Episode 63: How to Score Equal Pay in Soccer
PBS Newshour Announcer: Today, in a stunning move on Internationl Women’s Day, all 28 members of the team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation.
CLIP: Equal pay chants from World Cup
Cristen and Caroline: Equal pay! Equal pay! Equal pay! [sound of crowd cheering]
Cristen: USA wins! USA wins! Hey y’all, and welcome to Unladylike, where we find out what happens when women break the rules. I’m Cristen.
Caroline: I’m Caroline, and that was the sound of soccer's equal pay chants heard 'round the world when the US Women's National Team won the Women's World Cup in July.
Soccer announcer: For the fourth time, the United States of America are crown champtions of the world, and for the very first time, they’ve done it on European soil
Cristen: Caroline, I grew up in a soccer fam — my brother is a FIFA referee, no big deal — and it was electrifying to watch Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Rose Lavelle and the rest of the team not simply win, but win with so much pressure on to prove their worth on the field
Caroline: Yes! Because off the field, the US Women’s National Team was — and still is — suing their VERY powerful employer
Cristen: Yeah, they’ve been busy!
Caroline: OK, so to recap: On March 8, the US Women's National team announced they're suing the US Soccer Federation — aka US Soccer — because — and we're quoting from the lawsuit — "the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts ... And [US Soccer] has stubbornly refused to treat its female employees [...] equally to its male employees [...]" — end quote
Cristen: Shots fired! [Law and Order sound effect]
Caroline: I know right? And US Soccer fired right back in their legal response to the lawsuit — quote — “ladies, ladies, ladiessss…” — just kidding, just kidding — “the [US women’s national team] and [US men’s national team] receive fundamentally different pay structures for performing different work under their separate collective bargaining agreements that require different obligations and responsibilities.”
Cristen: In other words, the women’s team is saying hey, we deserve the same pay and treatment as the men’s national team, and US Soccer is saying no, this isn’t gender discrimination, the men’s and women’s national teams are just different … hokayyyy ... So Caroline, the lawsuit dropped in March, the women bagged their World Cup in July ... what has happened since?
Caroline: More drama! The women’s team and US Soccer initially tried to settle their differences outside of court through mediation — but the talks failed, and as of this recording, a trial is set for May 2020.
Cristen: Set your Google cal reminders, people!
Caroline: That’s right. In the meantime, the women’s team is just now wrapping up their post-World Cup victory tour — and to “celebrate,” we’re gonna unpack all the claptrap of women’s soccer’s equal pay problem.
Cristen: Yes! I have been so pumped to talk about this because Caroline, these MVPs aren’t just phenomenal athletes and Instagram goddesses. Once I started taking a closer look at the lawsuit and the steps the players had to take just to bring it, I had a very “Stars — they’re just like US!” kind of moment. Because best-in-the-world-soccer-playing aside, the women’s team members are also female employees in a male-dominated workplace navigating very familiar-sounding institutional sexism.
Caroline: Exactly! So today, we’re exploring the sexist double standards that led to the lawsuit, why US Soccer says the women’s team doth protest too much, and how the law allows employers to essentially gaslight their way out of closing gender wage gaps.
Cristen: Now, to wrap our heads around all of this stuff, no, we did not talk to Megan Rapinoe herself — but we did talk to a reporter who’s talked to her and a bunch of other soccer A-listers lolol.
Caroline: Plus, we’ve got a legal translator on deck from the National Women’s Law Center to help us understand what’s at stake in this case and how US Soccer is defending itself.
Cristen: It’s all to find out: What is the US Women’s National Team fighting for, and what does equal pay for equal work really mean?
Caroline: OK, pop quiz: how many full-time soccer reporters are there in the US?
Meg: Ooh. Just in terms of overall soccer or women's soccer or…?.
Cristen: Women's soccer.
Cristen: This is - this is - this is kind of a trick question.
