The U.S. Soccer Federation has taken a big step in the equal pay fight surrounding its two senior national teams. Now, we'll see if it's what both teams want.
U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that it has offered identical contract proposals to the United States Women's National Team Players Association and the United States National Soccer Team Players Association (which represents the USMNT), with the goal of uniting the two teams under a single collective bargaining agreement.
In its release, the federation said this about the offer:
U.S. Soccer firmly believes that the best path forward for all involved, and for the future of the sport in the United States, is a single pay structure for both senior national teams. This proposal will ensure that USWNT and USMNT players remain among the highest paid senior national team players in the world, while providing a revenue sharing structure that would allow all parties to begin anew and share collectively in the opportunity that combined investment in the future of U.S. Soccer will deliver over the course of a new CBA.
If either party does not agree to the proposal, U.S. Soccer says it will invite each union to sit in on negotiations between its counterpart and the federation for full transparency.
The USWNT and U.S. Soccer have been embroiled in a fight over equal pay for years now, from courtrooms to social media. The USMNT has, for the most part, voiced support for the much more successful women's team, to the point that its union filed an amicus brief saying the women should be paid more.
The USWNT's collective bargaining agreement expires after this year, while the USMNT have been playing under a CBA that expired in 2018.
While both teams receiving the same pay structure sounds like the end of the line for this dispute, there still could be reasons the proposal isn't palatable for some involved, mainly due to economic factors outside U.S. Soccer's control.
Are changes coming for the USWNT?
The USWNT equal pay debate is complicated, with the definition of what constitutes "equal pay" for the players up for debate. That's because more parties than just U.S. Soccer control income for the players, as Yahoo Sports' Caitlin Murray laid out last year.
The USMNT is composed of players who spend most of their time playing for men's clubs in the U.S. and Europe, which pay quite well compared to their national team. The USWNT is composed of players who play for substantially less deep-pocketed teams in the NWSL and other leagues, making their national team salaries very important for their bottom line.
That uneven ground has meant each team has played under very different terms over the years. The men's team is compensated mostly through bonuses, receiving $17,625 per friendly all the way up to more than $1 million per player if they win the World Cup. Meanwhile, under the USWNT's CBA, players receive much smaller bonuses ($3,500 per game), but are supported by $100,000 annual salaries.
Both of those systems made some sense, as men's players could take the less stable but potentially more lucrative system for what amounts to a side gig, while USWNT players placed a higher priority on stability.
Exacerbating the situation is FIFA's highly inequitable bonuses for each side's respective World Cup, which pays out more than 10 times to the men than the women. This came up when Australia was figuring out its own equal pay fight, which led to its new system completely ignoring FIFA prize money. The two teams are equally paid ... except in FIFA events.
U.S. Soccer signaled that it wants to deal with the FIFA problem as well in its statement:
Additionally, U.S. Soccer has once again called upon the players and both Players Associations to join the Federation in finding a way to equalize FIFA World Cup prize money between the USMNT and the USWNT. U.S. Soccer will not agree to any collective bargaining agreement that does not take the important step of equalizing FIFA World Cup prize money.
The federation's proposal gives the women's team a chance to change from that salary-based pay structure to a bonus-based one, something in which they've expressed interest in the past. Taking the deal could still be a negative for the players' finances, though, depending on how U.S. Soccer's proposed revenue sharing would work.
USWNT is still suing U.S. Soccer
While U.S. Soccer is offering identical contracts, the USWNT players are continuing their fight in court, most recently with an appeal of the summary judgement that dismissed most of their equal pay lawsuit against the federation.
Agreeing to drop litigation against the federation could be part of the USWNT's leverage in CBA negotiations, though there is a fairly wide gap to close when one side wants $66 million in back pay.