Photographer: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

U.S. Women's Soccer's Argument for Equal Pay Just Got Stronger

  • EEOC complaint has not yet been resolved, attorney says
  • U.S. Soccer women continue to seek equal pay to men’s team

U.S. Soccer has long justified paying the men’s national team more than the women in part because, it argues, the men’s team earns more money.

That rationale took a beating this week, when the men’s team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, a shocking result that also hurts U.S. Soccer’s bottom line.

“The women have always been doing the same job as the men, for the same employer, and doing it better -- not, at least as good, but better,” said Jeffrey Kessler, the labor lawyer who is representing the women in the complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “The fact that the men did not make the World Cup just underscores, emphasizes, emphatically emboldens the point.”

As women’s sports have grown more popular, so has the pressure on sports teams to re-examine the pay policy for male and female players. Norway this week said it will pay its men and women’s national soccer players equally for the first time. U.S. Hockey earlier this year said it will do the same.

Story: Women Gain Ground on Pay

Relative to their competition, the U.S. women’s team has dramatically out-performed the men. The U.S. women won World Cup titles in 1991, 1999 and 2015, plus Olympic gold medals in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012. In that span, the men have advanced past the Round of 16 in just one World Cup, and haven’t won a single Olympic medal. In the past decade, the women’s team’s ranking hasn’t dipped below No. 2; the men haven’t been higher than No. 14 and are currently ranked 28.

“The women’s national team has always been and will continue to be an important part of U.S. Soccer and the overall landscape of the sport in this country,” a spokesman for U.S. said.

Despite their success, the women’s team gets paid less. In the complaint to the EEOC, the women pointed out that they could earn a maximum of $99,000 for 20 games compared to $263,320 for the men. The new contract signed by the women’s team this year narrowed that gap, but the women still earn less, Kessler said.

In fiscal years 2014 and 2015, U.S. soccer spent $49.8 million on the men’s team and $18.8 million on the women’s squad, according to an independent audit. U.S. Soccer had estimated it will have a 2017 net profit of about $5 million from women’s soccer and a $1 million loss for the men’s program. The EEOC said it has no comment on the pay complaint.

Kessler said that, win or lose, revenue for men’s sports should not part of the equation: “The reason they are entitled to equal pay is that they are engaged in equal work.”

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.