The most competitive match the U.S. women’s soccer team will face this year won’t be on the field at the Women’s World Cup. It’ll be in a Los Angeles courthouse.
That’s where every member of the team filed a federal suit against the U.S. Soccer Federation in March. They allege the federation has engaged in gender discrimination by paying them less than male U.S. soccer players, despite having the same job. Women players receive $4,950 per game compared to men who collect $13,166 per game, according to the lawsuit.
The women’s team has a credible case — but not for most of the reasons its members assert.
“It shouldn’t be up for debate whether I make the same amount as a man if I’m doing the same damn job and I’m putting in the same work, the same hours and I’m getting better results and bringing in more money,” U.S. goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris said.
Harris and her teammates aren’t doing the same job as the men’s team. The men’s team is playing against men. The women’s team isn’t. If the men’s team played in the Women’s World Cup, they’d dominate. If the women’s team tried to qualify for the World Cup, they would fail in even more spectacular fashion than the men did.
The effort argument falls flat too. Undoubtedly, every member of both the women’s and men’s team trains incredibly hard. While hard work is a necessity for world-class athletes, it’s not enough to guarantee success. The average person isn’t making the U.S. national soccer team no matter how hard he or she works. People don’t deserve to get paid for working hard if they aren’t producing results.
The results for the women’s team have been impressive. Since 1991, it has won three Women’s World Cups and four Olympic gold medals.
When it comes to earning money, however, the real competition isn’t winning championships. It’s putting fans in seats and securing TV and advertising deals. If you’re the best player in a sport no one cares about, you aren’t going to earn big money. That’s the reality of supply and demand.
Which is why the women’s contention that they generate more money than the men’s team is the key argument. Audited financial statements from the federation show the women’s team brought in more money from ticket sales and other game revenues over the past three years. The women generated $51 million compared to $50 million for the men.
The federation has plausible arguments to use in defense. The current earning power of the women’s team is a historic anomaly. From 2009 to 2015, the women’s team generated $28 million compared to $92 million for the men. Ticket sales are just one revenue source and don’t include TV and marketing deals. The U.S. men’s team usually earns higher TV ratings. Members of the women’s team receive guaranteed pay, while the men earn only appearance fees.
Both sides have plausible arguments and evidence to back up their contentions. Unlike the U.S. women’s game against Thailand, this contest will be highly competitive.
Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.