Meg: I know, it's one. Because it's me. [Laughter]
Cristen: That’s Meg Linehan, and yes, she’s America’s one and only full-time women’s soccer reporter. She writes for The Athletic and The Atlantic, where she covers the U.S. women’s national team and the National Women’s Soccer League.
Caroline: In other words, Meg knows all the dirt about how the Big Soccer machine works. And this summer, she had a front-row seat to the World Cup action in Paris, as well as the frenemy-ship between the USWNT and US Soccer that was on full display stateside in July during the team’s victory parade.
Meg: I remember being at city hall like, U.S. women's national team has just gone through the Canyon of Heroe,s down the streets of New York City, ticker tape parade, you name it they're like Bill de Blasio is starting equal pay chants himself during the actual like event.
Cristen: And then, a guy named Carlos Cordero rolls up to the mic in a suit and tie and looking visibly uncomfortable — or maybe it’s just that the women’s team looked so fucking cool up on stage behind him in their sunglasses and matching T-shirts … I don’t know. Anyway. Cordero is the President of US Soccer — as in the very employer that the players are suing for gender discrimination.
Meg: And I remember turning to a photographer next to me and just being like he could end this right now and look like a hero, and everything would be forgotten. The team would forget it because you could actually work together to build and grow women's soccer. All he has to say is, “We have heard you and we will make it work.” He doesn't even have to say anything specific. And it's not it's not what happened. And instead they're digging their heels in, and it's still like no one really understands why.
Caroline: Right. So at that parade, Cordero starts to give this very like PR-friendly speech about how proud US Soccer is of the women’s team blah blah blah, and then he says, “Today on behalf of US Soccer, I want to say, we hear you, we believe in you, and we’re committed to doing right by you”
Cristen: Sounding good so far
Caroline: Yeah but then, Cordero totally sidesteps.
Carlos: And that is why, that is why over the years US Soccer has invested more in women’s soccer than any country in the world. [Cheers and yelling] And we will - and we will continue to invest [equal pay chants from crowd]
Caroline: And the primary defense that US Soccer continues to dig in its heels on is what Cordero pivoted to in that speech: that since US Soccer invests more in women’s soccer than any other country in the world, that should be enough. Which totally dismisses the equal pay and treatment within the US Soccer organization that the women’s team is demanding!
Cristen: OK, so, how did we get here?
Caroline: Well, even though the equal pay fight has reached a fever pitch now, Meg says that tensions between the US Women’s National Team and US Soccer have been growing for the past TWENTY YEARS
Cristen: Yeah, our story really starts around the same time Meg fell in love with soccer herself
Meg: the 99 World Cup was like the moment
Caroline: Fans packed into sold out stadiums to watch that Women’s World Cup, and the final match was US vs. China
Cristen: Neither team scores, and the game goes into overtime. Then, into penalty kicks. The entire thing comes down to one final kick. And Brandi Chastain is up.
CLIP: Brandi Chastain kicking the ball and crowd cheers
Cristen: Chastain collapses to the ground, rips off her jersey in excitement — and everyone is like oh my God we’ve never seen a woman strip down to her sports bra like that wowowowwww! That kick, and that entire World Cup series, really put women’s soccer on the map and turned the players — and Brandi Chastain’s sports bra — into bonafide celebrities.
Caroline: That’s right. And Meg summed up the history of women’s pro soccer in the US as up and down, and 1999 was a major wave that also brought the first women’s professional soccer league, the WUSA. But it only survived three years.
Cristen: Yeah, like many pro women’s sports, Meg says soccer has struggled to maintain fan and financial momentum in between big World Cup wins — of which they now have 4 — on top of winning 4 Olympic gold medals and remaining the number-one women’s soccer team in the world for 10 out of the last 11 years.
Caroline: No big deal. Even more importantly, though, the players have struggled just to get paid a living wage.
