Commentary: Gender pay equity in U.S. Soccer begins with combining player unions into one united force

On Friday, a judge ruled against the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team in its lawsuit against U.S. Soccer for wage discrimination. And while it’s a perfectly valid legal ruling, I still think everyone is missing the point: Simply, that this whole dispute can be resolved in a more equitable manner.

First, some background: There are separate players unions for the men’s national team and the women’s national team, which means there are separate collective bargaining agreements between each of those unions and U.S. Soccer. One reason the judge ruled against the women’s team this week is because the women’s CBA prioritizes guaranteed salaries and the men’s agreement is based more on “pay-to-play” and bonus money.

U.S. Soccer also continues to place much of the blame on FIFA and the great disparity between prize money between the Men’s and Women’s World Cups, which awarded $400 million for the Men’s World Cup in 2018 and just $30 million for the Women’s World Cup last year. Let me repeat – the total prize money for the Women’s World Cup was just 7.5% of the total prize money for the men.

Despite all of this, I believe there’s an opening right now to find some common ground. The first step is combining the men’s and women’s player unions so they can negotiate a deal with U.S. Soccer together.

The men’s national team’s CBA expired in 2018. They don’t have a new one yet. And the women’s CBA expires next year. Now is the time to join forces and negotiate as one.

Case in point: Australia, which helped close the gender pay gap in 2019 with a new agreement between the Australian soccer federation and a unified players union that included both the men and women’s national teams. Both teams will now receive an equal split of revenues, with a contract system that ensures that the top women’s players earn the same as the men. It also raises the standard of travel, facilities and operational support on the women’s side to what the men have as well.

It’s a fantastic starting point – but one that still isn’t completely fair, because while both Australian teams now receive the same percentage of World Cup prize money, the disparity in prize money between Men’s and Women’s World Cups is still huge.

And that’s where, in this country, there will have to be a leap of faith from both sides of the aisle. I propose a compromise: Number One – Until FIFA significantly closes that gap, award the women a higher percentage of their prize money – which the men probably won’t like. And Number Two – take a portion of the cost of funding the National Women’s Soccer League out of the women’s share before distributing bonuses – which the women probably won’t like.

Remember, U.S. Soccer financially supports the NWSL. It does not financially support Major League Soccer. So that means U.S. Soccer is still paying for the salaries of each of the national team players, like Megan Rapinoe of the OL Reign.

And frankly, the NWSL is vitally important to growing the game of soccer on the women’s side. It needs to be there to continue to develop the future Rapinoes and Alex Morgans of the world. The last thing anyone wants is for the women’s national team players to finally get their fair share and the league to fold. That’s like cutting off one’s nose to spite their face.
So until the league is fully independent, which it strives to be, it would be a trade-off.

We’d be left with an equal pay scale, with equal benefits, conditions, travel, facilities and staffs. With a more equitable split of prize money, and more equitable percentages distributed to players, minus some costs to fund a necessary league on the women’s side to help grow the game.

Starting that conversation shouldn’t be so hard – and as we’ve seen, it would certainly be easier than going to court.