USWNT equal pay dispute sees U.S. Soccer miss the mark with misleading claims

Carlos CordeiroKyle Terada

Carlos Cordeiro must have felt like he needed to say something

For weeks, the chorus of public opinion and his own women’s national team players had been steadily beating the drum of equal pay, with U.S. Soccer offering no response. 

Cordeiro, the U.S. Soccer president, must have been itching to offer some kind of a riposte to what he surely views as misleading claims laid out by USWNT players in their ongoing lawsuit against his federation, which is set to enter mediation shortly. 

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But what Cordeiro offered on Monday isn’t going to help his case, either in court or in the court of public opinion. 

The U.S. Soccer president released an open letter that was chock full of its own dubious claims, most notably the assertion that the U.S. women are already paid more than their male counterparts. 

“From 2010 through 2018, U.S. Soccer paid our women $34.1m in salaries and game bonuses and we paid our men $26.4m — not counting the significant additional value of various benefits that our women’s players receive but which our men do not,” the letter read.

This ignores the most obvious difference in the pay structure between the U.S. women and men: the women are employees of U.S. Soccer and the men are not.

U.S. Soccer pays its women’s national team players a base salary of $100,000 per year, plus $67,500 to $72,500 per player as a salary for playing in the National Women’s Soccer League.

For the men, U.S. Soccer only pays its players' bonuses, like for making rosters and winning games, while their salaries are paid by their club teams.

This structure, while necessary for years, was not what USWNT players wanted when they signed their most recent collective bargaining agreement in 2017.

"The fact is the women's team requested the same compensation structure as the men have, so they would be paid equally for equal performance,” Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the players, said on Monday.

"USSF refused, ordering lower compensation in every category for the women's team in a pay for performance structure. That is patently unequal pay."

U.S. Soccer though, has pushed back against the idea the women requested a different compensation structure.

“During the last CBA negotiations in 2017, U.S. Soccer offered the USWNTPA the same contract structure as the Men’s national team and they rejected it, stating they preferred a guaranteed salaries and benefits over the pay-to-play structure," a federation spokesperson said. 

USWNT World Cup 2019

Cordeiro’s letter also claims that the USWNT generated a net loss of $27.5m over a period of 11 years between 2009 and 2019 (the letter did not include the net profit or loss the men’s team made). 

This claim is highly misleading though, as the letter notes in the paragraph above that U.S. Soccer is not counting revenue generated from corporate sponsorships and broadcast rights, because those are deals traditionally bundled together with both the men’s and women’s team.

“The Cordeiro letter includes the claim that the USWNT lost $27m over the past 11 years, but admits that is based on false accounting because the Federation ‘traditionally’ does not count any of the sponsorship, television, or marketing money the Federation generates from USWNT and USMNT players and their games,” a statement from the U.S. men's soccer team players association read.

“What U.S. sports team makes money if they don't count television, sponsorship, and marketing revenue?”

The letter also contained a section describing the commendable investment U.S. Soccer has made in women’s soccer over the years. 

Though its women’s players are currently in a dispute over equality with their male counterparts, there’s little doubt that U.S. Soccer has far outpaced most of its international counterparts over the years when it comes to investing in the women’s game. 

“We don’t often give them kudos, but that’s definitely one that I’m willing to give,” Megan Rapinoe said of U.S. Soccer before the World Cup final earlier this month. 

"They back the team in a very strong way and have pushed the game, not only in our country but around the world, to a level that without us, we wouldn’t be here in the world game.

“So I think that they do deserve a tremendous amount of credit for that, and we’ll continue to nudge them forward.”

What Cordeiro did on Monday though, was a step backwards. 

Even if he felt aggrieved by the USWNT's lawsuit or their offensive in the court of public opinion, countering that with easily debunked arguments is not the way to win back support.

It's likely to do just the opposite.