On March 8th, the United States Women’s National Soccer Team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, marking a turn in the long struggle for pay equity and improved working conditions. For years now, the USWNT has been pushing for equal treatment from the federation, since “female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts” and there are serious inconsistencies in what the United States Soccer Federation provides for training and development.
The U.S. men’s and women’s soccer teams are both members of the federation, and should therefore be paid equally. First, the money both teams earn comes from the same USSF profit pool, meaning there is no reason members of the men’s and women’s teams cannot receive the same pay. Second, the objective of a team is to win games, something at which the women’s team is successful. While the USWNT has three World Cup trophies and four Olympic gold medals, the men’s team holds no World Cup trophies nor any Olympic golds. All this winning also requires the women’s team to play more games and train for longer periods, meaning the women’s team is actually doing more work for less pay (between the years of 2015 to 2018, the women’s national team played over 25 percent more games). Moreover, the USWNT is extremely popular, and holds the record for the most-watched U.S.-involved soccer game in American history, the 2015 World Cup final. U.S. women’s soccer players are social media stars and, for some, the pride of the nation.
Despite the USWNT’s tremendous performance and rigorous schedule, the federation invests much less for the women’s team in terms of training, promotion and safety. In 2017, disputes arose over artificial turf fields, which have been proven less safe with lower play quality. Regardless, the women’s team plays on artificial turf frequently, sometimes having to cancel games due to its defects, while the men’s team has not played on turf since 2014. Similarly in 2017, it was pointed out while the men’s team traveled on chartered planes for 17 games, the women’s team only flew commercial.
Most impactfully, the USWNT receives an underwhelming amount of marketing and sponsorship. Lower promotion means lower turnout and lower views overall – how, then, are the women’s teams supposed to generate as much viewership? The lack of marketing coupled with lower ticket prices “results in USSF-manufactured revenue depression for the WNT [women's national team], which is then used as pretext for lower compensation." U.S. Soccer should look into ways they can invest more rather than using viewership as a cudgel to argue for less pay.
While obtaining equal pay for the women’s national team is valuable toward gender equality in sports, it should be the first step, not the last one. This lawsuit is huge for the tiny fraction of women talented and hardworking enough to make the U.S. National Team, but does nothing to improve economic conditions for hundreds of elite female soccer players for whom professional soccer is still not a viable option. Going forward, the USSF should work to promote and popularize women’s soccer at all levels, from youth levels all the way to the national team. Doing this can help legitimize women’s sports as a popular, watchable and economically viable investment, which would be a major step toward increasing opportunities for female athletes. The women’s national team has proven there is a market for watching winning women’s soccer, and the USSF and other organizations should be looking to capitalize on that.
As we approach the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, there is a glaring spotlight on the USWNT and their lawsuit with U.S. Soccer. We as The Michigan Daily’s Editorial Board support the USWNT in their fight for equal pay and treatment by the federation. We hope they prove successful in this fight and beyond, and echo their importance as strong, professional female role models for women in sports and other fields where similar issues occur.