The Beautiful Game & One Ugly Pay Gap

Photo by Jeffrey F. Lin on Unsplash. Warm up at the Maryland SoccerPlex.

Since the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team rolled past the trash-talking Swedes earlier this week, there has been a lot of talk about why the defending 2015 World Cup champs are suing their boss, the U.S. Soccer Federation, for “institutionalized gender discrimination.”

This week National Public Radio hosted a segment on the inequities between the discrepancies in financial support given to the U.S. women and men’s teams. Men from Grand Rapids, Michigan and Topeka, Kansas extolled the sheer physicality, athleticism, stamina, and grace their fellow female players exhibited on the field, with the good caller from Topeka arguing that women players should probably be paid more. This advocacy from a city so named by the Kansa-Osage tribes as “a good place to dig potatoes” may come as a surprise to those who often dismiss the Midwest as the antithesis of progressive thought.

However, for me and many others, the caller from Topeka simply reinforces why the USWNT has brought in over a million more dollars than the men’s team since they won the World Cup in 2015. A fact that makes the oft-repeated argument against equal pay for professional athletes, regardless of gender, “Well, the men bring in more money…” just plain wrong.

Experts have pointed out that the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team has brought in $51 million while the U.S. Men’s National Soccer team has generated around $50 million according to U.S. Soccer’s own records. Despite earning the Federation a cool million more, women’s salaries and the salaries of their coaches, nutritionists, doctors; the number of games they play; and even the artificial turf women players often have to play on are unequal.

The antiquated and long-held sexist belief that women’s sports will always be in a “league of their own” is beginning to be overthrown by the trailblazing work of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team. While this issue of resource deprivation is something that happens to female professional athletes across almost every sport, it is heartening to see a team united in pushing back against U.S. Soccer’s problematic divvying up of financial support and investment.

Imagine what investing fully in all of U.S. Soccer’s players would do for our stellar women’s soccer program. Imagine what it would mean for the millions of girls in our country to see that athletes who identify as women are treated with the same institutional support and respect as their male counterparts. Imagine how many phenomenal soccer players there are in our country who go unnoticed because the financial incentives to play the sport early on are just not there.

It reminds me of the story of England’s Lucy Bronze, who, according to the LA Times, was making pizzas at Domino’s and sleeping on friends’ couches before England’s Women’s Super League took flight. Nowadays, Bronze is able to make an actual career of the beautiful game and is regarded as one of the best soccer players in the world.

Imagine a game that could be made that much more beautiful if more national soccer programs invested fully and completely in the women who were once banned from playing the sport.

American businesses know the score. U.S. Soccer will be smart to heed commerce’s conclusion that women’s sports are lucrative and influential. LUNA nutrition bars agreed to pay $31,250 to each female player in the World Cup roster to make up for the pay gap between what U.S. Soccer pays its male players ($55,000 bonuses) versus its female players ($15,000 bonuses) for clinching a World Cup berth. Visa also recently announced a new five-year deal to sponsor the U.S. Women’s team through 2023.

Investing in female players and the U.S. Soccer Team is not just philanthropic or altruistic thinking. For Visa and many other businesses, investing in women is just smart business. American women’s purchasing power ranges from $5 to $15 trillion annually and we control over 60 percent of all personal wealth in the United States.

To not invest in women, athletes or otherwise, is to miss out on an incredibly powerful market share.