The U.S. women's national soccer team will take the field this morning in the World Cup Final, hoping to bring home their fourth world championship title with a win over the Netherlands.

Even as the game begins, however, U.S. soccer is in a giant crisis. It's all about the fact that the women on the national team don't make anywhere near as much money as the men do. Now, it's the the subject of a lawsuit filed by the entire 2019 women's team on the eve of the World Cup, in a case that's already set to go to mediation.

But the idea that this is even an issue is insane.

If you bother to run the numbers on women's soccer, it becomes clear we should be paying the women at least as much as the men -- and probably even more. Here's why.

1. The uncaptured market.

This is the single, crucial factor informs a lot of the rationale for paying the women as least as much as the men. Probably more.

It's that there's way more room for the women's game to grow than there is for the men's game. So it makes sense to invest in the women's game now, and build up the U.S. product before the rest of the world can catch up.

It also puts the lie to the argument that if the women don't bring in as much money today (which is very controversial, see below), then they shouldn't be paid as much as the men. Anyone who says that is playing only for the short-term, when U.S. Soccer should be plying for the long term.

Granted, the women's game hasn't been around as long as the men's. The Women's World Cup dates back only to 1991. But if you look at the comparative rate of growth between the two teams, it's exponential and in favor of the women. 

Just one example: During the 1995 world tournament, key games attracted an audience of only 3,000 ticket-holding spectators. In 1999, more than 90,000 people watched the U.S. win the final at the Rose Bowl. This year, pre-Finals, the average in-person attendance was more than 37,000.

It makes sense to pay enough to attract the top talent now, performing at the top possible level, and capture as much of the market as possible.  

2. The comparative earnings.

Next up: the argument that women's soccer doesn't bring in as much money as men's soccer. For the overall world game, that's true.

But we're not really talking about the world game right now. We're talking about the Americans.

And during 2016 to 2018, the U.S. women actually brought in more revenue than the men: $50.8 million for the women versus $49.4 million for the men.

Yes, you can argue that this period of time might have been an outlier, since the men embarrassed themselves and their country by failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, so their numbers were down.

But comparing apples to apples and dollars to dollars, the women came out ahead.

And, add to that the future revenue from controversial stars like Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, before the men even have a real chance to prove they've regrouped.

I don't care whether you like them or root for them personally (but you should!). There's a reason why the women's jerseys sell a lot more than the men's team right now. And they should be compensated for it.

3. Exterior market forces.

In almost any market, there are exterior forces that ultimately boost the winners and losers.

For Amazon, there was Jeff Bezos's observation about the insane rate of growth in Internet usage in the 1990s. For Google, there's the completely unearned advantage they're enjoying after President Trump's taxes on competing products from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo gave them a big advantage.

When it comes to women's soccer, that exterior force isn't just the the mathematical growth of the game, but the way that societal attitudes have radically and quickly changed.

In short, if you're old enough (like me), you can easily remember a time when people used phrases like "run like a girl" as if they were put-downs. Now, I'm happy to admit that I personally know hundreds if not thousands of women who could run faster than me.

Even making the argument that women should be paid less than men for a better performance seems straight out of the Dark Ages. Besides--not that it turns on this--but we're not talking about all the money in the world here.

The U.S. often women make about 40 percent of what the men make. In the World Cup, it's more dramatic: $2 million for the women for winning the World Cup in 2015; $9 million for the men in 2014, when they went 1-2-1 and were knocked out in the round of 16.

So while the numbers are out of whack here, we're only talking about a few million dollars, with a tremendous upside. The U.S. Soccer Federation should find a way to pay it. Case closed.

Published on: Jul 7, 2019
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