The U.S. Women's National Team's next goal: Equal pay

By Megan Cerullo

/ MoneyWatch

Perhaps the only thing bigger for the U.S. Women's National Team than its World Cup victory this month is its long and arduous fight for equal pay. So when the professional athletes are celebrated with a ticker tape parade up the Canyon of Heroes in New York City Wednesday, unmistakable attention will be drawn to their alleged discriminatory treatment by the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Already, a Senate bill introduced Tuesday by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, would block federal funds for the 2026 World Cup, for which the U.S. will be a co-host, until the U.S. Soccer Federation gives equal pay to its women's and men's teams. The bill would deny federal money for any aspect of the 2026 World Cup — including support for a host city and for U.S. Soccer — "until the date on which the United States Soccer Federation agrees to provide equitable pay" for the women's and men's players.

There's no question that the women — the country's momentary pride and joy — are underpaid: Each member of the U.S. women's national team is expected to earn about $250,000 for their World Cup victory, including public appearances. By comparison, had the American men's team won a World Cup, they would have earned about $1 million each, given current pay structures, according to Darren Rovell of The Action Network, a sports betting site.

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1 billion people watched

The 2019 Women's World Cup was inarguably a smash hit. Twenty-two percent more Americans tuned into the final between the U.S. and the Netherlands than watched the men's final in 2018, according to Fox Sports. More than 14 million viewers helped make it the most-watched soccer match on English-language TV in the U.S. since the previous Women's World Cup final. An estimated 1 billion people streamed or watched this year's tournament on TV, according to FIFA.

But something's askew: The prize money for this year's women's tournament was $30 million, compared to the men's $400 million in 2018. That spawned Twitter hashtags #PayTheWomen and #PayThem, as the world champions fight for paychecks that are commensurate with their accomplishments.

Midfielder Megan Rapinoe was named the tournament's best player and also its top scorer. But she and her teammates are hoping for another, more sweeping victory for themselves and for women around the world, now that they're World Cup champions, for the second consecutive tournament and the fourth time overall.

"Everyone is kind of asking what's next and what we want to come of all this," Rapinoe said after beating the Netherlands on July 7. "It's to stop having the conversation about equal pay and are we worth it and should we and the investment piece. What are we going to do about it? Gianni, what are we going to do about it?" she said, addressing FIFA President Gianni Infantino. "Carlos, what are we going to do about it?" she said, referring to U.S. Soccer Federaton President Carlos Cordeiro.

Doubling the purse?

Infantino has already proposed doubling the tournament purse by 2023, subject to approval by FIFA's council. But that would still be significantly less than the prize money for the men's tournament — which is expected to increase to $440 million for the 2022 tournament, to be hosted by Qatar.

The women's team has already filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, alleging gender discrimination. They cite lower pay than their male counterparts get despite having the same job responsibilities and are seeking damages, including back pay.

The federation said it pays women less because their games are less lucrative for the organization than mens' games. But that doesn't square with the federation's own financial reports, which show that the women's team generated more total revenue than the men's for the three-year period between 2015 and 2018.

Rapinoe, for one, has a bold suggestion: "It certainly should be more," she said. "I think there needs to be a big invest made in the women's game. God forbid, for once, we be overpaid."

First published on July 9, 2019 / 6:16 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

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