When the United States women's national team filed a lawsuit Friday against its boss, the U.S. Soccer Federation, it was remarkable for a few reasons.
First, unlike previous complaints from USWNT players against the federation, this latest lawsuit involves every player in the current pool banding together, and it takes the fight directly to U.S. Soccer. Additionally, the scope of this latest legal action is larger than previous disputes and it makes some severe allegations.
The USWNT is suing over “institutionalized gender discrimination” and therefore must make a case to that effect. Here is a look at the most compelling arguments contained in the new lawsuit and the context that makes these allegations so damning.
1) The USWNT brings in more revenue than the USMNT
The USWNT's case hinges on the argument that U.S. Soccer has paid the women less even though they bring in more money to the federation. This is important because the women's team being paid less than the men may not be enough alone to win a gender discrimination case – the women have to also prove there's no justifiable reason for the difference in compensation.
The lawsuit cites a very specific example in showing the profitability of the women's team. It states that in 2016, U.S. Soccer had initially budgeted a loss of $430,000 for the two senior national team programs but later revised that to a $17.7 million profit due to the USWNT's 2015 World Cup win and a surge in the team's popularity.
What the lawsuit doesn't get into is the fact that the trend of the women bringing in more revenue than the men continued after the 2015 World Cup. The financials from U.S. Soccer's own annual reports show more revenue from the USWNT than the USMNT in 2017 and 2018 as well.
No doubt, a big reason that trend has continued is that the USMNT missed out on last year's World Cup entirely. If the men had qualified, the financial picture would be very different. But the men didn't qualify.
2) The USMNT gets higher bonuses for winning than the USWNT
Bonuses are a focus in the lawsuit because the USMNT and the USWNT both get bonuses based on the exact same metric, wins and losses, yet the men's bonuses are much larger.
The lawsuit outlines how the USMNT's bonuses work. Players receive $5,000 just for making a gameday roster even if the team loses, and if the men win, that amount increases in a range from $6,250 to $17,625, depending on the quality of the opponent. The lawsuit goes onto allege that U.S. Soccer told the women they would not be able to earn similar bonuses for losing games, tying games or winning games against teams outside of the world-ranked top 10.
It's worth noting, however, that even in 2017, when the women signed a new contract with U.S. Soccer that did offer better bonuses, those bonuses are still much smaller than the ones the men received. The lawsuit doesn't make mention of the USWNT's current bonus structure, but the players now get bonuses for winning friendlies as high as $8,500 for top-ranked opponents, as outlined in the upcoming book The National Team: The Inside Story Of The Women Who Changed Soccer. (Editor’s note: The author of this story also wrote the book.) Notably, the $8,500 figure is still less than half of the bonus amounts the men can receive.
Another important bit of context is that the women are paid differently than the men; the women get year-round salaries while the men do not. Although the bonus structure is relatively similar, the overall compensation structure between teams looks pretty different. But the lawsuit makes a compelling case that despite the different structures, the federation was making way more money available to the men's team. It states that in a 20-game schedule of friendlies, USWNT players could only earn a maximum of $99,000 per player, which averages out to $4,950 per game. The men, however, could earn an average of $263,320, or $13,166 per game.
3) U.S. Soccer has blamed ‘market realities’ on unequal pay but wouldn't prove that theory
While the lawsuit gets into some specific numbers, it also makes its case by quoting remarks allegedly made by U.S. Soccer officials.
The filing says that a representative from U.S. Soccer told the women that “market realities are such that the women do not deserve to be paid equally to the men.” The lawsuit goes on to allege that this statement came after the federation had admitted the women brought in more revenue.
That doesn't look great for the federation, if accurate, because it essentially shows that U.S. Soccer used a justification for unequal pay that the federation knew wasn't true.
