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US Soccer’s claims about paying the women more than the men lack context

Cordeiro makes a lot of claims but neglects to include a lot of context.

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Victory Parade and City Hall Ceremony Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

UPDATED 7/30/10 12:00 PM

Today, US Soccer, through the office of president Carlos Cordeiro, released a statement claiming that after a review of the last 10 years of USSF’s financials, the federation has paid the women’s national team more than the men’s national team in salaries and game bonuses. Cordeiro said in a letter to USSF membership that these financials were reviewed by an independent accounting firm, and included a fact sheet with the figures.

In total, USSF says that from 2010 through 2018, they paid the women $34.1 million in salaries and game bonuses, while the men received $26.4 million. USSF attributes the difference to the different contract structures of the men and women, where the women’s team bargained for a guaranteed salary instead of being paid by roster and performance bonuses.

What US Soccer does not include are the historical reasons behind the pay structure, as well as the fact that from 2010 - 2018, the women played 198 games, while the men played 152, which, using USSF’s figures, roughs out to the women’s teams averaging $172,222 per game and the men’s teams averaging $173,684 per game. Also consider that of those games, in that time period the women played 21 World Cup matches, while the men played eight, no doubt influencing the bonus money the players were paid out by the federation. The women also went to the Olympics in 2012 and 2016, while the men’s senior team is not a part of that tournament, again affecting bonuses. Cordeiro concedes in his letter that the men do, in fact, earn larger bonuses while leaving out the fact that the women offered to move to the same compensation structure as the men, but USSF refused.

The reason for the women asking for a different pay structure in previous collective bargaining agreements is that historically, US Soccer has been the main employer for players on the WNT due to the women making much less money through club play. It was to everyone’s benefit that the women be able to play soccer full time, instead of having to work day jobs and then train in their spare time. This is also why, as Cordeiro helpfully points out, the women also get certain benefits from USSF, like health insurance. Men on average make more money through their clubs - consider that the NWSL maximum salary in 2019 is $46,200, while the MLS minimum salary for the first 24 players on a roster is $70,250, and the reserve minimum is $56,250.

Also consider that while women can now make low six-figure salaries at a handful of European clubs, American women are heavily encouraged by USSF to stay at home in NWSL. It made sense at the time these contracts were negotiated for the WNT to rely more on US Soccer, which was more stable, and in the case of NWSL, helped take some financial pressure off of a nascent pro league that Cordeiro himself says is “vital to the long-term growth of women’s soccer in America.” USSF is including payments for club play when the players are discussing payments for representing the United States

Cordeiro’s letter goes on to discuss revenue, both generated by the teams, and in terms of FIFA prize money. Cordeiro says that USSF is not responsible for determining FIFA prize money, and that the men and women “generate vastly different revenue for FIFA, resulting in different prize money,” which is an old argument that does nothing to take into account how much money FIFA has been putting into the men’s game and for how long in comparison to the women. Cordeiro says that the MNT got $41M and the WNT got $39.7M in the 2010-18 period in FIFA payments, but if Cordeiro is going to argue that USSF has no hand in how FIFA determines prize money, then he should not claim any moral high ground from WNT getting comparable World Cup payments to the men from 2010 through 2018 - a period during which the women outright won two World Cups and went to the finals in a third, while the men went out in the round of 16 in two World Cups and failed to qualify for a third in the same period. In fact, Cordeiro seems not to realize how absurd it is to tout these figures, which show that the men got paid more than the women for doing substantially worse.

The same goes for Corderio’s arguments later on about revenue from domestic national team games. USSF has long declined to reveal the investment they make in the women’s versus the men’s teams; therefore it is hard to determine the actual return on investment by team.

Molly Levinson, the spokesperson for the WNT players, released a statement in response to Cordeiro’s letter:

This is a sad attempt by USSF to quell the overwhelming tide of support the USWNT has received from everyone from fans to sponsors to the United States Congress. The USSF has repeatedly admitted that it does not pay the women equally and that it does not believe the women even deserve to be paid equally. This is why they use words like “fair and equitable”, not equal in describing pay. The numbers USSF uses are utterly false which, among other things, inappropriately include the NWSL salaries of the players to inflate the women’s players compensation. Any apples to apples comparison shows that the men earn far more than the women. The fact is the women’s team requested the same compensation structure as the men have, so they would be paid equally for equal performance. USSF refused, offering lower compensation in every category for the women’s team in a pay for performance structure. That is patently unequal pay. The USSF fact sheet is not a “clarification”. It is a ruse. Here is what they cannot deny. For every game a man plays on the MNT he makes a higher base salary payment than a woman on the WNT. For every comparable win or tie, his bonus is higher. That is the very definition of gender discrimination. For the USSF to believe otherwise, is disheartening but it only increases our determination to obtain true equal pay. If the USSF cannot agree to this at the upcoming mediation, we will see them in the court of law and the court of public opinion.”

US Soccer and the USWNT are due to enter mediation soon. Megan Rapinoe offered some conciliatory words in her World Cup victory tour speech in New York, thanking Cordeiro on stage for his support. “I’mma stick my neck out there a little bit. I’m gonna endorse Carlos. I think he’s with us. I think he’s on the right side of things. I think he’s going to make things right,” she said.

Perhaps this move is solely for the benefit of trying to establish a stronger negotiating position and repair some of USSF’s public image while in private, Cordeiro and USSF will be willing to come to them with open hands. Or perhaps Rapinoe was wrong, and Cordeiro is happy to say all the right things on stage, then promptly spurn the WNT at the mediation table. Either way, it’s important to remember that the decisions on how much to invest in whom isn’t done by some nameless vacuum devoid of context. People make decisions about who has value and who doesn’t, and a statement that neglects to put numbers in their proper context probably says plenty about how USSF values the women’s national team.

Update: The MNT players association has issued a statement in support of the WNT that also calls Cordeiro’s letter “false accounting.”