They have traded verbal jabs with the president and fired back at criticism over everything from their patriotism, margins of victory and goal-scoring celebrations.
The U.S. women’s soccer players certainly have made headlines beyond their splendid play in advancing to Sunday’s World Cup final. The Americans will attempt to defend their title against the Netherlands and reaffirm their long-standing position as the best women’s soccer team in the world.
Their challenges won’t stop there.
The next one comes soon in a courtroom against their employer, U.S. Soccer. The dispute is over equal pay, and a legal victory seems not only inevitable but also long overdue as a matter of fairness.
Members of the national team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit in early March over inequities in pay compared to the men’s national team. The lawsuit contends that some women players earn only 38 percent of what their male counterparts made under similar situations.
The Wall Street Journal reported recently that the two sides have agreed to mediation post-World Cup, which could bring substantive change in a yearslong crusade by women’s national players for better compensation and overall commitment to their sport.
The U.S. team has been a lightning rod for controversy since arriving in France for the World Cup. Some of that noise is just plain silly and the product of faux outrage. Are people honestly upset with Alex Morgan’s tea celebration? Come on.
However, I disagree with Morgan’s assertion that the backlash over her celebration is an example of a double standard for female athletes. Male athletes are often criticized for their celebrations, too. Some people will find reason to be offended by anything, regardless of gender.
The national team’s fight for comparable pay is a real issue that shouldn’t get obscured by these other brushfires.
U.S. Soccer notes that pay disparity between the men’s and women’s teams is a product of separate collective bargaining agreements. The women carry more leverage in negotiations now if the argument comes down to revenue.
The Wall Street Journal examined financial records from U.S. Soccer and discovered that women’s games generated more revenue than men’s national games in a three-year period after the women won the 2015 World Cup.
The WSJ found that women’s games generated $50.8 million in revenue compared to $49.9 million for the men. Ticket sales are the driving force behind game revenue.
That seems to be a persuasive argument for equitable pay. Revenue generated should be the crux of this discussion, more so than any other factor. The market dictates compensation.
Men’s soccer is more popular globally than the women’s game, which is reflected in TV ratings and overall revenues. But it would be an interesting case study in TV ratings if the U.S. women played a World Cup game on the same day at the same time as the U.S. men. Which one would you watch?
The rise in popularity of the women’s team is undeniable and is based on its history of World Cup success and cast of interesting personalities past and present. Sunday’s final could achieve record TV ratings.
ESPN reported this past week that the U.S. women’s home jersey is now Nike’s top-selling soccer jersey — men or women — in company history. The website notes that jersey sales are 500 percent greater than the same period during the 2015 World Cup.
That meshes with an anecdote shared by one of my soccer-fanatic friends when discussing the popularity of the women’s team. He said he’s noticed a lot of men wearing jerseys with “Morgan” and “Rapinoe” and “Press” on the back in recent weeks.
The sport of soccer in general typically enjoys a spike in interest every World Cup. This one even more so because of the wide range of emotions the U.S. women’s team has stirred in people. Its moment on the world stage has not been dull.
Its fight for better pay should not be polarizing. A victory on that issue will be the right outcome.