8,208 
    And they have the guts to ask for "equal pay"? I'm sick of hearing this.
    Ladies, or whatever, first bring in more revenue and than we will talk.

  18. Bob Ashpole replied, August 24, 2019 at 6:03 a.m.

    Jack, that was professional club play in Europe and not national team play or even soccer played in the US. The Civil Rights Act is about equality, not about financial success. Business failure does not justify racial or gender discrimination, although it has been used often enough in the past to justify discrimination and, yes, even slavery and other social evils of an unregulated economy. Equal pay for equal work ought to be an economic truism.

  19. Peter Bechtold, August 24, 2019 at 5:58 a.m.

    To Bob A.: You want "more equitable support of girls and women's soccer" here. The US already has the most generous support system for girls and women's soccer in the world, hands down. (And I suspect that many/most? players on the USWNT know this.)Beware of killing the goose that lays the golden egg; wouldn't be the first time.

  20. Bob Ashpole replied, August 24, 2019 at 6:06 a.m.

    Peter, arguing, that women in the US are lucky because they are treated better than women elsewhere in the world like for instance Saudia Arabia, is beneath you. USSF is no golden goose.

  21. Peter Bechtold, August 24, 2019 at 12:56 p.m.

    Sorry Bob, by citing Saudi Arabia as a counter-argument you have shown your true colors. i said 'in the world", and that includes WC finalists Canada, Australia,Germany, England,Scotland, Italy, Brazil just to name a few.
    Your mind is made up=circular reasoning. End of conversation for me.

  22. Peter Bechtold, August 24, 2019 at 12:56 p.m.

    Sorry Bob, by citing Saudi Arabia as a counter-argument you have shown your true colors. i said 'in the world", and that includes WC finalists Canada, Australia,Germany, England,Scotland, Italy, Brazil just to name a few.
    Your mind is made up=circular reasoning. End of conversation for me.

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