Cristen: Yeah, in the wake of that 1999 World Cup win, for instance, the team threatened to boycott the 2000 Olympics after US Soccer only offered them short-term contracts worth LESS THAN $7,000 per player.
Meg: In the first wave in 99 like they really had to fight. And I don't think that equal pay was even on the table for them back then it was simply like a matter of like a getting paid and getting the support that the team needed. So it hasn't been like a super loud issue until you know the last basically three or four years over this past cycle. But, pretty much every single version of this team has definitely tried to fight for more whether it's payment, better treatment, you name it from the Federation itself.
Cristen: Oh, and here’s some sports trivia, Caroline. To get an idea of just how much the USWNT has had to fight for any payment … for the first five years of its existence, leading up to the first-ever Women’s World Cup in 1991, the only money those early players like Mia Hamm earned was a $10 per diem when traveling.
Caroline: Uh, that’s not enough to buy, like, a sandwich. I don’t even know how you’re supposed to live on that.
Cristen: I know! Now as for our current lawsuit, things really got rolling in April 2016. That’s when five players — Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn — filed a wage-discrimination complaint against US Soccer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They’d just come off another World Cup win and were like hey will you pay us enough already?
Caroline: Then, this February, the EEOC said sure yeah, we can’t settle this ourselves, so y’all have the green light to sue. And that bring us to March when all 28 team members filed a gender discrimination lawsuit under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII.
Cristen: So the US Women’s National Team is effectively suing its employer because US Soccer runs the women’s national team in every way, really. From hiring, training, promoting and paying the team to scheduling games and setting ticket prices — US Soccer calls pretty much all of the shots.
Caroline: In the team’s argument against US Soccer they say listen, we play better and more often, but for less pay and under less favorable conditions than the men.
Cristen: And we’re gonna dig more into what they mean by those less favorable conditions a little later. The important thing to know now is that the players’ lawsuit is taking a two-pronged approach: unequal pay and unequal treatment.
Caroline: Right. So, first, let's wrap our heads around the equal pay side of their allegations.
Cristen: So as far as determining the wage gap for the current lawsuit, it seems like it should be straightforward. Like, the men’s and women’s teams are playing the exact same game and are expected to perform the same athletic duties, so they should be paid the same, right?
Caroline: Uh, US Soccer says, You wrong, Cristen, and actually they argue the exact opposite. Yes, I just well-actually-ed you on behalf of US Soccer.
Cristen: Hey that’s OK, that’s OK.
Caroline: They’re saying it’s impossible to compare the men’s and women’s teams because they’re totally separate units.
Cristen: Honestly like reading the the Federation's response to the lawsuit, it reads like a masterclass in gaslighting because I mean it literally states like, there are no male counterparts right to the women's national players. I'm just gonna read another quote just get your hot take on this. So in their response they state quote that “the teams face different quantities and qualities of international competition and no comparison can be made between their respective performance and compensation in such vastly separate spheres,” which to me just sounds like US Soccer being kinda shady.
Meg: Yeah. Yeah. And I think like they're getting punished for being so good. Right. Like they're saying like oh, the men have to play these really tough opponents like it's so hard for them like oh my gosh like they have to fight for every single thing like it's such a huge deal. And then for the women again like it really is this sort of sense of because of the success of the Women's National Team, we can't even compare you to the men. I mean you just fundamentally look at it and it's like are you playing soccer for U.S. soccer. OK you're doing the same job, done. And then you look at the men's national team and they are not that good. And they didn't even qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Cristen: Buuuut, as far as how US Soccer compensates each team, you’d almost think the women were playing an entirely different sport.
Meg: The men's national team, the women's national team are both essentially under the same umbrella of U.S. soccer, but the men's contracts are arranged differently, like they have a completely different payment structure than the women.
Caroline: OK, y'all, now, this is where the whole pay discrimination issue gets a LOT more complicated than just chanting equal pay.
