A sports labor battle that began in 2016 and became a national controversy is one step closer to resolution. On Wednesday, U.S. Soccer announced it had agreed to new collective bargaining agreements with the USWNT and USMNT, and that the two CBAs include “identical compensation for all competitions, including the FIFA World Cup, and the introduction of the same commercial revenue sharing mechanism for both teams.”
The CBAs, which have been ratified by the teams’ respective unions and will run through 2028, satisfy one of two major conditions that U.S. Soccer and USWNT players need to settle their players’ $66 million class action lawsuit. In February, the two sides reached a tentative settlement that calls for U.S. Soccer to pay the players $22 million in what amounts to back pay and spend another $2 million for initiatives that include post-career planning. The proposed settlement ended a federal appeal filed by the players, whose pay claims were rejected by U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner in 2020 on account of the players’ union having agreed to the terms the players challenged. The other major condition is that Judge Klausner must approve both the settlement—ensuring that it adequately and fairly compensates class members—and accompanying class-action fees owed to the attorneys.
Among the CBAs’ key elements is “equal pay for equal work,” which will entail identical game appearance fees for both teams’ players when they play in official competitions, including the World Cup. The new CBAs also eschew a controversial element of USWNT’s prior labor agreements: guaranteed but arguably low salaries. Players will now be paid when they play and will receive identical bonuses as well. Given the historic success of USWNT, this arrangement should boost their overall pay.
The CBAs also equalize World Cup prize money. The two unions will pool and share a portion of prize money for playing in the respective World Cups. This is a sizable gain for USWNT since FIFA earmarked $440 million in prize money for the men’s 2022 World Cup, compared to a proposed $60 million in prize money for the women’s 2023 World Cup.
Commercial revenue sharing is also part of the CBAs, with U.S. Soccer agreeing to share some of the broadcast, partner and sponsorship revenue evenly between the two teams. The teams will also receive funds from U.S. Soccer to reflect ticket sales, with bonus money for sellouts.
The path to the agreement likely became smoother in early March, when former USWNT player Cindy Parlow Cone won a closely contested election for the U.S. Soccer presidency over former president Carlos Cordeiro. Cordeiro resigned under public and sponsor pressure in 2020 after (now former) attorneys for U.S. Soccer filed a legal brief using sexist arguments to defend the federation in the equal-pay lawsuit. Women’s team members staunchly supported Parlow Cone’s candidacy, and some of them harshly criticized Cordeiro’s. A Cordeiro victory would likely have made the CBA talks more contentious.
Parlow Cone celebrated Wednesday’s announcement by calling it a “truly historic moment” and reflective of a “new phase of mutual growth and collaboration” in a letter published on Wednesday. USWNT player and union president Becky Sauerbrunn similarly described the labor deals as “historic achievements in not only providing for equal pay but also in improving the training and playing environment for National Team players will similarly serve as the foundation for continued growth of women’s soccer both in the United States and abroad.”
The controversy began in 2016, when five USWNT players (Sauerbrunn, Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd) filed charge of pay discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Two years later, Solo sued U.S. Soccer in a San Francisco federal court. The following year, other players filed a similar lawsuit against U.S. Soccer in a Los Angeles federal court.
As Solo discussed in her exclusive interview with Sportico in March, her case is still on the docket and she intends to see it through. Recently arrested for DWI and now in an in-patient alcohol treatment program, Solo is highly critical of the settlement and believes it underpays women players. When asked by Sportico on Wednesday to respond to U.S. Soccer agreeing to CBAs with the women’s and men’s teams, Solo’s attorney, Rich Nichols, said in an email, “their collective desire to pursue this Cinderella narrative is astounding.”