Deborah Daniels: U.S. women’s soccer team treated unfairly

I have long thought that the strident demands for equal pay for women, and the data cited in support of them, are often based on apples-to-oranges comparisons. I generally posit that the inequities might not be as extreme or universal as many advocates claim.

But now we are faced with a compelling example of pay inequity, in the form of shamefully disparate treatment of the U.S. men’s and women’s soccer teams.

Since the inception of the women’s international soccer competition, both the U.S. Soccer Federation and FIFA, the international governing body, have disproportionately supported the men’s team, to the significant detriment of the women. The theory is that men’s soccer is more popular and produces more revenue than women’s soccer, thus creating a market-forces justification for the inequity.

But today, paraphrasing the immortal words from the movie “My Cousin Vinny,” that case just doesn’t hold water.

The women’s team has won eight World Cups since its inception, the last two back to back. It has won four Olympic gold medals. It is nothing less than a juggernaut. Our men’s team, bless their hearts, is talented but didn’t even qualify for the 2018 men’s competition.

According to audited financial statements from the USSF, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, women’s soccer generated $1.9 million more in revenue than men’s soccer in 2016. And from 2016-2018, women’s soccer generated $50.8 million in revenue, vs. men’s soccer’s $49.9 million.

Nonetheless, according to the lawsuit filed by members of the women’s team against USSF earlier this year, representatives of the USSF continued to maintain in 2016 that “market realities are such that the women do not deserve to be paid equally to the men,” even after conceding that the women’s team outperformed the men in both revenue and profit in 2015.

More recently, according to The New York Times, the women turned a profit of $6.6 million in 2018, while the men achieved under $2 million. The USSF has projected a profit of over $5 million for the women’s team this year, vs. an anticipated loss for the men’s team of $1 million.

Further, in this case, the men and women in question actually do have identical job requirements. They are held to the same rules of competition, conditions of play, length of each match, size of field, and requirements off the field. They work just as hard, and sometimes harder (more games, more training, more time traveling and in media sessions), than the men, at the exact same job.

But the support from their governing bodies is pitifully lacking; and pay is just a part of that. They have been forced to play on inferior, artificial surfaces; fly commercial while the men fly charter; and tolerate inferior training conditions.

Finally, their pay, by any measure, is lower than the men’s. By one measure, they make 38% of what the men make. According to the lawsuit, in 2014, the USSF paid the men performance bonuses totaling $5.4 million for losing in the round of 16, but in 2015 paid the women bonuses of only $1.7 million for winning the entire tournament.

FIFA’s president has now proposed doubling the World Cup prize money to $60 million. But the men’s 2018 prize money total was $400 million.

The predictable reaction of some is to call for legislation. But a true solution would require a cultural change that would value truly equal contributions equally and support them equitably. Is that so hard?•


Daniels, a partner at Krieg DeVault LLP, is a former U.S. attorney, assistant U.S. attorney general, and president of the Sagamore Institute. Send comments to

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One thought on “Deborah Daniels: U.S. women’s soccer team treated unfairly

  1. The facts of your article make me sick to my stomach, Deborah. I’ve been working on equal pay issues (as have many others) since the 1970s. I share your thinking about how difficult it is to really measure in general Equal Pay for Equal Work, but never has measurement been more clear and denial more obscene. The U.S. Soccer Federation and FIFA should be ashamed of themselves for lying about the value of each team. If it wasn’t lying, would they say they were negligent in their fiduciary duties to understand the facts of their financial statements?

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