Cristen: Right because first of all, the men's and women's teams negotiate their respective compensation packages from US Soccer through their own, separate players' unions, and the exact details of those collective bargaining agreements are supposed to be kept confidential.
Caroline: Yep, the key thing to know though is that, according to their current player union negotiations, the guys are only paid if they show up and play, and that’s a pay-for-play model.
Meg: They get paid basically by appearance. So when they actually get called into the national team, they get a fee. When they play they get a fee, when they win, they get a match bonus. That’s how they get paid.
Cristen: The women, meanwhile, earn a flat base salary and also receive benefits like healthcare, maternity leave and adoption benefits.
Caroline: Because each team is operating under a different pay model, it is super hard to put an exact price-tag on the actual pay gap. BUT The Washington Post crunched numbers based on the players’ current union contracts, and they calculated that a women’s team player earns about 11% less than a men’s player at the same level
Meg: So this is where a lot of the tension has been when you get into these conversations of equal pay because right at the moment, you can't really actually say like we would like equal pay because the structure is so different. And in theory, the women have asked for that same structure, like they've been willing to say, OK we would like to get paid like the men. And we're gonna give up some of this security that we have because in theory if you are a top player you could make a lot of money that way.
Cristen: And here’s where things get even more twisted with how US Soccer is defending itself. So they’re basically claiming that since women earn that base salary, while the men are pay for play, US Soccer is all like, the women are getting paid MORE, y’all, which is super misleading
Caroline: Yeah it is! Because it doesn’t take into account that men earn so much more from game bonuses, their Major League Soccer teams and World Cup appearances
Meg: The men are rewarded when they play like these top teams and they win because it's a huge upset for them. And it's a point of growth in their actual like talent development. The women on the other hand are just kind of maintaining and and protecting their legacy, and they are almost actually punished for being so good simply because there is no like higher ceiling for them to climb — like yes they can continue to beat top teams but they don't have to like fight to prove their worth. They have already proven it.
Cristen: Yeah, the men’s national team players actually earn $5,000 bonuses from US Soccer if they lose friendly matches.
Caroline: Yeah meanwhile, because the women win so much, they then end up playing more games as they advance. And that’s not just counting the World Cup victory matches. According to the team’s lawsuit, “from 2015 to 2018, the WNT played 19 more games than the men’s team over that same period of time.”
Cristen: Equal Pay for More work just does not have the same ring to it, Caroline!
Caroline: Uh, no it does not! Uh, this ongoing fight for equal pay and treatment also highlights this double-standard that female pro players are side-eyed for demanding more money instead of just doinh it for the love of the game
Cristen: At least they’re earning more than their $10 per diem. Or as US Soccer President Carlos Cordero might argue, since the US Women’s National Team is funded better than women’s teams in other countries, then that should be enough, ladies!
Meg: when we talk about women athletes we expect them to be like these happy little role models right. It does not fit in our like general societal expectations of women athletes which is like role model first, they play for the love of the game, they don't play to get paid, like all of this sort of like gross patriarchy stuff that's kind of baked into women's sports at this point in time.
Caroline: Yeah. How much is that concept sort of muddying the waters around the lawsuit like and the perception of the players who were asking for equal pay.
Meg: Right, yeah. It's - it's a huge part of it. I mean we've even seen some coaches in the in the NWSL get kind of in the hot water where they're like there's one guy who coaches in Orlando and he was basically like well these women put it like it's so pure like there's this purity aspect. Yeah. And everyone is immediately like what are you talking about. Please don't. And so like he's had to walk it back and he's like Oh of course I believe that the women should get paid equally, but there is this sort of concept of OK well men's soccer is this huge booming business but also like women are so pure because there's not a lot of money in it. And there's this expectation like even for the U.S. national team that they're going to be out on the field signing autographs for like an hour after the game because they have to grow this fan base still. So there's such a larger conversation in terms of what we expect out of female athletes and the way that general society like kind of looks at them and has different expectations of. Yes like you should be doing it for the purity of the game because that's all there is to it like it's this nice special little thing that hasn't been tainted by money yet. And the players are like OK cool like I can't pay my bills with the purity of the game.
