Unequal Play and Unequal Pay
Does the United States Women’s National Soccer Team deserve to be paid the same as their male counterparts? Read this article to learn more.
by Prithvi Prem
The United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) has featured on headlines recently, due to the ongoing lawsuit they filed against the US soccer federation.
In March of 2019, the national team filed a gender-discrimination lawsuit against the federation. Since filing this lawsuit, they have gone on to win their second consecutive FIFA Women’s World Cup, celebrated by chants of "Equal Pay!" from fans in Lyon.
The team has also gained support from many politicians and celebrities across the country. However, a Californian judge proceeded to rule against the players on many claims, including their allegation of discrimination under the Equal Pay Act. The players, who plan to appeal, filed a motion on May 8th asking permission to begin that appeal process. By appealing, the players are applying to a higher court for a reversal of the decision made by the lower court.
Now all of that leaves us here, waiting to see the outcome. And that’s where the Trilemma is presented: Should the USWNT be paid equally as their male counterparts, or do they not deserve as much? Or is there perhaps a neutral perspective?
POV 1: The USWNT should be paid equally as the Men’s National Team
Currently, the majority of the public believes that the USWNT should get paid equally as the men’s national team. Considering how the successful women's team has been over the past
30 years, it seems that they should be paid equally, if not more, than the men.
The USWNT has dominated women’s soccer for the majority of the time. Since the FIFA Women’s World Cup began in 1991, they have won four out of seven World Cups. Most recently, they won the 2019 World Cup in France, going undefeated throughout the tournament and winning the trophy twice in a row. They have also been ranked the best team in the world by FIFA for 10 of the past 11 years.
In comparison, the Men’s National Team (USMNT) has been competing in the FIFA World Cup since 1930; however, they missed qualifying for the FIFA World Cup ten times (including most recently in 2018), failing to advance past the quarterfinals each time they have qualified.
The success of the USWNT, when compared to the failures of their male counterparts, has caused attendance and popularity to shift to the women’s team.
According to data provided by the United States Soccer Federation, the men have outdrawn the women every year in attendance from 2006 to 2018. However, this changed in 2019. Research by ESPN concluded that women now had the upper hand, both for average attendance (28,002 for the women versus 21,776 for the men) and attendance for games in the U.S. (25,122 versus 23,305). This shows that the USWNT is certainly more successful and popular as compared to the men and, therefore, should be paid more.
According to The Washington Post, USWNT players are currently paid 89% of what the men get paid. Considering the massive success and popularity of the women, their pay should at least be equal. In regards to the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the prize money the women’s team pocketed for winning the final was $4 million, which is quite small compared to the $38 million awarded to the French men’s team for winning the 2018 Men’s World Cup final.
Apart from just the United States’ soccer teams, we have also seen other countries’ women’s teams successfully winning their equal pay cases. In November 2019, the Australian women's soccer team reached a landmark, four-year deal with their Football Federation that ensured the team would be paid as much as their male counterparts. Previously, the Australian men earned a greater share of revenues generated by the team and were paid much more. Since other countries are investing more in their women’s game, the US should definitely follow their example.
POV 2: The USWNT is being Paid Enough
Even though the USWNT has seen more success and popularity than the men, when looking at the skill level and competition, the men have the upper hand. The most recent women’s world cup only featured 24 teams, while the most recent men’s world cup featured 32 teams. The largest win in the Women’s world cup was when the US defeated Thailand 13-0. On the men’s side, it was when Russia defeated Saudi Arabia 5-0.
Clearly, this shows the distinct difference in skill levels between the two teams. In regards to the teams at the World Cup itself, there are only a few teams that match the skill and physical prowess of the US women’s team, whereas the men’s World Cup has eight or nine teams that are equal in skill. This is a large part of why the men’s World Cup has continuously generated larger audiences worldwide. It is simply more competitive.
Additionally, in terms of skill level, the job of a MNT player requires a higher level of skills based on speed and strength than the WNT players. Apart from having a higher level of skill, men’s players like Neymar, Messi, and Ronaldo all have a certain flair to their game that makes watching them play fun and entertaining. This shows why the Men’s World Cup brings in much more viewership and revenue as compared to their Woman counterpart.
Throughout the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the tournament brought in a total of 1.12 billion viewers, whereas the 2018 Men’s World Cup garnered over thrice the amount,
with 3.6 billion viewers. When considering this, it could be assumed that putting on the Women’s world cup is technically a net loss for FIFA in terms of revenue and viewership. When considering skill and entertainment value, they should not be paid equal to that of the men.
POV 3 ( Neutral Stance): Whenever the USSF has the money, they should pay the USWNT.
Even though women’s soccer might not be as popular as men’s, it is definitely catching up. The first FIFA Women’s world cup had only 12 teams from 6 confederations while the latest World Cup featured double the number of teams. This past World Cup also had 4 new debutants, showing that Women’s soccer is definitely growing popularity throughout the world.
Every Women’s World Cup has set new records for revenue and audience. According to FIFA, the 2019 version exceeded 1.12 billion viewers, with the final match averaging over 82.18 million viewers, making it the most-watched Women’s World Cup match in history.
At the rate it is going at now, Women’s Soccer definitely has the potential to reach the same
level as their male counterparts. The USSF, along with FIFA, should take the opportunity to invest more in the women’s game, as well as promote events. Even if they do not have the money now, they should definitely pay the women when they can, because it will benefit both sides. The USWNT will get their equal pay while bringing in more revenue for FIFA and the USSF.
So are these women being paid fairly? I don't think so. However, as women's soccer gains popularity and revenue around the world, I believe that they certainly deserve to be paid equally as their male counterparts.