The women further make the case by stating that they proposed a revenue-sharing model that would test the “market realities” cited by U.S. Soccer. That is, if the women performed well and brought in a ton of revenue, they'd get more money – meanwhile, if they didn't bring in much money, they wouldn't get much money. The lawsuit says this would have allowed the players and U.S. Soccer to “share in the risk and reward of the economic success of the WNT” but that U.S. Soccer “categorically rejected” the idea.
4) The USMNT got larger World Cup bonuses from U.S. Soccer
The differences in World Cup prize money offered by FIFA are well documented, and the disparity continues to rankle many who argue the Women's World Cup deserves more. For instance, the German men's team got around $35 million for its 2014 World Cup win, while the U.S. women only got $2 million for winning the Women's World Cup the following year.
But the USWNT's lawsuit pins blame on U.S. Soccer for some very lopsided bonuses around the World Cups as well. The filing says that in 2014, U.S. Soccer gave the USMNT a team bonus of $5.4 million for exiting in the round of 16 while the women got about $1.7 million from U.S. Soccer for winning the 2015 Women's World Cup.
Bonuses for making World Cup rosters were similarly disparate. The lawsuit says USWNT players earned bonuses of $15,000 for making the 2015 World Cup roster. The men, meanwhile, earned $68,750 for making the 2014 World Cup roster.
Whether those U.S. Soccer bonuses came from the FIFA prize money or whether they are bonuses issued directly from the federation are not clear from the lawsuit. If U.S. Soccer is simply passing along FIFA's prize money, this specific example may not help the USWNT's case much – but the very lopsided numbers are eye-catching.
5) The USWNT played on artificial turf repeatedly while the USMNT did not
Soccer players generally hate artificial turf. They say it leads to more injuries and longer recovery times, and it also changes the way the game is played because of the different bounces of the ball compared to natural grass.
But it's the USWNT that U.S. Soccer has put on artificial turf over and over again. In the period examined in the lawsuit, 2014 through 2017, the women played 13 home matches on artificial turf, or 21 percent of their games. In the same time frame, the men only played one home match on artificial turf.
This isn’t mentioned in the lawsuit but it's worth noting: U.S. Soccer only put the men on artificial turf after the women had made some very high-profile complaints, including boycotting a game due to terrible field conditions. Prior to that, the last time the men played a home friendly on artificial turf was in 1994.
The lawsuit also points out that U.S. Soccer was willing to bear the expense to install temporary grass for the men's team over and over again. From 2014 to 2017, U.S. Soccer did it eight times for the men's team when they played at venues with artificial turf, including three venues where the women played but did not get temporary grass installed. Only once did the women get temporary grass installed for a game.
6) The USMNT got charter flights while the USWNT didn't
The lawsuit alleges that the men's team received better travel accommodations from U.S. Soccer, citing that the men got 17 charter flights in 2017 while the women got zero.
It's worth nothing that in 2017, the men were trying to qualify for the World Cup and had to travel to other CONCACAF countries four times: Panama, Mexico, Honduras, and Trinidad & Tobago. The men also had one friendly in Portugal. The women, meanwhile, only left the United States three times that year, for friendlies in Canada, Sweden and Norway.
7) U.S. Soccer didn't promote USWNT games as much as USMNT games
There are no specifics in the lawsuit, but it does make some explosive allegations about U.S. Soccer putting in more effort to bring fans out to USMNT games. That, the lawsuit says, “has a direct and negative effect” on the attendance and revenue derived from USWNT games.
The federation, the lawsuit says, “has allocated less resources promoting WNT games than it has allocated promoting MNT games; has not announced WNT games with sufficient notice to allow for maximum attendance; and has not used all available means to promote WNT games in a manner at least equal to MNT games.”
Assuming the lawsuit isn’t dismissed, U.S. Soccer's financials will become public, giving everyone a look at how U.S. Soccer promoted USWNT and USMNT games – and whether the federation put more resources into marketing the men.
Caitlin Murray is a contributor to Yahoo Sports and her book about the U.S. women's national team, The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer, will be released April 2019. Follow her on Twitter @caitlinmurr.
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