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Major League Soccer is Still a Man’s World: Unfair Pay in Women’s Soccer Generates a Much Needed Discussion

June 14th, 2017 by David Minces

Houston Dash

We want this article to provide a dialogue for Houston’s soccer community and the sports community at large to consider why this wage gap still exists and move toward closing it. The first step to righting this wrong is to support your incredible local female athletes. On many Saturdays and some Wednesdays, you can catch a Dash game for about the price of a movie. Once you experience the fun and excitement of a Houston Dash game, you will likely want season tickets. We highly recommend you reach out to Bryson Faggs at the Houston Dynamo/Dash at 713-276-7531 to purchase a ticket package and learn more about how you can support these amazing women. You can kick off your Dash patronage this Saturday when they take on the Orlando Pride at BBVA Compass. In addition to supporting the female athletes in our community, it is vital to understand the issue at large that impacts every soccer player in the National Women’s Soccer League and many women in other professional sports leagues as well.

The life of a pro athlete versus the life of a pro female athlete

We usually associate professional athletes with million-dollar contracts and licensing deals.  For example, one of the most iconic American sports stars, Michael Jordan, has a shoe brand named after him that generates three billion dollars in revenue every year.  However, for many professional female athletes, these large sums are not a reality.  Even though the wage gap between male and female earnings is closing for most professions, the gap between the earnings of male and female athletes is not.  This discrepancy is perhaps most pronounced in professional soccer, which faces potential litigation after five players filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging gender-based wage discrimination against the National Women’s Soccer League.

Charge of Discrimination filed in 2016

The filing alleged that the pay structure of the National Women’s Soccer League systematically disadvantaged female players. According to the Charge, the maximum a top female player can make is less than the minimum a top male player can make.  Major League Soccer teams pay their players a base salary and a bonus based upon how many wins they have.  A top female player can expect a base salary of about $72,000 per year and a bonus of up to $1,350 for every game her team wins. If her team wins every single game in a twenty game season, she can theoretically make $99,000 per year.  However, if a top male player loses every single game in a season, he will make a base salary of around $100,000. If he wins every game, he can make $263,000 in one year.

The payment system is even worse for female players who are not considered to be part of the upper echelon.  A huge victory came for women’s soccer this January. The fight for equal pay won a battle, but not the war (yet). The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) raised the minimum salary from $7,200 per year to $15,000 per year, a dramatic increase that was recognized by players as a huge step in the right direction. This meant that those who were not at the top of the roster could at least expect an annual income that would put them just above the federal poverty level. Despite the increase to the minimum wage range, in order to earn enough income to survive, female players often take on side jobs.  One of the most popular side jobs for female soccer players is coaching and teaching group or private lessons, something most male soccer stars would never have to consider doing to keep themselves afloat financially. The major discrepancies in pay seem to be contrary to the mission of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which set out to prevent employers from paying men and women different wages for the same job. Unfortunately, Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League are two separate employers, and therefore the argument for a violation is harder to make.

Men aren’t bringing home the bacon in soccer

One could assert that this slanted payment system would be fair if female teams generated less revenue than male teams.  However, this is not always the case.  For example, the women’s national team is projected to bring in $8.6 million dollars more in revenue this year than the men’s team.  While these statistics only represent the national teams and do not necessarily reflect the earnings of every individual MLS team, it still seems unfair that female players who put in the same hours and effort as male players earn significantly less.

How pay impacts Houston’s soccer community

One of the five players who filed the Charge, midfielder Carli Lloyd, plays for the Houston Dash.  In 2015, Lloyd scored a hat trick (three consecutive goals) in the final round of the World Cup.  Lloyd’s hat trick made her the player of the game and allowed America to defeat Japan for the global championship.  Yet the men’s national team, which was eliminated in the Round of 16, received more than four times the pay that the women’s national team received.

Lloyd’s teammates on the Dash are also accustomed to unfair treatment.  While players for the Dynamo — Houston’s men’s soccer team — mostly live comfortably, Dash players often barely make do.  Some players, like Dash forward Melissa Henderson, live with host families.  Others cram together as housemates, usually with fellow players.  Last season, players Ellie Brush, Lydia Williams, Andressa Cavalari Machry, Poliana Barbosa Medeiros, and Denise O’Sullivan lived in a four bedroom house they nicknamed the “international house of players” — or IHOP, as the Houston Chronicle thoughtfully reported.  This is because the Dash’s salary cap, the total amount the team is able to spend on all player salaries, is only $278,000 per year.  That is just $13,000 more than the average Dynamo player’s pay for the season.

The unfortunate reality that needs to become a thing of the past

The women who play professional soccer understand that, for the vast majority of them, they will not be able to make soccer into a career.  Eventually, they will need to quit and find a job with better pay.  There is no legitimate reason, in our eyes, why this needs to be the narrative for so many extremely talented and hardworking women. It is up to fans and the general public to demand that the playing field gets leveled at this point, as players have done all they can to demonstrate why they deserve a league where equality is a cornerstone.

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