USWNT, USMNT achieve equal pay: How they reached a historic benchmark

For years, the slogan has been ubiquitous: “One Nation. One Team.” 

Whether you’re watching a U.S. national team match, on one of their official social media pages or shopping in the federation’s web store, you’re almost guaranteed to see it plastered all over the place. But that marketing campaign has never felt more fitting than right now. 

On Wednesday, following a bitter lawsuit and lengthy, occasionally contentious negotiating process, the U.S. Soccer Federation and the players’ unions for the U.S. women’s and men’s national teams announced that they have agreed to separate collective bargaining agreements that achieve equal pay through identical economic terms for both teams. 

“One-hundred percent, it embodies One Nation, One Team,” USWNT forward Midge Purce told The Athletic during a Zoom call with USMNT center back Walker Zimmerman and U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone. “We’re intrinsically tied now (with the men’s national team). When they score, we’ll cheer just a little bit harder. We did before, but we’re excited about it — we want a doubleheader. We’re opening doors for a new look of what football is in America.”

Equal pay is, of course, the major and deserved headline with Wednesday’s news. The three sides have agreed that the compensation negotiated with the two new CBAs is not just equal pay, but equal pay with equal rates of pay (rather than comparing total compensation, regardless of imbalances of matches played). 

The two teams will now be on level terms for:

  • Equal pay for every game played, from friendlies to World Cups and other competitions
  • Equal bonuses for game outcome and World Cup participation
  • Equal pay for every day in camp
  • Equal split of World Cup prize money, with the two teams pooling and then dividing their prize totals from the 2022 and 2023 tournaments, and 2026 and 2027 competitions
  • Equal split of a new commercial revenue share program with U.S. Soccer
  • Equal rate for tickets sold for games controlled by U.S. Soccer

Equalizing World Cup prize money was the major hurdle that needed to be cleared to get these deals done. In practice, it’ll work like this: Say the U.S. men reach the round of 16 in Qatar to win a $13 million prize from FIFA and the U.S. women win the tournament in 2023 to earn a potential $7 million prize from FIFA. The two teams would then evenly split 90 percent of that combined total of $20 million, with the remaining 10 percent of their respective prize monies going to the federation. That nets out to $9 million for each team to be split between their respective players. That number does not include the World Cup roster appearance fee paid by USSF to each player on the respective squads.

For the 2026 men’s World Cup and 2027 Women’s World Cup, the two teams will split 80 percent of the combined prize money paid by FIFA. U.S. Soccer’s cut of the overall winnings will increase to 20 percent for those two tournaments. 

For other competitions, prize money will be distributed depending on if the same tournament exists for both the MNT and the WNT. In the case of the Gold Cup and W Gold Cup, for instance, the prize money will be pooled and shared equally between the teams, with U.S. Soccer keeping 30 percent of the total and each team receiving 35 percent of the entire pool. For any other competitions that don’t have an equivalent (such as Copa America), U.S. Soccer will give 70 percent to the participating team.

Both the WNT and MNT collective bargaining agreements will run for the same term, retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year, through Dec. 31, 2028. 

“This is the first time that we have sat down together, and we accomplished something historic,” said Zimmerman, a member of the leadership group for the men’s union, the U.S. National Soccer Team Players Association (USNSTPA). “We’re really excited to continue that timeline and to work together. It makes a lot more sense when you’re united, and you want to have — and you do have — equal terms, it just makes sense to move forward on that (shared) timeline.”

The larger structural changes are on the women’s side. Guaranteed contracts are now gone, though even without the new CBA, the number of guaranteed contracts had already fallen to only 16. Some players will still be able to receive benefits, which include insurance, parental leave and short-term disability, through the federation, in recognition of what the federation deems “additional work.” 

In February, U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association (USWNTPA) president Becky Sauerbrunn said that the team has approached past CBA negotiations differently. ​​

“We’ve asked for different structures (than the men), but that’s always because we never got an identical compensation proposal, and so we had to fight for the best deal that we could at the time. Fortunately, because of the equal pay commitment in the settlement, and between the federation and our players’ association and men’s association — there will be things that we are fighting for separately — but when it comes down to pay, when it comes down to working conditions, those things will be the same.”

With compensation equalized, the WNT players were willing to shift to the pay-for-play structure of the men, with their money now coming on a per-game basis. 

