Our long national nightmare is finally over. (Well, one of them, at least.)
After a long and drawn-out fight lasting the better part of two years, US Soccer and the women’s national team have come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement.
These kind of labor negotiations don’t usually get that much attention outside of sports media and a particular segment of fans who get really into this sort of thing. But the USWNT fight was different. US Soccer’s attempts to play hardball led to the team filing a wage discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. All of a sudden the CBA negotiations turned into something bigger— a debate over equal pay and equal opportunity in women’s soccer and the gender divide in sports. On one side, a smattering of sports fans who (wrongly) believe women are inferior athletes and thus don’t deserve equal pay to the men and, bafflingly, US_M_NT players concern-trolling their female colleagues. And on the other side… basically everyone else.
Between the EEOC complaint and today talks frequently veered into acrimonious territory, with negotiations stalling after players broke with the union’s executive director. There are also some unanswered questions over whether the CBA fight was a factor in US Soccer’s decision to terminate Hope Solo’s contract after she became one of the most visible figures on the players’ side.
But while the road was bumpy and, at times, impassable, the long and hard work appears to have (mostly) paid off. The new deal will run through 2021, ensuring that contracts won’t be an issue for the 2019 World Cup in France or the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Here’s a few of the key points from the agreement:
More pay. Last year a top USWNT player could expect to earn $128,000 a year. Under the new CBA, that player will earn $200-300k per annum. That’s a big deal. While exact details haven’t been released, it looks like everyone’s getting a significant pay bump.
Better extras and maternity support. The new CBA includes bigger match bonuses, better per diem allowances, and increased financial support for players who get pregnant.
Marketing rights. In the past, US Soccer owned the likeness rights of WNT players nearly in total. Under the new CBA, most of these rights will be transferred to the players association, giving individual players the freedom to negotiate their own sponsorship deals in categories where US Soccer doesn’t already have a sponsor in place. This is huge.
No equal pay. There were some real structural issues that made it nearly impossible for the WNT to secure a pay structure equal to their male counterparts— namely that WNT players are US Soccer employees and MNT players are not. Working around these issues was always going to be really hard, and there were some defensible arguments for kicking that can down the road in order to secure some real, practical wins for players on pay and benefits and maternity support. But only the very dense can deny that sexism played a role in maintaining this aspect of the status quo. Currently, the MNT will earn more for crashing out of the Round of 16 in 2018 than the WNT will earn for winning it all in 2019. That’s not going to change for a few years.
Still, the players are counting this as a victory. Fullback and union rep Meghan Klingenberg praised her teammates and the union officials who got the deal done.
”I’m proud of the tireless work that the players and our bargaining team put in to promote the game and ensure a bright future for American players. We are excited to further strengthen the players’ union through our new revenue-generating opportunities and abilities.”
Megan Rapinoe echoed these sentiments while noting that there is still work to be done.
”I am incredibly proud of this team and the commitment we have shown through this entire process. While I think there is still much progress to be made for us and for women more broadly, I think the team should be very proud of this deal and feel empowered moving forward.”
And in a joint statement, the players and US Soccer both sounded eager to turn the page and focus on the future.
”We believe this is another important step to continue our efforts to drive the growth of women’s soccer in the US. This agreement helps to ensure the strength of the women’s national team, provide stability and growth potential for the NWSL, and over time strengthen the elite player development process at the grassroots level. We believe our continued partnership will ensure a bright future for our sport for years to come.”
And as Kevin McCauley at SBN notes, the new CBA is also a huge win for NWSL players. Domestic league players who have not been called up to the USWNT will have more opportunities to break into the squad and bigger bonuses once they make it. And with the new CBA and commitments from American internationals to continue playing in the NWSL for the foreseeable future, team owners and other league stakeholders will feel more confident in their investments thanks to the added stability. The fight to secure living wages for all NWSL players, not just the USWNT squad members, now looks achievable in a way it didn’t a year ago.
While the equal pay issue remains unresolved, this is an undeniable win for the USWNT and for WoSo. Now the team can focus on the kind of problems that actually involve kicking a ball. The Nats are back in action this week with two friendlies against Russia in Texas, Thursday night in Frisco and Sunday in Houston.