USWNT won’t achieve equal pay without joining U.S. Soccer in attack on World Cup prize imbalance

They have been battling one another for more than four years. Multiple lawsuits. Tons of newspaper articles and myriad hours of broadcast debates. Indeed, everyone paused long enough for the U.S. women’s national team to win the FIFA Women’s World Cup, but then they resumed their confrontation. The USWNT has mostly won in the court of public opinion, but most recently U.S. Soccer prevailed in court.

This enduring dispute was no small factor in the recent resignation of U.S Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro, who left that position in March after it was revealed the federation had, in court filings, argued against the women’s national team receiving equal pay to the men’s team because, in so many words, they’re not as fast or as strong.

And recently it produced a rare defeat for the USWNT, the two-time reigning World Cup champions and winners of 20 consecutive games, when federal judge R. Gary Klausner ruled the women could not argue they were denied equal pay when they had negotiated for a contract structure different in form and substance from what the USMNT receives.

That did not end the court action. The two sides did file a joint motion requesting a 30-day stay in the proceeding. And this provides a moment not only to negotiate a settlement, which is long overdue, but also another opportunity for each to understand their greatest obstacle to a reasonable outcome — indeed, to one favorable to both parties — is not each other but the world.

By the world, we mean FIFA, the governing body for soccer on this here planet Earth.

When it comes to reasonable pay for women’s international soccer players, there is no more obvious culprit than the organization that runs the world game. And yet there almost never is a public proclamation from either the USMNT or U.S. Soccer about the inequity that exists between the two senior World Cups, which is maddeningly unfair and yet baked into FIFA’s procedures.

How much is the Women’s World Cup worth? It’s likely no one knows, because the manner in which FIFA administers the event, in particular the brokering of media rights, assures that question cannot be answered with the sort of exactitude one expects of such monumental events.

This much is clear, though: It’s worth way more than FIFA would have you believe.

For years, FIFA has packaged the rights to its various world tournaments together – not just the men’s and women’s World Cups but also its junior events — under the presumption the FIFA World Cup is what bidders are pursuing.

For decades, that might have been a reasonable assumption, owing in part to the absence of a Women’s World Cup until 1991. And it might even have been fair until 1999, when the USWNT led by Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Julie Foudy drew an audience of more than 90,000 to the Rose Bowl and a television audience of 17.9 million for its title-game victory over China. It was clear then there was value in the Women’s World Cup.

FIFA has continued to ignore this development, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the prize money made available to the men and women. When Russia 2018 was contested and drew a global audience of 3.57 billion for its month of compelling soccer competition, the participants were paid from a prize pool of $400 million.

When France 2019 was contested and drew a global audience of 1 billion, the participants were paid from a pool of $30 million.

FIFA is telling us the men’s World Cup is worth 13.3 times more than the women’s. The audience is telling us is the men’s is worth 3.57 times more.

If one followed the audience here, the prize pool for the Women’s World Cup would be closer to $112 million. Now, the men’s event sold more tickets, and generally at higher prices. There is no way to dispute, though, that FIFA did not even approach a reasonable balance in the most recent cycle.

And promising to double the prize pool for 2023, which FIFA has, is not sufficient to address the disparity — because the pool for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is scheduled to increase by 10 percent to $440 million. Calculating the prize pool by “audience rate” for the next women’s tournament would increase it to $123 million.

FIFA isn’t scheduled to be even be halfway to a justifiable split in another three years.

Winning last summer’s tournament brought $4 million to U.S. Soccer. If the prize pool had been fair, the USWNT’s take would have been closer to $15 million. Participating players would have been richly rewarded.

That’s why FIFA needs to be the next target in the USWNT’s fight for fair pay.

Because that’s where the money is, and where too much of it is staying. For now.

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