U.S. Soccer, USWNT, USMNT agree to historic equal pay deals

·9 min read

The U.S. Soccer Federation and its men's and women's national teams agreed to side-by-side collective bargaining agreements that will equalize pay and vindicate the women in their years-long battle with the federation over inequities.

The two deals, which run through 2028, will pay men's and women's players on "identical" terms, the federation and the two players unions announced Wednesday. They will also equalize World Cup prize money, clearing a major barrier that had perpetuated inequality and still does elsewhere around the globe.

And whereas previous labor agreements positioned the USMNT and USWNT as competitors for finite resources, the new agreements position the men and women as partners on a joint mission: to raise soccer's profile in the United States, and capitalize financially as they do.

The deals come three months after dozens of women's players and U.S. Soccer settled a gender discrimination lawsuit that had strained the relationship between the federation and its most successful team. The settlement netted the women $24 million, and came with a promise of equal pay.

The CBAs are a realization of that promise, a critical step toward final approval of the settlement, and a landmark resolution to a contentious fight that officially began in 2016, but that has weighed on the USWNT throughout its existence.

U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone, a former USWNT player herself, called it "a truly historic moment."

Becky Sauerbrunn, a USWNT defender and president of their players' association, called it "a testament to the incredible efforts of WNT players on and off the field.”

Tyler Adams, a USMNT midfielder, said he was "extremely proud." Walker Zimmerman, a USMNT defender and players' association leader, acknowledged that, for the men, "there was a potential chance of making less money. No doubt about it. But we also believe so much in the women's team, we believe in the whole premise of equal pay. And ultimately, that was a big driving force for us."

ST. PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 26: Megan Rapinoe #15 of the United States celebrates after scoring a goal during a game against Korea Republic at Allianz Field on October 26, 2021 in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
Megan Rapinoe was one of several USWNT players at the forefront of the fight for equal pay. (Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Details of equal pay CBAs

The new CBAs — the result of joint bargaining sessions involving the two players' associations that began last year — include pledges to pay and treat men's and women's players identically for national team appearances and performance.

For the women, they represent a significant departure from previous contracts. Top women's players had been paid guaranteed salaries by U.S. Soccer that covered their work both for the national team and in the National Women's Soccer League. With NWSL salaries now paid directly by NWSL clubs, the new USWNT structure will be pay-for-play — as it has been on the men's side for years.

But crucially, the pay will be identical. In the past, the men — supported by robust salaries from their professional clubs, and therefore without the need for guaranteed pay from U.S. Soccer — earned significantly more than the women per appearance and per win. Now, players will earn $8,000 per exhibition and $10,000 per competitive match if they are invited to training camp, regardless of gender.

They'll then earn bonuses for wins and draws — up to $14,000 per win, depending on the stakes or strength of opponent — if they are on the 18- or 23-player gameday roster.

(U.S. Soccer)
(U.S. Soccer)
(U.S. Soccer)
(U.S. Soccer)

The men's and women's teams also agreed to share World Cup prize money, bridging a gap that FIFA, soccer's global governing body, has refused to close. FIFA rewarded men's teams at the 2018 World Cup with a total of $400 million based on their performance. The winner, France, received $38 million. The entire pot at the 2019 Women's World Cup was $30 million. The USWNT received $4 million for winning.

In the landmark U.S. Soccer agreement, the three parties will pool all prize money they earn from the 2022 and 2023 World Cups, and distribute 90% of it equally among the men's and women's teams. The federation will keep the other 10%. In 2026 and 2027, those shares will be 80% and 20%.

A similar model will apply to non-World Cup competitions where men's and women's equivalents exist. Prize money from men's and women's Gold Cups, the North and Central American regional championships, for example, will be split evenly between the men (35%), the women (35%) and the federation (30%). For tournaments with no women's equivalent, however, such as the CONCACAF Nations League or a potential stateside Copa America, all 70% of the players' share will go to the men.

The revenue sharing will extend to other federation income. U.S. Soccer agreed to pay the men and the women each 10% of any broadcast and commercial revenue beyond the first $55 million that the federation earns in a calendar year, and 15% of any revenue beyond the first $75 million. It also will pay players a little more than $5 for each ticket sold at U.S. Soccer-controlled games, and 10% of the average ticket price for any sellouts.

