Women’s apparel brand Title Nine is contributing a record $1 million to the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s ongoing campaign for pay equity. It also the largest donation Title Nine—a small, independently owned, Northern California company with a staff composed of 92% women—has made in its 32-year history.
In its first foray into sports, Title Nine is also encouraging other individuals and companies to join in and donate through their “Kick In for Equal Pay” campaign. The company will match up to an additional $250,000 beyond its initial commitment, potentially bringing total contribution to the USWNT players to $1.25 million. The Kick In campaign website will also serve as an educational resource about the team’s continuing fight for pay equity.
“There’s something we can all do as corporations, like Budweiser did in stepping up [for the NWSL],” Title Nine founder and CEO Missy Park said in an interview. “For us, what we can do is that million bucks. There are also things individuals can do. But we want people to be able to actually give because money matters.”
When Budweiser came on board as a National Women’s Soccer League sponsor in 2019, it launched a campaign to encourage other brands to do the same. The “Future Official” campaign called on businesses to sponsor the league in open sponsorship categories, with Budweiser sitting as the league’s “Official Beer.” The movement successfully encouraged greater financial support from corporations for women’s soccer.
Since 2016, the U.S. women’s national team players cumulatively have been paid $66 million less than they would have made under the men’s compensation structure, which is based in part on differences in the two teams’ collectively bargained labor agreements and on discrepancies in FIFA World Cup payouts for men and women. While that wasn’t a feasible sum for her company to fork over, Park said the $1 million (which she said is connected to some “complicated math” about the pay gap around what the women’s players would have earned this year under the men’s payment structure) was a number that made her feel like Title Nine had skin in the game.
“A million dollars is the biggest check we’ve ever written,” she said. “I’m not asking other brands to write the biggest check they’ve ever written, but we are asking them to give a little bit more thought to how they spend all of their advertising and marketing dollars. We all need to think about how we value what these women have done and what they represent not just on the soccer field, but [in terms of] pay equality across the country, from the factory floors to boardrooms.”
Title Nine’s financial contributions to the USWNT are not tied to a sponsorship or endorsement deal. Park didn’t want any of that. “I just want this money to go as a down payment on a bill that was way past due,” she said.
The retailer’s commitment comes after the recent release of the HBO documentary LFG, which details the U.S. women’s legal battle—including an ongoing gender discrimination lawsuit that started just before the 2019 World Cup—for equal pay. The case is currently with the Ninth Circuit appellate court after players from the U.S. women’s national soccer team appealed a May 2020 ruling that dismissed the players’ unequal pay claim. (A partial class action settlement was reached and approved in April regarding inequities in working conditions.)
Park said she was infuriated after seeing the documentary—which was released in late June—and wanted to play an immediate and active role in helping the team by spurring communal action. And, as long as she doesn’t have to get into “complicated endorsement rights or sponsorship deals or any of that good stuff,” Park plans for Title Nine to continue working with the USWNT Players Association for many years to come.
“The story of these players is one that millions of women around the world know well—despite all their accomplishments, they are paid less than their male counterparts because they are women,” Becca Roux, executive director of the USWNT Players Association, said. “Brands have significant power to impact the public dialogue on this important issue, and we applaud Title Nine for stepping up and leading the effort to support the players and women in every industry.”
(This article has been updated in the fifth paragraph to give the correct figure and add context for the discrepancies in women’s and men’s national team payouts.)