Great Women’s World Cup. The U.S. won for the second time in a row, and I got to see one of the matches, the 2-0 win against Sweden in Le Havre that closed the group stage.
But more on that later. Clearly the story of the WWC was money. The women’s team is headed into mediation with the U.S. Soccer Federation over pay equity issues, and FIFA, the international organization that runs both the men’s and women’s tournaments (and has $2.75 billion in the bank, was roundly criticized for offering $30 million in prize money to the women and $440 to the men.
It’s not clear at this point what will change, but it’s definitely clear that the issue moved to the forefront in a way it has not before. And it’s good to wrangle about these things. Keeps people thinking.
Here are some thoughts:
• First, it probably will be easier to move the U.S. federation than FIFA which, if you recall, made a decision a few years back to put the men's tournament in Qatar. In the summer. Yes, they changed their minds, but ... One immediate fix is for the USSF to ignore the source of FIFA’s World Cup bonus funds.
If FIFA gives the USSF $5 million for the men and $2 million for the women … that doesn’t mean that it has to be allocated that way. If you (the U.S. women) win the World Cup you should get more than those who never do (the U.S. men). The federation always has had the power to address that. To date it has not done so.
• Second, any solution to the pay equity issue has to be a strategic one. To ensure that the U.S. women’s program stays at a high level (and Europe is clearly gaining) it is imperative that the National Women’s Soccer League, the third such league since the 1999 WWC win, not just survive, but thrive. Perhaps in those mediation talks the women should give up some of their salary demands in favor of pouring more federation money into the NWSL. Coaching assistance. Marketing assistance. Even facilities assistance.
One of the keys to the success of Major League Soccer, which averages 22,000 per club in attendance, is the plethora of new stadiums that have been built for MLS clubs. NWSL is averaging around 6,000 per match. The federation already helps out by paying the NWSL salaries of national team members. It needs to do more.
And speaking of facilities, anything the federation does for the men, it should do for the women in equal measure. Training facilities, medical staff, nutrition and fitness. All of it. That's just a no-brainer.
• Third is the issue of “equal pay for equal work.” No one seems to be torqued that NBA players make far more than WNBA players. And they shouldn’t because the revenue disparity is gigantic. Tennis is the best example of equity. One thing driving that is that men and women play together in the four majors. It’s easy to do comparisons. And if the revenue and ratings show that the women bring in more bucks … I say pay them more.
Then there is golf. The major events are conducted separately. The PGA money leader Brooks Koepka has reeled in about five times as much prize money as the top LPGA player, Jeonguen Lee6, $7.3 million to $1.5 million. Again, no one seems torqued by this.
Looking at revenue
Revenue figures for the USSF are hard to come by, and with marketing and TV money “bundled” and not broken down by gender it makes it difficult to determine whether the men or women are bringing in the most loot. Which makes this piece of the puzzle the stickiest.
The best analysis I have seen is the “Fact Checker Analysis” by Meg Kelly of the Washington Post. She reports that from fiscal 2016 on the women have brought in $1.9 million more than the men. But she quotes the USSF as saying that if you take the scenario back to fiscal 2015, which includes the men's team participation in Brazil … the men are ahead by $10.8 million.
Kelly’s analysis quotes Michael McCann, a Sports Illustrated writer and University of New Hampshire law professor, as saying: “USWNT players and U.S. Soccer have offered contradictory narratives over whether USWNT players are paid more based on revenue generation attributed to their play. To the extent degree of revenue generation influences any pay increases, the two sides will need to find common ground on how that topic is empirically measured.”
It’s interesting to note that on July 7, the date of the women’s final the U.S. men played Mexico in the Gold Cup in Chicago. And drew 4,000 more fans than were in Lyon for the US win vs. the Dutch.
Yes, the stadium in Lyon was sold out, something that didn’t occur for the semifinals at the same venue. And it’s also interesting to note that the WWC did not use the Stade de France, the national stadium, because they could not hope to fill its 80,000 seats.
The 2019 Women’s World Cup drew an average of 21,756 fans for its 52 matches. The 2018 men’s tournament in Russia averaged 47,371. And the tickets are pricier for the men as well. We paid $30 a ticket for the USA-Sweden group stage match, one third of what I paid to see the USA men play Ecuador in the Copa de America quarterfinals in Seattle in 2016 (47,000 plus were on hand).
Group stage tickets for the 2014 men’s tournament in Brazil were $150 apiece.
Translation: I am skeptical that the women are bringing in more revenue than the men. If they are then pay them more. But, again, let's do it strategically. The women have won 12 consecutive World Cup matches. The men have won five WC matches since 1990, when they "rejoined" the final tournament group for the first time since 1950. Just as I would argue that funding that improves the NWSL will pay dividends for the USWNT there might be ways to divide the pie that will lead to more men's success in the WC. Unsolicited advice: Don't do it by giving $30 million to an aging star such as David Beckham. Imagine what could have been done with American player development with $30 million.
Inside the tournament
Enough about money … how about the games? Very impressed with the USA squad. They ran that table against five Euro teams in a row down the stretch, winning all five and scoring two goals in all of them. Their defense ranged from solid to spectacular, particularly in the quarterfinals against France. Their defensive shape in that match was phenomenal.
They had great finishers — Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd. But they will need to find more front-runners. Morgan, 30, is the youngest of that foursome, with Rapinoe 34 and Lloyd 37.
Their marvelous midfield of Sam Mewis, Julie Ertz, Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle ranges in age from 24 (Lavelle) to 27 (Ertz) and clearly will be around for awhile. Perhaps Lavelle should be moved forward.
Defenders Becky Sauerbrunn and Allie Krieger, both 34, likely have played their final WWCs, but Abby Dahlkemper, 26, and Crystal Dunn, 27, will be back. We'll see when it comes to Kelly O’Hara, the steady right back, who will be 34 in the next tournament. Alyssa Naeher, 31, is solid in goal.
And there is no next year in the World Cup. Next year is four years away. A lot can change by then, but coach Jill Ellis, assuming she returns for a third go-round, has a lot of excellent pieces to work with.
And the US will need to keep getting better because Europe is getting better. Seven of the eight quarterfinalists were from UEFA. European men’s clubs are pouring money into the women’s programs, as Maggie Mertens pointed out in a July 7 Atlantic.com piece. Mertens also saw the trend first-hand when researching an earlier Howler magazine piece on the Euro club experiences of Dunn and former national team member Heather O’Reilly.
Full disclosure: Mertens is my daughter-in-law … and she knows her soccer.
Two more women’s equity issues. There were security checks when our group of seven entered the Stade Oceane in Le Havre. There were eight lines, four for women and four for men. But because the women were carrying more bags, which were searched, their line went slower. The men breezed right through, while the women waited in line. And waited. It was stupid. Use 2 lines for men and 6 for women.
Inside the stadium we found the same problems. I visited the men’s room before leaving and was in and out in two minutes. My wife stood in line for 15 minutes. Build more restrooms for the women! How dumb can you be?