The United States women’s national team and U.S. Soccer announced the ratifying of a new collective bargaining agreement on Wednesday morning. The deal runs for five years, expiring in 2021.
This CBA deal and announcement ended a long and bitter fight in which the USWNT challenged the legality of the previous CBA and filed a gender-based wage discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
But negotiations turned a corner when the USWNT players union made leadership changes. New executive director Becca Roux — along with player representatives Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Klingenberg and Christen Press — proved much more effective than previous leaders. The two sides made progress on a deal before the SheBelieves Cup, then managed to push the CBA across the line before the start of the National Women’s Soccer League season.
There are a lot of wins for the players in this deal from base compensation, to accommodations, to the ability to market themselves. Life just got a bit better for the players on the fringes of the national team trying to break in as well. Here’s what the USWNT got from U.S. Soccer, but also what it didn’t.
Did the USWNT achieve equal pay?
No, but that was always going to be difficult for structural reasons. United States men’s national team players are not employees of U.S. Soccer and do not earn a base salary. For that reason, they can negotiate higher bonuses for things like wins, games played, and appearances off the field.
The highest paid men’s national team player is likely to earn more than the highest paid women’s player, but there were 18 “tier 1” earners under the previous USWNT CBA who made considerably more than the 18th highest-earning man in non-World Cup years.
This is why the USWNT started changing its language recently. Sauerbrunn recently told SI’s Grant Wahl on a podcast that “equitable” was a better word to use:
“We’re trying to figure out where women’s soccer is going, so we may not have the same exact structure as the men. So equal isn’t the right word. It would be equitable, because we are asking for a different structure.”
Of course, FIFA still pays out much more for getting to the Round of 16 in the men’s World Cup as it does for winning the women’s World Cup, which throws a wrench in the equal pay debate. The system is rigged, which isn’t the USWNT’s fault. But figuring out a mechanism for U.S. Soccer to correct FIFA’s inequality is really hard.
U.S. Soccer got just about as close as it could to ensuring fair pay without blowing up the entire structure of its senior national teams, and the USWNT player reps agreed to kick this can down the road. Hopefully this conversation changes a lot in five years.
What the USWNT did get — besides better salaries — is the same per-diem as the men, better travel and hotel accommodations, better financial support for players who are pregnant or adopting children, and more control over its own image and marketing rights.
The base pay increase is significant
In 2016, the base salary for a tier 1 USWNT player — the top 18 — who played in NWSL and was a founding member of the league was $128,000, not including Olympics bonuses. Non-founding NWSL players made $10,000 less. Tier 2 players made $97,000 in base salary, while Tier 3 players made $82,000. Friendly wins, sponsor appearances, and ticket revenue helped bump up that number, but some players were earning right around $100,000 per year on the lower end, while everyone was making less than $200,000 per year in non-World Cup years.
According to Andrew Das at the New York Times, the new CBA will see “some players double their incomes to between $200,000 and $300,000 in a given year.” No one has released or reported on what the base salary numbers are or if the tier system remains in place, but it’s clear that everyone got a significant base salary bump.
Big win for USWNT players: marketing rights
In every USWNT CBA negotiation, the players have always been focused on scoring big wins to help the next generation, and the biggest way they might have done that with this CBA is wrangling away some of their marketing rights from U.S. Soccer.
“The players association will now control the group’s likeness rights for licensing non-exclusive rights in sponsorship categories in which U.S. Soccer does not have a sponsor,” according to Jeff Kassouf at FourFourTwo.
Players were previously limited by the endorsement opportunities that they could seek, and they will now have a lot more freedom to go into business for themselves. The old CBA had an exception for gear used on the field — which is why some players have deals with manufacturers other than U.S. Soccer sponsor Nike — but this new CBA will open things up a lot more for player marketing opportunities and income.
The next CBA won’t interrupt the Olympics
U.S. Soccer wasn’t particularly thrilled with players threatening to strike in the buildup to the Olympics or suing for their right to do so. Thankfully, that won’t be an issue next time CBA negotiations come up. This deal covers the year after the next Olympics, ensuring that any kind of messy fight over the next CBA will come at a time when it’s not going to affect a competition.
Players committed to stick with NWSL
As in the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the USWNT and U.S. Soccer ahead of the inaugural NWSL season, the federation will continue to pay players NWSL salaries, and the players who have committed to playing in the league. There is a mechanism in the CBA that allows for players to pursue opportunities abroad during the NWSL offseason, though it’s not clear how that will work going forward.
UEFA Champions League and domestic league seasons in Europe run through May, while NWSL starts in April. U.S. Soccer probably doesn’t want to pay players a full NWSL salary if they’re going to be missing games at the start of the season, while players who go to Europe would probably prefer to play in their teams’ most important games. That’s going to need to be clarified.
Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd are currently playing in Europe and will return in June. Since they made the trip across the Atlantic during a period of CBA uncertainty, no one’s too concerned about how this affects them — players were allowed to fulfill their contracts overseas before NWSL’s first season in 2013 and were not punished for doing so.
Crystal Dunn’s situation is a bit stickier — she has a deal with Chelsea until 2018 — but it would be surprising if she was asked to break that contract or was dropped from the USWNT for a move she made while in CBA limbo.
And NWSL wins in other ways too
While the USWNT players union cannot legally negotiate on behalf of NWSL players, they did get plenty of things to help them out. As part of this CBA, U.S. Soccer has committed to help improve NWSL stadiums, facilities, and player accommodations.
More NWSL players not under contract with the USWNT are going to get opportunities to make the team too. Kassouf reports that the USWNT coach now has “increased flexibility ... to call in players who are not under contract. Previously, CBA stipulations limited how long a non-contract player could be in camp.”
Das is reporting that non-contract players who get called up will receive significantly larger bonuses than under the previous CBA. Previously, those players were paid $500 per week to be in camp and $1,350 per game if they played for their first three games. If they played in four or more games, their rate jumped to $4,050 per game.
And with USWNT players sticking around NWSL for at least five more seasons, that league’s owners are feeling a bit more comfortable. The league’s minimum salary is expected to more than double to $15,000 this season. There’s no word yet on how much the league’s maximum salary and salary cap will go up, but both increases should be significant. The league’s cap last season was $278,000, not including players allocated by U.S. Soccer and the Canadian Soccer Association. The maximum salary for a non-allocated player was $39,700.
NWSL’s average attendance has grown each season, while the league has considerable expansion interest. This CBA doesn’t just ensure fair pay for the USWNT relative to the USMNT, but it makes it more likely that all women’s professional players in the United States will actually make a living wage sometime soon.