Caroline: God Cristen, if only we could pay our bills with dreams
Caroline: But how does the actual law interpret this equal pay for equal work conundrum? Like is US Soccer really wage discriminating here, or are they just running a business?
Cristen: After the break, we’ll get into all of that, as well as the team’s unequal treatment allegations and the legalities of why equal pay isn’t just about the money, honey.
Caroline: Stick around
[Midroll ad break 1]
Good Morning America Announcer: This is more than just about pay equity for you guys, Megan. What other equities are you guys talking about?
Megan Rapinoe: In order to have a fair and a balanced conversation around compensation, we need look at everything. We need to look at the way the youth teams are funded. We need to look at the way our staff, our coaching staff, our medical staff is funded. We need to look at promotion and branding and marketing and sponsorship. All of that.
Cristen: We’re back, decoding the ins and outs of the US Women’s National Team’s lawsuit. And that was Megan “we’re not going the fucking White House” Rapinoe on Good Morning America.
Caroline: Ok, so Cristen, we covered a lot of the equal pay issues at the top of this episode, but as Rapinoe explained, this case isn’t just about cash moneys.
Cristen: Right, because their lawsuit also alleges unequal treatment under Title VII.
Caroline: Exactly, so for example, the women are likelier to compete on literal uneven playing fields — astroturf, specifically — compared to the men, who get grass turf.
Meg: so for grass like obviously that is the way soccer is intended to be played is on grass. Turf does change the feel of the game like the ball bounces differently. It's a much harder surface. It also retains heat in a completely different way. I have been on turf fields in the summer and it feels like your feet are melting off of your body, but also I mean that the way that turf affects the game and affects players health and can - can really like. I mean you get non-contact injuries where it's not even it's just like a player trying to run on that surface, and something goes wrong. It's a much higher rate than if you're playing on grass.
Cristen: According to the lawsuit, between 2014 and 2017, the women played 13 out of 62 domestic matches on artificial surfaces. Whereas the men? They only played on artificial surfaces once.
Caroline: Just once. And US Soccer has literally rolled out the green carpet for the guys: They installed real grass over the artificial surface for eight games
Cristen: And that includes three venues where the women had to play on the artificial turf!
Meg: U.S. Soccer goes out of its way to make sure that men are playing on grass and whether that's laying down you know sod and all that kind of stuff like they have started to do that for the women part of that came through the collective bargaining agreement in 2017. But the women are also saying like it's to be at the same level as the men like. You cannot put us on a surface that would actively harm us the way that you would do it. You know you'd never do it for the men.
Caroline: So, how does US Soccer justify that? And, is what they are doing even legal?
Cristen: For those answers, we called in an Unladylike legal expert, Maya Raghu
Maya: I am an attorney at the National Women's Law Center in Washington D.C. and the director of workplace equality and senior counsel which means that I get to work on issues like equal pay and sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination. And I also do a lot of sort of public education and speaking.
Caroline: So you're busy.
Maya: The last two years have been pretty busy. Yeah.
Cristen: Now, fun fact: The National Women’s Law Center manages the TimesUp Legal Defense Fund, which the US Women’s National Team now partners with, with the gooaaaaal of leveling all the pay-ing fields. See what I did there?
Caroline: I do.
Cristen: Legally speaking are the men's and women's national team members performing equal work.
Maya: So it's interesting because if you look at the common core of what they're doing, right, like what is actually required to do their job, there’s a really good argument that they are. This is what they say in their lawsuit. They are playing the same game under the same rules. You do the same kinds of training. You know they're playing in the same kinds of competitions. All of that should add up to equal work. What is interesting about the U.S. Soccer Federation's argument is that they're arguing, no that they're actually very different jobs, that they're physically different and separate spaces. They have different playing surfaces. They compete in different competitions and venues and countries at different times they've different coaches and staff and leadership, and they're saying all those kinds of details add up to - it's not equal work, it's different work. And it's kind of funny because I actually think that pinpointing all those differences helps to make the argument that actually the women's team is being treated unequally.
