The United States men’s national team (USMNT) advanced to the round of 16 of the men’s World Cup with a win against Iran yesterday, and the players on the court aren’t the only ones to benefit. Thanks to new collective labor agreement between the USMNT and the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT), the men’s and women’s teams will split the prize money the men win at this World Cup, including the $13 million they get towards qualifying for the upcoming rosters – a first for international football.
That means women could already take home around $6 million, just from men moving on to the next stage. Shockingly, that equates to more prize money than the USWNT took home from winning the last two women’s world cups, combined.
According to Power games, the USWNT won $2 million for winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup and $4 million for their 2019 win. For comparison, after their win against Iran, the men’s team will now receive at least 13 million dollars, even if he loses the next game. If they win and advance to the next round, the prize pool goes up to $17 million. It increases with each subsequent round, with the men’s World Cup winners receiving $42 million.
The pay gap between men’s and women’s World Cups that’s shameful in itself, and we’ll get into that in a minute. But first, let’s get back to that collective bargaining agreement. In May, the USWNT’s long struggle for equal pay culminated in a new CBA, signed by US Soccer and the men’s and women’s players associations. The deal stipulated, among other things, that 90% of the World Cup-related prize money won by both teams would be “pooled and split equally” between the men’s and women’s teams, with US Soccer taking a 10% reduction.
According to US soccer, the federation is the first in the world to tie the World Cup prize money between men’s and women’s teams. “The deals will ensure that US Soccer’s senior national team players remain among the highest-paid in the world,” US Soccer said at the time.
Under that deal, the $13 million already won by the USMNT will be split between the men’s and women’s teams, less 10 percent going to US Soccer. That equates to about $5.85 million going to each team.
If you spend any time on the sports side of the internet, it won’t surprise you to learn that some people are upset about this, ostensibly on behalf of the men’s team (which, again, voluntarily agreed to this CBA). Goals, a women’s sports consulting agency, has rounded up some of the most noteworthy footage in one Instagram message for those of us who haven’t gone through the toxic comment sections ourselves. “Getting paid to do nothing. It’s kind of embarrassing,” said one person, because apparently winning four World Cups qualifies as “doing nothing.”
“They’re basically 2 completely different sports,” someone else said. “One has a lot of income, the other very little. How they earn something like this baffles me.” And my personal, weary favorite: “There’s a reason the two accomplishments are incomparable…The skill, quality and skill of the women’s game is far inferior.”
Alex Morgan would probably drive all these tough commenters crazy in 0.1 seconds, but that’s not the real issue here. As always, most internet trolls remain unaware of how popular women’s sports are and how fast they are growing. Women’s football alone has demonstrated sustained growth in interest and audience for years. The 2019 Women’s World Cup attracted a record 1.12 billion total television viewers, according to Fifa, with 14.3 million US viewers tuning in for the final between the USWNT and the Netherlands. As we’re making comparisons, that’s 22 percent higher than the 2018 Men’s World Cup Final (11.4 million U.S. viewers), according to Fox Sports via CNBC. That 2019 Women’s World Cup Final was also the most-watched soccer match on English-language television, male or female! – in the US from (oh, look at that) the 2015 Women’s World Cup Final (25.4 million viewers).
And that’s just in the US. Globally, the patterns are similar. The Euro 2022 women’s tournament set a record 365 million cumulative live global viewers, more than double 2017’s 178 million viewers, according to Uefa. The Guinness World Record for the largest attendance in a women’s soccer match (a record held by the USWNT during the 1999 World Cup and held for 23 years) has been broken twice this year and is now held by FC Barcelona Femení and VfL Wolfsburg, who drew 91,648 a game in Barcelona on April 22.
While we’re at it: The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the USA also went bankrupt regular season And playoff attendance record this year. Alexis Ohanian (Co-founder of Reddit, lead investor of NWSL club Angel City, husband of Serena Williams, father of Olympia, etc.) said Sports Center in September that investing in women’s football was “the most obvious and best sporting investment I could make…it was so obviously underrated”. When we think of the excellence of American soccer, she explained, “we think of women … when we think of soccer, the most popular sport in the world, it’s women who have carried the crown for us.”
To quote one of our commenters above, the “skill, quality and skill” of the female soccer players is enough to draw fans in droves. If the revenues aren’t there, it’s not because the sport isn’t popular, it’s because women’s soccer and women’s sports in general continue to be heavily underrated by the media and by the very organizations in which the teams operate. The The NCAA’s absurd assessment of the March Madness women’s tournament is one example: according to a third-party review published last year, the NCAA valued the women’s tournament at about $6 million a year. The actual value? More than $80 million, potentially.
In football, FIFA itself (hardly a bastion of equality) recently criticized televised offers for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, with FIFA president Gianni Infantino saying some offers were “100 times, even more than 100 times on some occasions” less than the deal’s value on men’s world cup rights, according to the Associated press. “We won’t accept that,” Infantino said, “because we know that the viewing figures of these broadcasters in some big football countries for the Men’s World Cup or the Women’s World Cup are actually very similar… income is very similar for men and for women.”
The USWNT deserve so much more than they got from their World Cup success.
Female soccer fans and female soccer fans alike are contributing to the growth of the sport, but at some point it’s up to organizations (FIFA, US Soccer) to force broadcasters and sponsors to give players their due. And that means those organizations themselves need to recognize the monetary value in women’s teams — the value of female athletes, who have so often been vilified or simply overlooked despite their success and popularity.
This brings us back to the US National Teams joint CBA, which was a clear step in the right direction and which, by all accounts, both teams were proud to sign. “They said equal pay for men and women wasn’t possible, but that didn’t stop us and we went ahead and achieved it,” USMNT advocate Walker Zimmerman said, according to an article published by US soccer. Zimmerman was among the leaders of the men’s team that took part in the negotiations. “Hopefully this will awaken others to the need for this kind of change,” he continued, “and inspire FIFA and others around the world to move in the same direction.”
Because this is the real problem. Internet trolls can justify lower pay to “lower quality” and lower income female players as much as they like. Maybe they think they’re defending the men’s team, but those players are all signed to that CBA. They’ve known since March that any prize money they earn in this World Cup will be split with the women’s team, just like the women’s prize money will be split next year; it’s a business they seem to be proud of. “This is a great deal for both teams,” Zimmerman pointed out in a June interview on the American football podcasts. “What an amazing opportunity to do something historic and step up to the plate and be the first federation, [the] first men’s and women’s team to accept exactly equal pay”.
No, the men’s team seems fine with this. In this case, the organization the trolls are ultimately defending is FIFA, which could offer $60 million in total prize money at the next Women’s World Cup, according to Power Play, compared to $440 million for the Men’s World Cup. And yes, Infantino may point to unfair media rights deals — and broadcast companies have a lot to answer for, too — but this is an organization expected to raise $7 billion by the end of this four-year World Cup cycle, according to AP. It’s hard to imagine that FIFA really can’t afford to pay women’s teams equal to, or at least significantly more than, what they are currently receiving in prize money, which in 2023 could be more than seven times less compared to men.
Based on their performance and popularity, the USWNT deserve much more than they received from their World Cup success, but they can’t control what FIFA gives them. That’s why US Soccer and the men’s and women’s teams have taken this step themselves, through a CBA that ensures equal pay, in the hopes that it will not only level the playing field, but also serve as an example for other national federations and, ultimately, FIFA itself.