U.S. soccer’s unsporting pay is an own goal

NEW YORK (Reuters) - America’s World Cup soccer winners are being treated like losers when it comes to pay. The women’s team that beat the Netherlands on Sunday – for its fourth win since the 1990s – is fighting for equal wages in a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. As in the corporate world, proving inequality is complex, but reasons to fix it are simple.

Early TV ratings estimate some 20 million people watched Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle score two goals against the Dutch defense, electrifying a home audience that usually favors baseball, basketball and American football over the Beautiful Game. The U.S. women’s team also has four Olympic wins under their belt. The men have never won a World Cup or taken home the gold.

Yet in compensation terms the men have them beat. A top-tier female player would earn only 38% what a male player with similar stats does, the women’s team claimed in a legal filing. Female athletes that make the World Cup team roster get $15,000 for their efforts. Carry a Y chromosome instead of two X’s, and the going rate rises to $55,000.

Questions of fairness quickly get mired in numerical uncertainty. Ticket sales and sponsorships can be hard to pin to a specific team. Contracts vary between players, and between countries. It’s not unlike corporate America, which uses a litany of metrics to explain why there are fewer females at the top and why they earn on average around 85 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to the Pew Research Center.

Companies are doing better than USSF because from Wall Street to Silicon Valley, executives at least openly acknowledge that equal pay attracts more talented women and makes companies look and perform better than rivals. Nearly one-third of board seats are now held by women, according to Catalyst. The split on the USSF’s own board, as it happens, is roughly the same.

Soccer’s failure is all the more egregious because the women’s team visibly brings in more revenue and is more profitable than the men’s. For the 2016 fiscal year, the women’s team made more revenue than the men’s team – $24 million versus $22 million – and they cost less. Closing the pay gap will lead to better players, more fans, good publicity and more money. Reason enough.

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