Caroline: Those different layers of equal pay and equal treatment are really tricky, especially when you’re dealing with an organization like US Soccer, which — like plenty of other rich n powerful employers out there — keeps a lot of its compensation info close to the chest.
Cristen: So one language difference that has jumped out in sort of reading both sides of the lawsuit is that you have the women's team calling for equal pay and the U.S. Soccer Federation responding that, Oh yeah we do provide equitable and fair pay. So from your legal POV, what is the distinction between equal pay and equitable and fair pay?
Maya: So equitable or fair pay means that you're being compensated fairly for the job based on your skills and ability and experience. So it's sort of focused more on you as an individual and what you're bringing to the table. Equal pay though is sort of a bigger concept, and it's looking at sort of institutionally and structurally, are you receiving equal compensation as compared to other groups of people that we're comparing you to. So to men or you know women of color as compared to men of color or to white men. So you're you're trying to look at the equity within the company in determining whether people are being paid equally for equal work.
Cristen: All right, so if we look at their response to the players’ lawsuit, US Soccer says it’s compensating the women’s players equitably “based on differences in the aggregate revenue generated by the different teams and/or any other factor other than sex." Which, I mean, that’s kind of a broad brush.
Caroline: Little bit! And it’s a line jumped out to our legal expert Maya, too...
Maya: In their response, they’re saying there’s this legitimate business reason that’s not based on sex, these disparities. And part of it is this idea that it's just a reflection of the market, right. And we see companies make this argument in other pay discrimination cases in the workplace context that, Well you know if there is unequal pay between a man and woman doing a same job it's just a reflection of the market, and that's not based on sex, and that's out of our hands. So if this man was a better negotiator, and we paid him more, well that's not based on sex. And so some courts have accepted those arguments, and some of them have not. And they've seen through them and they've said, look the compensation, the market is a product of the historical context where women were paid less than men and their work was undervalued and devalued for many, many years simply because work done by women is not seen as important and as valuable. So you can't ignore that. Especially in women’s sports. You have to look at it in a historical context and see years and years in which you know women's sports were underfunded, weren't promoted as well, and women athletes were being paid much less than men.
Caroline: And Meg agrees.
Meg: Yeah I think fundamentally the biggest thing in terms of the development of women's soccer is just the investment. I mean you look at the development - so the men's professional league Major League Soccer. It has had about you know 30 years to grow itself. So it's given - it's gotten a lot of time to actually build a fan base. We're only now starting to see like a generational turnover of like OK I grew up going to MLS games, so my kids are going to grow up going to MLS games. So I think the biggest challenge with the women's leagues is that there's somehow this immediate expectation that they have to make money, as opposed to men's soccer, which is looked at as this investment of like OK we need to to put money in to build it, and it's going to grow on its own. Whereas with women's sports it's always just like well, but the revenue. This expectation that they have to be producing revenue at all times in order for it to like make it be worth it for women's soccer to exist whether it's at the pro level or the international level.
Cristen: Again, this lawsuit highlights how equal pay laws just are not as straightforward as they sound. That whole “any factor other than sex” defense allows employers to justify unequal compensation by attributing it to things like seniority, merit and quality of work.
Caroline: In the case of US Soccer though, like, I don’t understand how this sink-or-swim attitude toward the women’s team is productive, Cristen — like, why wouldn’t US Soccer want to invest more to grow them into a huge money-maker? It’s like they’re leaving money on the field
Cristen: I see what you’re doing there. But the thing is, how much the US Women’s National Team is actually worth remains kind of a financial mystery …
Caroline: Yeah, after the break, we’re looking for revenue clues with reporter Meg ….
