United States Women’s National Team Wins Landmark Case for Women’s Sports, Earns Equal Pay to Men

The fight between female athletes and their respective leagues regarding equal pay has been a significant issue over the past several years, with the United States Women’s National Soccer Team leading the charge. The initial complaint against the EEOC was filed in 2016 by Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, and Becky Sauerbrunn. An additional lawsuit was filed in March 2019 by 28 members of the USNWT, in which the women alleged “years of ongoing institutionalized gender discrimination against the players in their compensation and working conditions.” 

The 2019 complaint further alleged “Despite the fact that these female and male players are called upon to perform the same job responsibilities on their teams and participate in international competitions for their single common employer, the USSF, the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts. This is true even though their performance has been superior to that of the male players—with the female players, in contrast to male players, becoming world champions.” 

 The lawsuits were initially sparked by the drastic difference in pay between the men’s and women’s teams. For example, $400 million in prize money was awarded by FIFA among the 32 teams competing in the men’s 2018 World Cup – with the winning team earning a $38 million check. The women, on the other hand, were allotted $30 million by FIFA to be split among the 24 teams competing in the women’s 2019 World Cup, with the winning team taking home $4 million. In 2019, Infantino suggested that FIFA would double the women’s total prize money in 2023, but players spoke out about how that was still unfair. 

For anyone who is unfamiliar with soccer, especially with women’s soccer, it may seem almost reasonable (for lack of a better word) that the men have been getting paid more, as such is the case for every women’s league and their male counterparts. Typically, this can be chalked up to the men’s teams having larger fanbases, making higher revenue, etc. (another reason more people should get into women’s sports), so the pay disparities between these leagues can make sense. For example, when looking at professional basketball in the United States, the National Basketball Association brings in nearly $8 billion in revenue every year, while the Women’s National Basketball Association’s revenue comes in at around $60 million a year. 

The USWNT celebrates their 2019 World Cup victory. Photo Credit: Reuters

When you look at professional soccer, on the other hand, the USWNT has consistently brought in a higher revenue than its male counterparts. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2019 that over the course of the 2016 through 2018 seasons, “women’s games generated about $50.8 million in revenue compared with $49.9 million for the men, according to U.S. soccer’s audited financial statements. In 2016, the year after the World Cup, the women generated $1.9 million more than the men. Game revenues are made up mostly of ticket sales.” Given these statistics, there’s no excuse that the women shouldn’t have been making equal pay for at least several years now. 

These extreme pay differences have reasonably sparked significant outrage among players, especially with the USWNT being so successful and having won four World Cup titles since 1991. During the years that the USWNT didn’t take home the gold from the World Cup, they have taken third place three times and second place once; therefore, out of the eight total World Cups that have taken place in the history of the women’s league, the USWNT has yet to place lower than third. The U.S. men’s team hasn’t come close to the same success as the women’s team, with their last best season taking place in 1930, in which they placed third.  

 Given the popularity and success of the USWNT, the fight for equal pay quickly gained the support of the fans. During the celebration of the USWNT’s 2019 2-0 World Cup victory over the Netherlands, fans throughout the stadium began chanting “equal pay!” as FIFA president Gianni Infantino stepped up on the stage. Since the filing of the lawsuit, fans around the world have shown their continued support of the women.

 The ultimate settlement between U.S. Soccer and the USWNT players is as follows: the league will pay $22 million to the players involved in the lawsuit and $2 million into an account to benefit the women in their post-career goals, with each player being able to apply for up to $50,000. This additional $2 million is also to be distributed to charities relating to girl\s’ and women’s soccer. 

This settlement, however, is dependent on the recent collective bargaining agreement that is in the process of being accepted by the USWNT players. There are many factors that need to be considered in regard to this CBA as the USSF offered identical proposals to both the men’s and women’s teams. While the league clearly indicates support for equal pay, there is still a substantial amount of ambiguity surrounding the agreements.

As soon as the CBA is finalized, a hearing in the District Court will be scheduled to finalize the settlement—a hearing that the women have stated “…will fully resolve the litigation.” This promise of the continuation of equal pay between the men and women is also being made by the United States Soccer Federation, which has assured that the paychecks will be equivalent “in all friendlies and tournaments, including the World Cup.”

The outcome of this lawsuit is absolutely tremendous for female athletes everywhere, regardless of the sport. The USWNT’s win will hopefully set the standard for equal pay throughout sports leagues across the nation. 2022 also marked a significant triumph for female athletes in the Winter Olympics as well, with seven new events being added for the women to compete in, significantly decreasing the Games’ typical gender gap. While these feats are long overdue, it will be exciting to see the next big move in women’s professional sports throughout this upcoming year (and we’ve only just begun March)!

Featured Image Credit: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

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Co-President of the Buffalo Sports & Entertainment Law Society 2021-2022.

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