On Monday, U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro released a letter asserting that American soccer’s governing body has—counter to widespread public belief and to the claims in an ongoing lawsuit—paid the U.S. Women’s National Team more than the men’s team in recent years. On Tuesday, the U.S. Men’s National Team joined the back-to-back winners of the Women’s World Cup in disputing that statement, saying they were “not impressed” and that the federation was misrepresenting facts to justify unfair pay.
“The Federation downplays contributions to the sport when it suits them,” the USMNT’s statement said. “This is more of the same from a Federation that is constantly in disputes and litigation and focuses on increasing revenue and profits without any idea how to use that money to grow the sport.”
The letter from Cordeiro came as the women’s team’s lawsuit accusing U.S. Soccer of pay discrimination and other forms of gender discrimination heads toward mediation. According to Cordeiro, U.S. Soccer paid the women $34.1 million and the men $26.4 million from 2010 to 2018. On top of that, Cordeiro claimed the women’s team had been only profitable in two out of the past 10 years when looking at ticket sales. Any unfair pay practices that did exist, Cordeiro argued, were to be blamed on FIFA, the international organization responsible for World Cups. “Ultimately, the best way to close any gaps between the women’s and men’s game is to do everything we can—as a federation and as fans—to grow women’s soccer, here in the United States and globally,” he wrote. “[T]he more tickets to women’s matches we buy and the more games we watch on TV, the more revenue we can generate for the women’s game, including FIFA prize money. That, we believe, is the best and most sustainable path to true and lasting equality.”
As both the women’s and men’s team pointed out, the federation’s numbers are pulled from a complicated mix of statistics to bolster a certain argument—and the teams don’t believe they contradict the view that the women aren’t being paid fairly. “For every game a man plays on the MNT he makes a higher base salary payment than a woman on the WNT,” Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the women players, said. “For every comparable win or tie, his bonus is higher. That is the very definition of gender discrimination. For the USSF to believe otherwise, is disheartening but it only increases our determination to obtain true equal pay.”
The numbers aren’t easy to compare, either in terms of revenue or pay. When it comes to the finances of the two national teams, one has to factor in salaries, bonuses, tournaments, amount of play, ticket sales, opponents and locations, sponsorships, broadcast rights, investment, two professional leagues, the separate U.S. federation, and the sport’s international governing body.
First, the matter of pay. The compensation structures of the two teams (arranged through different collective bargaining agreements) mandate that the women are paid a $100,000 salary and bonuses for games, while men are paid only in bonuses. The total sum also includes smaller salaries for players in the National Women’s Soccer League. (U.S. Soccer pays no salaries for Major League Soccer players.) But, as supporters of the USWNT’s campaign have argued, the disparity has to do with the bonuses available to men for participating in and performing well in competitions. When those bonuses were factored in, they say, men walk away with more, even when they perform worse than the women.
For example, FIFA, the international soccer organization, pays out significantly more prize money for the men’s World Cup (and other international tournaments) than the women’s. The men’s tournament offers $38 million to the winning team’s federation, while the women’s awards only $4 million. As a result, even though the men only qualified for one of the past two World Cups—and didn’t make it past the round of 16 in the one it did qualify for—U.S. men’s players were still paid $41 million total from 2010 through 2018. The women, who won the past two Women’s World Cups, earned $39.7 million when their FIFA prize money was added to their pay, according to Cordeiro’s letter. The numbers aren’t too dramatically different, but the team’s performance was. To be paid what men are paid, the women’s team had to be the best in the world.
The whole process would certainly allow for significantly more winnings for the men. In this most recent World Cup, the women each got $110,000 for winning. If the men had won last year’s World Cup, they would have each earned more than $400,000. According to the Guardian, a female player could earn a maximum of $200,000 on the national team in the run-up to and during a World Cup, while a man could hypothetically earn more than $1 million.
Next, the matter of profitability. The USMNT on Tuesday voiced its issues with the way Cordeiro framed the women’s team as the financial burden on the federation. U.S. Soccer has repeatedly pointed to revenue to justify the lower earnings for women, but it’s not clear if one team brings in more earnings for the federation than another. Historically, the women’s team has been less profitable than it is now. Cordeiro argued that from 2009 to 2019, the USWNT had only two years of net profit and generated a net loss of $27.5 million. Critics first can dispute that time frame: The USWNT has clearly been gaining steadily in the past few years, gathering momentum from the past two World Cup victories. The Wall Street Journal has also reported that the USWNT out-earned men in total game revenue in the years after the 2015 World Cup.
The men’s team also called Cordeiro’s claim that the USWNT lost $27 million “false accounting,” pointing out that it didn’t factor in revenue from sponsorships and broadcast rights. According to Cordeiro’s letter, the women’s national team brought in an average $425,000 per game and the men’s team an average of $972,000 per game from 2009 to 2019. But in reality the numbers are hard to split, as U.S. Soccer sells sponsorships in bundles that include both men’s and women’s soccer, so it’s difficult to know which team brings in more revenue outside of ticket sales. The women’s team, with its more recent World Cup participation, has also produced some popular characters and even household names—a likely positive but unmeasurable factor when considering the sport’s growth in the country.
Then there’s the issue of U.S. Soccer’s responsibility for fixing the problem. The federation has long pointed to these different pay structures as a key explanation for why the issue was not gender-based (it’s about different collective bargaining agreements, not the federation’s own preference) and why it could not correct the disparities in earnings between men and women.
In his statement, Cordeiro claimed that it was FIFA that bore the blame, as the prize pots were so much smaller for international women’s tournaments. “U.S. Soccer has and will continue to encourage FIFA to narrow this gap with an increase in the prize money that it awards to its Women’s World Cup champions as well as the total prize money it offers all women’s teams that compete,” Cordeiro’s report said. To do its part to mitigate this gap, Cordeiro said, the federation was investing in the NWSL and in women’s youth development.
On this topic, the USMNT also disagreed with Cordeiro’s reasoning. “[W]e do not believe [the different pay structure] justifies discrediting the work they do or the real value of their profound impact on the American sports landscape,” the men said. The USMNT statement asserted that the soccer federation was pocketing the extra revenue the team was generating as it gained popularity rather than returning it to the women.
“The only solution Mr. Cordeiro proposes is for fans to buy more tickets and watch more games on television,” the team said in a statement. “He conceals the fact that the money will not go to USWNT players when sponsors pay the Federation to support the USWNT, fans buy tickets to USWNT games at ever-increasing ticket prices, and television companies pay more when more fans watch USWNT games. That is neither fair nor equitable.”
The USMNT also mentioned in its statement that it was preparing to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer—a notable comment given the team’s stated goal of achieving equal pay between the men’s and women’s teams.