U.S. Soccer Takes A Step In The Right Direction With New Deal

It’s no secret that the United States women’s national team fares fare better than their male counterparts on the world stage. It’s also no secret that they’re grossly underpaid and are forced to play on turf, which, in case you’re unaware, is far from ideal for a number of reasons.

In fact, Sydney Leroux explained exactly why this is the case. And before you go arguing that male soccer players also take to turf pitches from time to time, we’re going to remind you that the men feel the same way. Not just the men, but LEGENDARY male players. Remember that French bloke Thierry Henry? World Cup winner, Champions League winner etc… yeah, he flat out refused to play on turf while plying his trade for the NY Red Bulls. Didier Drogba did a bit of the same during his stint with Montreal, albeit for injury concerns.

The natural versus artificial turf debate is sure to rage on for years, and you can read this piece on The Guardian about destigmatizing artificial pitches, but I’m starting to meander here, so let’s get back on track.

The matter at hand is this:

U.S. Soccer and the United States women’s national team have reached a new five-year collective bargaining agreement that includes a “sizable” increase in base pay and improved match bonuses.

Some players will see their incomes double, and increase even more during a World Cup year. Other plusses include changes to travel, accommodations and working conditions, which have been major issues in the past. Remember when a game against Trinidad had to be canceled because the artificial field was in shambles? Yeah, that’s just one example.

The kicker here is that the women did not secure equal pay, something they initially made the cornerstone of their campaign.

“We tried to completely change the methodology for how to define our value, and we made progress in that regard, and it changes the equation for the future,” said Becca Roux, the union’s executive director.

This is where things get really tricky. The women’s team, while far superior to the men’s when you look at their successes, don’t draw as many viewers as their male counterparts, which means there’s less money to go around due to there being, well, less ad revenue. To put this into perspective, let’s look at some of the viewership figures.

During the 2015 World Cup, the U.S. women’s team recorded an average of 4,285,000 English-language viewers during the group stage. The year prior, the 2014 men’s World Cup team averaged 13,374,000 English-language viewers during their group stage matches. The USA-Japan final, which aired on Fox, pulled in a record 25,400,000 viewers, but even that is only 7 million more than the some 18 million who watched the men’s team play Portugal in the group stages. Let’s not forget, though, that the nearly 26 million viewers for that World Cup final beat out the NBA and Stanley Cup finals that year.

Interestingly enough, the men and women receive similar viewership when they’re playing international friendlies. But this is international soccer, and viewership for international matches is always higher than domestic league games. So, looking at Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League viewership figures tells us this: the men’s game still draws more eyes, like it or not. This, in part, is due to the men’s league being around for much longer. Remember, the Women’s United Soccer Association was kicked off in 2001 and was replaced in 2007, after a four year break in action, by Women’s Professional Soccer and then again in 2012 by the current NWSL.

They’ve struggled with securing regular time on air, but recently struck a deal with Lifetime, which could very much help the league grow in stature and viewership. And while that’s all well and good, the fact of the matter remains; U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati says revenue generation should matter in a market economy.

U.S. women’s players lawyer Jeffrey Kessler has acknowledged that revenue generation has “some relevance,” but argues that women should be paid the same as men regardless of revenues and cited the male vs female figure skating arrangement. In the figure skating world, it’s the women who produce more revenue, but prize money is distributed equally to “do the right thing,” a fact that was verified by SI.com with figure-skating authorities.

Whichever way you slice it, the new CBA is a step in the right direction for  U.S. Soccer. We know the United States women’s team is the best in the world and we know they’re far better than the men (sorry, gents), but until viewers start tuning in more to support our women’s team, well, this dispute will persist. Cash is king, folks, and if we don’t start watching more women’s games and driving up viewership then we’re not going to be of any help to the women in their quest for equal pay.

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