Cristen: Grab your magnifying glasses and stick around.
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Meg: I mean you look at the overall coverage rates of men's sports compared to women's sports, and I think you know we've gone from like 2.5 percent for women to like 4 percent of women's sports being part of the overall coverage
Caroline: We’re back with women’s soccer reporter Meg Linehan.
Meg: I think horses get more coverage than women's sports.
Cristen: Now here on Unladylike, we are doing our part. There is going to be a horse girls episode later this season — surprise!
Caroline: We aim to please, y’all. But let’s get back to why US Soccer is so sketchy about how much the women’s players are really worth compared to the guys
Cristen: So why do you think — this is kind of the sixty four thousand dollar question. Why do you think that they won't pay the women more. Why are they digging in their heels.
Meg: Yeah I mean they really seem content to not care about the public opinion side of it. They are only looking at their books and saying, OK but the revenue — right, this is the classic line: But the revenue — means that the men should earn more money because they give us more money. Whereas if you look at it as a non-profit of OK we should do the right thing by our employees, I don't think it would hurt them, and in fact it would be a public opinion win, but they're looking at it as OK, but the men make us more money and thus should be paid more. The women don't make us as much money and thus should be paid in this fashion.
Caroline: But US Soccer’s revenue argument is debatable. According to a Wall Street Journal report, between 2016 and 2018, the women’s soccer games made more revenue than men’s games during the same period.
Cristen: Roughly $900,000 more in revenue to be precise.
Caroline: Nonetheless, US Soccer is still claiming that the men are bringing in more.
Caroline: So, all right, is this whole idea of marketplace worth just some sort of elusive capitalist construct.
Meg: The best part is like the longer I cover soccer like the more I hate capitalism like it’s slowly turning me into a much more radical human being. But you know I think that there is truth to both sides in that the women have probably brought in more money overall and then U.S. Soccer is kind of looking at that and saying OK but if you look at revenue per game, right. So the men might play fewer games, but if you actually look at the revenue per game that number is higher. But, again, you have to kind of circle back around and saying OK but how are these two games being promoted side by side; the infrastructure on both sides, is it equal, does it - does it mean that the women are in the best possible like marketplace situation to actually like sell out a stadium, and things like that. And we're starting to see bigger numbers. They just got their largest attendance - attendance number for friendly like a standalone game in the United States ever in Philadelphia. So you're starting to see that, but then also ticket prices like. The men's games like they've kind of built the strategy of, We don't need as many people to come if we charge them a lot of a lot of money to attend.
Caroline: So what are the biggest revenue streams for the women and as compared to the men too.
Meg: Yeah. So here's the other struggle: The television rights which are fundamentally I think one of the largest sources of revenue are bundled with the men. So like Fox and ESPN when they buy rights to games, they are buying rights to just U.S. soccer and not OK, I only want to cover women's national team games. And that's the same as FIFA. The Women's World Cup rights are bundled with the men's World Cup rights. So we have no idea what the actual value for a lot of women's soccer stuff actually is because it's always just been kind of like tossed in with the men.
Cristen: Something we do know: The 2015 Women’s World Cup final vs Japan remains the most-watched soccer game for men or women in American TV history.
Caroline: We also know Nike has sold more women’s home jerseys than any other soccer jersey — men or women. All the other details about revenue and team value? Not as easy to find.
Cristen: In the scope of the lawsuit, would those numbers become public information, like as part of the discovery process?
Meg: Yeah. The players have been asking for those books to be open since day one of this. But U.S. Soccer did ask for basically all of this like the facts and figures of the case to never like be publicly viewable, and I don't think that there's a final decision on that. But U.S. soccer is very determined to protect a lot of this information, so the players might see it and it might become like part of the lawsuit itself, but I don't know how much of that is actually going to trickle out into the real world that can be reported on by media.
