For the first time, soccer players representing the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams will receive the same pay and prize money, including at World Cups, under historic agreements with the U.S. Soccer Federation that will put an end to years of bitter public litigation and disputes over what constitutes “equal pay”.
The revised salary structures are part of collective agreements with each team announced on Wednesday, three months after a group of players from the top women’s team settled a sex discrimination lawsuit against US Soccer and six months before the team men takes the field at the World Cup in Qatar.
In addition to guaranteeing male and female players the same paychecks to participate in international matches, the agreements include a provision, believed to be the first of its kind, whereby teams will pool the unequal payments they receive from the FIFA, the governing body of world football. body, to participate in the World Cup. Starting with the 2022 men’s tournament and the 2023 Women’s World Cup, this money will be shared equally between members of the two teams.
“No other country has ever done this,” U.S. soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone said of the World Cup equalization deal. “I think everyone should be really proud of what we’ve achieved here. It’s really, really historic.
The prize money split is a notable concession from the American men, who have already received the bulk of the multimillion-dollar payouts US Soccer receives from FIFA each time the team has played in the World Cup. . The women’s money-pooling deal also removed what players and federation officials had long seen as the main obstacle to resolving the equal pay debate. This represents a potentially huge windfall for the women’s team, whose World Cup prize pool is a fraction of that paid to the men’s teams every four years.
Under the new deals, which run until 2028 and cover the next four World Cups, dozens of top male and female players have been told in internal presentations reviewed by The New York Times that they can s expect to collect average annual payments of around US$450,000. Football – and potentially more than double in years of World Cup success.
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“I feel very proud that there will be girls who will grow up and see what we have achieved and recognize their worth instead of having to fight to see it themselves,” said Midge Purce, board member of collective bargaining of the players’ association.
“But my dad always told me, ‘You don’t get a reward for doing what you’re supposed to do,'” she added. “And paying men and women equally is what you’re supposed to do.”
The pay difference between men and women has been one of the most contentious issues in football in recent years, especially after American women won back-to-back world championships in 2015 and 2019 and men did not qualify for the 2018 tournament. Over the years, the women’s team, which includes some of the world’s most recognizable athletes, has intensified and amplified its fight in court records, media interviews and on the biggest stages of their sport.
The dispute has always been a complex issue, with differing contracts, unequal prize money and other financial quirks that blur salary distinctions between men’s and women’s teams and complicate the ability of national governing bodies like US Soccer to resolve disputes. differences.
Yet the federation eventually committed to a fairer system. To achieve this, US Soccer will distribute millions more dollars to its top players through a complicated calculation of increased match bonuses, pooled prize money and new revenue-sharing agreements that will give each team a share of tens. millions of dollars in commercial revenue. revenue that US Soccer receives each year from sponsors, broadcasters and other partners.
Labor peace will be expensive: US Soccer has pledged to pay a single game for most games of $18,000 per player for games won, and up to $24,000 per game for wins at some major tournaments – cementing the status of American men and women as two of the highest paid national teams in the world. And the federation will give up to 90% of the money it receives from FIFA to participate in the World Cup to the male and female players of these teams; based on past performance and union projections, this could translate to a shared prize pool of over $20 million as early as next year.
But despite its cost, the new equal pay policy is of incalculable value to all concerned, as it will end a six-year battle that has rocked the federation’s reputation; threatened US Soccer’s relationships with major sponsors; and racked up millions of dollars in legal fees from all sides of the fight.
As the parties battled it out in courtrooms and negotiation sessions, the dispute also produced sometimes caustic exchanges about privacy, workplace equality, and fundamental fairness, and garnered support (and questioning) of a disparate choir of presidential candidates, star athletes and Hollywood celebrities — not all of whom support the women’s campaign for pay equity.
Resolving the fight amicably, rather than in court, could make it easier for the federation to attract new sponsors and recreate ties with its most prominent players. And by offering teams a share of its commercial revenue, US Soccer has essentially incentivized its biggest stars to act as partners in finding new ways to increase those revenue streams.
“There’s no denying that the money we have to pay our national teams is money that’s not being put back into the game,” Cone said when asked about the effects of the new contracts on the mission. wider of US Soccer. “And people can take that perspective. But the way I see it is that our job is to try to figure out how all three groups can work together to make the pie bigger so everyone benefits.
Cone and representatives for both teams said the deals provide a blueprint for those looking to restructure a multi-billion dollar sports industry in which generational benefits mean money, exposure and opportunity continue to flow. disproportionately to male sports and male athletes.
“These deals changed the game forever here in the United States,” Cone said. “And they have the potential to change the game around the world.”
Yet while resolving the fight for equal pay will have considerable symbolic and financial value in the United States, it is unclear whether the new agreements will be more ambitious than replicable on a global scale.
Since American women began fighting for equal pay in 2016, soccer associations from Norway to Australia to the Netherlands have decided to pay their national teams more fairly. But all of those deals were to even out matchday pay rates that are far below the numbers US Soccer pays its senior teams. And all of them avoided the biggest pay gap in football: the huge difference between the World Cup bonuses paid to men and women by FIFA. The 24 teams at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, for example, competed for a $30 million prize pool; the 32 men’s teams that will face off in Qatar in November will share $450 million.
A negotiated settlement has become the only path to equal pay in 2020 after a federal judge dismissed key claims from a group of high-profile female players who had sued the federation for gender discrimination. Cone, a former women’s national team player recently elevated to volunteer president of US Soccer, greeted the move with an olive branch at the time, pushing for further settlement negotiations. But she increased the pressure on male players to help close that gap last fall when she said US Soccer would not agree to new contracts with either team that did not tie. World Cup awards.
Walker Zimmerman, a defender for the men’s team and a leader in its players’ union, said he and his teammates realized then that “there was no other way to do this”. Persuading his teammates to ratify the agreements finally reached “has not always been the easiest”, he admitted.
“Trying to express what you believe should happen, what’s possible, what’s right — those conversations are tough,” Zimmerman said. “But in the end, you have a group of male and female players who came together and succeeded.”
Despite Wednesday’s relaxed spirit, payouts to American men and women still won’t be quite equal: Injuries, training decisions, and even the number of games each team plays will continue to affect what individual players can win. But for the first time, the teams and the federation will be able to agree that the rate of pay, at least, will be equal.
“We still have two separate contracts,” Cone said, “but economically everything is exactly the same.”
For America’s top female players, the deal could soon deliver an immediate payday by unlocking a $24 million settlement, largely for back pay, which they reached with US Soccer in February for settle the lawsuit for sex discrimination. US Soccer had made this one-time payment conditional on the conclusion of new collective agreements formalizing equal pay between the teams.
With the new deals approved, US Soccer can now seek judge’s approval to begin cutting checks.