“The way that this new CBA is structured, we’ve increased the amount of risk with your paycheck,” Purce, a member of the USWNTPA CBA committee, said. Rising NWSL salaries (and the new NWSL CBA, signed on Apr. 29, which introduces free agency by 2023) will play a role in minimizing some of that risk for players moving forward — though it’s nowhere near as financially robust as the club contracts signed by men’s players.

“I’m really happy that people aren’t signing for $16,000 like I did when I was still in college, and that people can support themselves more comfortably with NWSL salaries,” she said. “It’s a credit to the NWSL, and I hope it just keeps growing with this.”

There are also smaller wins for the WNT which will have a direct financial benefit. The federation has equalized how opponents’ FIFA rankings impact game bonuses, with the same tier system now in place for both senior national teams. An equal number of players will now be named to game-day rosters (unless otherwise restricted by the competition) for the MNT and WNT, which will increase most WNT rosters from 18 players to 23. Combined, that means that the WNT isn’t just getting better bonuses, but that more players will be earning them.

Here’s how these numbers will play out for both the WNT and MNT for friendlies, with the new equal tier system in place:

Friendlies vs. FIFA rank 1-25*

Result Appearance fee Game bonus Total

Win

$8,000

$10,000

$18,000

Draw

$8,000

$3,000

$11,000

Loss

$8,000

$0

$8,000

*Tier includes all men’s friendlies vs. Mexico and all women’s friendlies vs. Canada, regardless of their respective FIFA ranks

Friendlies vs. FIFA rank 26+

Result Appearance fee Game bonus Total

Win

$8,000

$5,000

$15,000

Draw

$8,000

$2,000

$10,000

Loss

$8,000

$0

$8,000

Game bonuses will be higher for World Cup qualifying matches compared to other official competitions. Here are the breakdowns for appearance fees and bonuses for these two other types of matches:

FIFA World Cup Qualifying

Category Appearance Fees Game Bonus Total

Win

$10,000

$14,000

$24,000

Draw

$10,000

$4,000

$14,000

Loss

$10,000

$0

$10,000

Non-FIFA World Cup Official Competitions

Category Appearance Fees Game Bonus Total

Win

$10,000

$12,000

$22,000

Draw

$10,000

$4,000

$14,000

Loss

$10,000

$0

$10,000

There will be no performance bonuses for World Cup matches for the WNT or MNT, though players will receive the $10,000 appearance fee for those matches.

The settlement on working conditions as part of the equal pay lawsuit between the WNT players and the federation, approved in April 2021, has also been carried forward into the collective bargaining agreement, with equal resources provided for venues and field services, hotel accommodations, team staffing and travel.

Additionally, for the first time, U.S. Soccer will share a portion of its broadcast and sponsorship revenue with the senior national team players. The share given to the men’s and women’s teams will be equal. The revenue share program will kick in once USSF crosses the $55 million income threshold. If the federation pulls in between $55-$75 million in an individual year, each team will receive 10 percent of the total. If U.S. Soccer earns more than $75 million, the two teams will each get 15 percent of the total. A source indicated that the federation is positioned well to hit that threshold after the agreement it signed with Nike last November, and the media rights deal it reached with Turner Sports in March

The sides also agreed to share ticket revenue from home games controlled by U.S. Soccer. Players will receive a small cut of revenue from each ticket sold for those matches, which include home friendlies, World Cup qualifiers and Nations League contests. From 2023 to 2026, U.S. Soccer will set aside $5.06 from every ticket sold; for the last two years of the CBA terms, that will rise to $5.75. Players will also receive a bonus if games are sold out — the federation will pay the players 10% of the average ticket cost for sell outs on matches they control.

As part of the new CBA, the federation will also now provide childcare to USMNT players during all training camps and match windows. The USSF has provided that benefit to the USWNT for more than 25 years. The federation is also setting up a 401(k) plan for all players from both teams. 

For the men, the agreement brings an end to a nearly three-and-a-half-year period in which they were working without a CBA. That process has been fraught at times, with the players reportedly threatening to strike ahead of their friendly against Costa Rica last June. That move prompted a round of negotiations that ended with the players reportedly reaching an agreement with USSF CEO Will Wilson, only for that deal to later be rejected by the U.S. Soccer board.

