Home United States USA — Sport How U.S. Soccer and Its Players Solved the Equal Pay Puzzle

How U.S. Soccer and Its Players Solved the Equal Pay Puzzle

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New contracts for the men’s and women’s national teams will usher in an era of equal pay at U.S. Soccer. Here’s how it will work.
The new collective bargaining agreements approved this week by the United States Soccer Federation and its men’s and women’s national teams will, at last, bring an end to a decades-long, emotionally exhausting and wildly expensive fight over equal pay. For the first time, the women’s team, which has won the last two Women’s World Cups and four overall, will be paid at the same rate for game appearances and tournament victories as the men’s team, which has historically (and persistently) failed to even sniff that kind of success. The new contracts also include an unprecedented redistribution of the millions of dollars in World Cup prize money the men’s and women’s teams can earn by playing in the tournament every four years, and they introduce new revenue-sharing agreements that could see the players receive millions more from their cut of U.S. Soccer’s commercial revenues each year. What do the changes look like, both in practice and in dollars? Read on. Under the new contracts, men and women will for the first time be paid at the same rate for representing the United States in international soccer matches and tournaments. This is a first for U.S. Soccer but not for women’s soccer; teams from Norway and Australia have signed and trumpeted equal pay deals for match payments, though none address their teams’ total compensation gap. It is the amounts of money involved in the U.S. Soccer deal, and the sources of it, that make this a groundbreaking moment. Payments to the players — stars like Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie on the men’s side, and Rose Lavelle and Christen Press on the women’s team — come in several forms. The bulk of the money in most years is through so-called match fees: Each player called in to play for a national team receives an appearance fee (for being called in) and a performance bonus (extra money awarded for a win or a tie; teams get nothing extra if they lose). In years with major tournaments, those payments are supplemented by prize money for appearing in major championships like the World Cup. In the past, those match payments were different for men and women, the result of a structure in which women — who make far less from playing with their club teams — accepted smaller camp fees and bonuses in exchange for guaranteed annual salaries from U.S. Soccer. The men, meanwhile, were on a strict pay-for-play model: If you got called up to the national team, you would receive a (higher) bonus. If you didn’t, you got nothing. World Cup money? The men received multiple times more even if, as the women regularly noted, the women won championships and the men struggled to make it out of the first round. The problem with different pay structures, of course, was that they led to different payments. And the men almost always wound up with more. The new contracts announced this week will end the women’s guaranteed-salary system and put both senior teams on the pay-for-play model. The decision to pursue guaranteed salaries had always been a strategic calculation by the women: While the men traditionally earn the bulk of their income from their club salaries, the nascent women’s professional game — far behind in its development — offered much lower salaries, even to its stars.

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