Equal pay, equal working conditions

The CBAs also address non-monetary aspects of the USWNT's gender discrimination complaint. U.S. Soccer agreed to provide:

  • "Equal quality of venues and field playing surfaces."

  • "Equal resources ... with respect to hotel accommodations for all U.S. senior national team matches and camps. On a per-night, per-room basis, U.S. Soccer will maintain comparable budgets for the USWNT and USMNT for each fiscal year for hotel accommodations for matches and camps.

  • "A world-class training environment by ensuring that senior national teams’ camps are fully staffed by the experienced personnel needed to provide players with training, recovery and rehabilitation."

  • Equitable staffing at national team camps.

  • "An equal number of charter flights ... for team travel to official competitions, tournaments, and friendlies."

  • "Important protections to prevent harassment and other improper conduct. The protections include player input into how they are treated and mirror best-in-class sporting medical and other treatment environments around the world. They also adopt prophylactic rules to protect the privacy and dignity of senior national team players, including the ability to report anonymously and via text."

  • Childcare during national team camps. U.S. Soccer has done this for the women's national team since the 1990s. It will now offer similar benefits to men's players who wish to bring their kids to camp.

The money, though, was always the major point of contention. It was the focus of public rhetoric when the USWNT first filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2016, and when it filed the lawsuit in 2019. "Equal pay" became a rallying cry among both players and fans as the team stormed through the 2019 World Cup, to its second straight title.

And the money is what makes these CBAs notable. They will position both sets of players among the most well-compensated national team players in the world. The men, who had been playing under the terms of a CBA that expired in 2018, will make more per game than they had in the past, and more than their counterparts on superior men's teams around the world.

Some in American soccer have criticized that compensation, arguing that the lucrative sums should instead trickle down to support a fractured youth soccer landscape. Most male players already earn six- or seven-figure salaries from their clubs. That money would, dollar for dollar, be far more impactful at lower levels of the sport.

But throughout negotiations, all involved knew that there would be a hefty price tag on equality and labor peace. Cone, who spearheaded the negotiations for the federation, also saw financial benefits. The deal, she hinted, would create more "commercial and sponsorship opportunities," after the bitter and expensive legal fight had tarnished U.S. Soccer's brand for years.

"And that will allow us to continue to reinvest money back into the growth of our game, across the entire soccer ecosystem," she said." So, yes, this is a lot of money. But I think it also is a real positive, and will help us grow the pie so there is more for everyone."

'Difficult conversations' and 'roller coaster' negotiations

Cone and the players also saw an opportunity to make history. Some soccer federations in Europe and elsewhere have in recent years pledged to pay their men's and women's teams equitably game-by-game, or distribute equal proportions of the unequal FIFA prize money. But none had ever jointly addressed the World Cup prize money disparity by pooling winnings.

The men initially balked at that idea, but Cone, privately and then publicly, made it a non-negotiable. "We saw that there was not going to be a way forward to a deal without equalization of World Cup prize money," Zimmerman said Wednesday. Months after negotiations on a separate men's CBA broke down last summer, the executive director of their players association, attorney Mark Levinstein, began sitting in on USWNT bargaining sessions.

Men's players finally came to the table earlier this year. "For me," Cone said, "the turning point was when we actually got everyone in the same room together." The negotiations, she said, were a "roller coaster ride." Zimmerman said they featured "a lot of listening, a lot of learning," and "difficult conversations." They ended earlier this week in what Cone described as a "good place," with "an agreement where everyone's a little bit uncomfortable and everyone's a little bit happy."

And proud. "So proud," Cone said. As a member of the 1999 World Cup-winning USWNT, she'd been on the ground floor of the players' association, which was certified the following year. On Wednesday, group texts from her former teammates, the "99ers," celebrated this culmination of a decades-long push for progress.

"I have been in this for over 20 years, fighting for equal pay," Cone said. "It's just such a proud moment to actually be a leader in this, to be the first to do it."

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