Caroline: Yeah, those numbers going public would a) finally get us some salary transparency in here! And B) help crystallize how women’s work — in this case, soccer — is devalued — considered secondary.
Cristen: And the pressure is on. Although US Soccer might be trying to stand their ground, the court of public opinion is clearly in favor of the women’s team. Not to mention, the US Men’s team is in support of them, too.
Meg: The actual players’ association for the men's team has come out in full support. This is this is more of the same from U.S. soccer, and we stand with the women.
Cristen: And even Congress is paying attention. There are currently bills proposed in the Senate and the House that would tie funding for the men’s World Cup in 2026 — which is happening in the US — to equal pay for the women’s teams. Some brands have also stepped in, giving money directly to players on the women’s teams to close that wage gap.
Caroline: And soccer fans and teams around the world are watching how this all shakes out, too.
Meg: the U.S. women's national team program is kind of like the gold standard across the globe. And I think even right now just the lawsuit in general like other countries are looking at them and saying if they aren't satisfied by what their federation has done for them, and you look at our conditions, like yes, we should be fighting the same way. I think that there are larger implications to the lawsuit than just U.S. women's national team versus U.S. Federation, that there will be you know a pathway then for other national teams to fight, whether it is a lawsuit or you know just trying to negotiate a stronger contract for players.
Caroline: For our legal expert Maya, the public groundswell of support for the US Women’s National Team gives the team a lot of leverage — and elevates the conversation to a larger stage.
Maya: I think sort of one of the most important things about this lawsuit and about the players is how they are using this attention and their platform and their power to really drive bigger change, not just for themselves or for other female athletes, but for women across this country. I just it's such an important lawsuit and an issue that they are bringing to light I think. I hope it empowers people to look at their own workplaces and ask questions about what they're being paid, what their co-workers are being paid, and push their employers for you know greater transparency and less secrecy and more fairness. And that we continue to have this cultural conversation about, how do we value women and the work that is done by women. You know the law is important. And sometimes the law is ahead of culture and society, and it is driving change, and sometimes culture is ahead of the law, and it is driving change. That's what we're seeing in the sexual harassment context. And so I hope that that's what we can see here when it comes to equal pay too. The law isn't enough. We need to change culture and the way that we do business if we are going to get to equal pay.
Caroline: All right, Unladies: What do YOU think about the equal pay lawsuit? How do you think it’s all gonna play out?
Cristen: You can email us your thoughts at hello at unladylike.co. Or let us know on social @unladylikemedia. And you can also join our facebook group and find the thread for this episode.
Caroline: We also have equal pay law resources from the National Women’s Law Center in the episode post over at unladylike dot co, and while you’re there, sign up for our newsletter to get a weekly update on good news about women in the world every Wednesday.
Cristen: And don’t forget to subscribe to unladylike in your favorite podcast app, and tell at least three and a half friends about how much you love this podcast.
Caroline: Unladylike producers are Nora Ritchie and Sam Lee. Abigail Keel is our senior producer. Gianna Palmer is our story editor. Shruti Marathe transcribes our tape. Our music is by Flamingo Shadow, Amit May Cohen and Sarah Tudzin. Mixing, sound design and additional music is by Casey Holford. Our executive producers are Chris Bannon and Daisy Rosario.
Cristen: Special thanks to Dan Bloom at Scripps DC.
Caroline: We are your hosts, Caroline Ervin
Cristen: And Cristen Conger. Next week ...
Jill: And then I get to this dark hole, and then I squeeze through that opening, and then boom, it opens up, and it's like the size of an aircraft hanger, and the water is clear and untouched and obviously a place that nobody has ever been before.
Cristen: We’re splashing into the deep with underwater cave diver Jill Heinerth to find out what exploring the unknown can teach us about how to facing down out fears.
Caroline: And in the meantime, remember: Got a problem?
Cristen: Get unladylike. Gooooooooaaalalalalal!