Fair Pay for Great Play

Parker DeAgano, KLJ Staff Editor[1]

On March 31, five of the most prominent members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team filed a gender wage discrimination lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).[2] The complaint alleges that the U.S. Soccer Federation pays members of the U.S. men’s national soccer team nearly four times as much as their women counterparts.[3]

The female players filing the lawsuit, including Carli Floyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Hope Solo, claim that the women’s team produces more revenue than the men’s team but are still paid substantially less.[4] They further assert that the compensation differences are unfair considering that the women’s team has been much more successful than the men’s team.[5] Solo said, “We are the best in the world, have three World Cup Championships, four Olympic Championships, and the [men’s national team members] get paid more to just show up than we get paid to win major championships.”[6]

The EEOC complaint stated that the duties of players on both the men’s and women’s teams are virtually indistinguishable.[7] The women, however, receive a base pay of $72,000 to play in 20 non-tournament matches each year with the possibility of earning up to $99,000 if they win every match, whereas the men earn a base pay of at least $100,000 and can receive up to an additional $260,000.[8] The players claim that this gap in pay results in the women receiving 38 to 72 percent less than the men.[9] Moreover, the women earned $2 million for winning the World Cup championship in 2015, whereas the men earned $9 million in 2014 for losing in the first round of the knock-out stage.[10]

In response to the complaint, the U.S. Soccer Federation addressed the ongoing negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement with the women’s team, including the issue of compensation, which should go in to effect once the agreement expires at the end of the year.[11] Sunil Gulati, the president of the Federation, then argued that the women do not generate as much revenue as the men do over a four-year World Cup cycle, and that revenue generation should be considered in the men’s and women’s collective bargaining agreements.[12] Gulati stated that although the Federation wants to compensate the women fairly, compensation is based on overall revenue, revenue that accrues from international competition, incentives, and the performance of the teams.[13] The Federation further claims that the men produced revenue and attendance approximately twice as high as the women, and the television ratings for the men were substantially higher as well.[14] Additionally, the Federation has also claimed in the past that the women’s labor contract includes beneficial provisions, such as severance and injury pay, health benefits, and maternity leave, which the men’s team does not have in its labor contract.[15]

The Federation’s annual report estimates that the women will bring in approximately $17 million in revenue in 2017, while the men are projected to produce $9 million during that time.[16] For television rights sales, the Federation bundles its men’s and women’s games together, which makes it impossible to distinguish which games are most attractive to viewers.[17] The average cost of a 30-second advertisement during the 2015 Women’s World Cup final was $210,760, while an advertisement for the 2014 Men’s World Cup final was $465,140.[18] The women’s 2015 final, however, had 8 million more viewers.[19]

The argument that the Federation employs to the wage gap issue is that men’s sports, and their players, deserve more money because they draw more viewers and produce more revenue in ticket sales and corporate sponsorships.[20] Considering the larger number of viewers during the women’s 2015 World Cup final, however, this argument may not be as foolproof as one may want to believe. Michael LeRoy, a teacher of collective bargaining and sports at the University of Illinois, stated that the difference in market conditions between men’s and women’s sports is substantial.[21] When speaking on the women’s claims, he said, “They have to prove equality of work and market conditions, and it’s such a rigid legal requirement.”[22]

Considering that the women’s complaint was only filed recently, there will certainly be some time to assess the validity of each parties’ claims. According to the attorney for the players, Jeffrey Kessler, the EEOC will launch an independent investigation into the claims that could last up to six months.[23] If there is a violation, he says that the agency can negotiate a consent agreement or pursue legal enforcement.[24]

At this point, it is difficult to assess the merits of each parties’ arguments and determine a winner because there will be many aspects of the players’ compensation that will have to be weighed. Nonetheless, this case is destined to have profound legal implications for women in professional sports.[25]

[1] J.D. expected May 2017.
[2] Matthew Perlman, US Women’s Soccer Players File Wage Discrimination Charge, Law360 (Mar. 31, 2016, 12:23 PM), http://www.law360.com.ezproxy.law.uky.edu/sports/articles/778587/us-women-s-soccer-players-file-wage-discrimination-charge.
[3] Id.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.
[9] Id.
[10] Id.
[11] Joshua Robinson & Matthew Futterman, U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Stars Allege Pay Discrimination, Wall St. J. (Mar. 31, 2016, 8:16 PM), available at http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-womens-national-team-accuses-u-s-soccer-of-pay-discrimination-1459429306.
[12] Grant Wahl, U.S. Soccer President Responds to USWNT’s Wage Discrimination Claim, Sports Illustrated (Mar. 31, 2016), available at http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2016/03/31/sunil-gulati-uswnt-equal-pay-wage-discrimination-lawsuit.
[13] Id.
[14] Andrew Das, Top Female Players Accuse U.S. Soccer of Wage Discrimination, N.Y. Times (Mar. 31, 2016), available at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/01/sports/soccer/uswnt-us-women-carli-lloyd-alex-morgan-hope-solo-complain.html?_r=0.
[15] Id.
[16] Laura Santhanam, Data: How Does the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Pay Compare to the Men?, PBS Newshour (Mar. 31, 2016, 2:49 PM), http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/data-how-does-the-u-s-womens-soccer-team-pay-compare-to-the-men/.
[17] Robinson & Futterman, supra note 11.
[18] Id.
[19] Id.
[20] Das, supra note 14.
[21] Id.
[22] Id.
[23] Santhanam, supra note 16.
[24] Id.
[25] See Zachary Zagger, Soccer EEOC Charge Seen As Milestone For Women Athletes, Law360 (Mar. 31, 2016, 10:45 PM), http://www.law360.com.ezproxy.law.uky.edu/sports/articles/778801/soccer-eeoc-charge-seen-as-milestone-for-women-athletes.

* Featured image by Brent Flanders, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.