To Grow the Game, U.S. Women's National Soccer Team Must Look at Bigger Picture

05/03/2020

With the Judge's ruling on Friday, May 1st, the United States Women's National Team's fight for their perceived pay gap effectively ended. There will be appeals, but it is much more likely that an appellate judge or court will rule in favor of the USSF. Last summer, in the aftermath of yet another dominant World Cup performance, we highlighted what we thought was a misguided fight for equal pay. The Women's pay structure was better than their male counterparts, highlighted by the fact that when offered an identical deal, the team turned it down.

The players have vowed to continue their fight, but that would only make their efforts look more disingenuous. Their fight for equal pay would only increase the bonuses of the 23 women on the national team, leaving out the hundreds of other young American women who could play the game professionally but receive little compensation.

Their efforts would be far better off directed at the NWSL and improving the level of pay in the country's highest professional league.

The NWSL holds the key to the next phase of growth for women's soccer both internationally and domestically. The league has the potential to be the light bearer for the women's game around the world. There's no doubt that the United States has the highest level of women's soccer in the world. Evident by four trophies, three straight final appearances, and a top-4 finish in all eight world cups to date. That type of dominance means the United States is at the center of women's soccer around the world. With that dominance lies an opportunity to have the NWSL become the go-to league for the best players in the world.

With the 2019 world cup success, the players could have parleyed the attention that came with it into a new and more prestigious TV deal for the NWSL. TV and sponsorship deals are the catalysts that have driven the incredible boom in what athletes earn in 2020 as opposed to decades past. Sure, attendance plays a role, but it is a minor role. Fewer people attend games now than they did in the decades past across all sports as more people settle for an opportunity to watch and stream games from home.

The more lucrative a TV deal, then the more money the league earns, the more money the league earns, then the more they can increase the salary of individual players.

The reason the average Premier League player earns around 4 million dollars a year, as opposed to 31 thousand dollars a year in 1985, is not because 4 million dollars worth of people are going to games now. It is because the Premier League currently earns 12 billion a year just in TV Deals.

In the aftermath of the 2019 World Cup success, the world's attention was on the women's national team. A group of players that proved for the second straight tournament that they were indeed the most dominant in the world. They brought pride to Americans of all kinds and brought the attention of the world to women's soccer in the United States.

That attention was a real opportunity to make a real impact on improving women's soccer around the world. Instead, the players sought out a futile battle for compensation that had no standing in legal proceedings.

What the players could have done is directed that attention towards the NWSL, a league that is in desperate need of growth and opportunity. 

  • A league where the current maximum salary is only 50k a year, meaning the majority of elite college players would benefit more by seeking out a financial opportunity with their college degrees as opposed to playing professional soccer. 
  • A league where only a few of the 9 teams generate a profit, making it less likely that investors will want to join.

The World Cup tour was a real opportunity to financially grow the game, not just for themselves, but for the other players who may never play for the National team. 

But this opportunity was placed in the background. After all, the USSF already guaranteed an additional 100k in salary to any national team player playing in the NWSL. Already taken care of in that regard, the players sought more in National team bonuses, ignoring the non-National Team NWSL athletes who are making next to nothing.

Yet the issue was framed as an attempt to address the working pay gap, and politicians and social media ran off with it before analyzing the situation.

I do not doubt that their efforts were genuine in wanting to increase the condition of women's soccer, but making it a pay gap issue was not the way to do that. There was never a pay gap. The focus should have been on generating new TV and sponsorship deals for the NWSL as a way to increase the salary of individual players and the importance of the league.

If the players on the national team care about the growth of women's soccer, which I am sure they do, then their efforts should not be focused on bonuses. They would make concerted efforts to improve the compensation of the hundreds of women that are playing the game professionally but may never play for the national team. The NWSL could then become the beacon for women's club soccer, attracting the best players in the world to the United States for the best financial compensation and the best competition whether they play for the national team or not.

The focus of the Women's National Team should be a long term solution that takes care of the many as opposed to a short term solution benefiting the 23 women on the team.

Fortunately, it isn't too late, and the national team is still as dominant and ever. The attention that comes with that dominance needs to be directed towards the NWSL and growing it into the best women's professional soccer league in the world. With that growth will come more investors, sponsorships, and TV deals that assure the players can generate the revenue that their play deserves. 

Then and only then will the condition of women's soccer improve internationally and domestically.  


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