The men pulled back from negotiations after the proposed deal fell apart last June, but they returned to the table last fall to sit in on the women’s negotiations as observers. Eventually, they became active participants. All the while, as they were working their way through qualification for the 2022 World Cup, the men were debating whether or not to pool their prize money with the women so that it would be equalized across both teams. 

“I’m gonna be honest, it wasn’t always easy,” said Zimmerman. “It was definitely not a quick conversation like, ‘Hey, everyone, if you vote yes, raise your hand. Yep, we’re good.’ It was a lot of conversations where we had to listen, hear everyone out, hear exactly what they thought.” 

Ultimately, Zimmerman said, actually sitting down at the bargaining table with the women’s players pushed the men over the line. They knew what they felt was right — they just had to act.

“I would say that’s when the reality hit,” he said. “Like, ‘Yeah, this is what we need to do, this is what has to happen to grow the game beyond just the men’s team and the women’s team, but to grow it at the grassroots level.’ … We came together and said this is what is right, this can be historic, this could change the landscape of international football and what it looks like with federations having equal pay for the men’s and women’s sides. I think that’s kind of what sold it at the end of the day, is that this is what’s right and that this is an opportunity to do what no other national team has done.” 

Cone, who echoed Zimmerman’s comments about the importance of the deal, not just for equal pay, but for “the overall growth of the game,” praised the men for their decision to pool World Cup prize money. 

“I’m just so proud, especially of the men and the men’s PA, for coming together,” she said. “Because no matter how you look at it, it was contingent on them being willing to come together and negotiate with the women and give up some of the money that had previously gone to the men to help us equalize World Cup prize money. So we wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for everyone joining together and collaborating.”

Of course, the U.S. men can afford to give up a portion of their prize money. Unlike the women, almost all of the regular men’s players make hefty salaries with their club teams. They derive a much lower percentage of their income from their work with the national team than the women. Zimmerman himself just signed a new contract with Nashville SC that will pay him at least $10 million over the next four years. Other USMNT players in MLS, like Jesus Ferreira, Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan and DeAndre Yedlin, are either making more than, or just under, $1 million per year. European-based stars like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams likely make significantly more. For context, newly-minted USWNT forward Trinity Rodman signed the richest contract in NWSL history with the Washington Spirit this spring. It’s for four years and a total of $1.1 million

Zimmerman was quoted in the press release announcing the deal saying that he hopes the agreements “will awaken others to the need for this type of change, and will inspire FIFA and others around the world to move in the same direction.” He deferred comment to a later date when asked if the men have any plans to take advantage of the increased media attention that will be on them in the run-up to this fall’s World Cup in Qatar to lobby FIFA to make changes, but he, Purce and Parlow Cone all spoke about their hope that this deal will help make things more equitable between men’s and women’s national teams across the world. 

“This is going to have ramifications throughout not only the footballing world, but the sports world,” Cone said. “I’m really proud that we were the first country (to equalize prize money), but I would certainly hope we’re not the last. I will work to continue to encourage CONCACAF and FIFA to move in this direction as well. I think we do have willing partners there, but I don’t think things are going to move as fast as we would all like for them to.”

The more immediate story here revolves around the WNT, as the new CBA was the key to their settlement with U.S. Soccer concerning the equal pay lawsuit. The federation and players announced their agreement to settlement terms on Feb. 22, though that deal was contingent upon the ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement. With that ratification from both players associations and the U.S. Soccer board of directors, the settlement process can be resolved following approval from both the class members (the players) and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

For the federation, there’s plenty of reason to celebrate two new CBAs and the final resolution of the equal pay lawsuit, but more than anything it’s the end of their public battle with the USWNT, which has cost U.S. Soccer in many ways beyond the legal fees, including sponsorship deals and public perception.

It’s also another win for Cone in her role as president, with multiple sources from the women’s national team indicating that the final deal on equal pay and the CBAs wouldn’t have happened without her guidance. Thirty-two WNT players were willing to publicly endorse Cone over former president Carlos Cordeiro, who resigned in 2020 amid ferocious criticism over USSF court filings in the equal pay lawsuit that disparaged women’s players, ahead of March’s USSF presidential election.

“Getting to a deal doesn’t automatically rebuild the trust,” Cone said. “We still have a lot of work to do, and that’s on us.” 

Wednesday will be claimed as a historic day by all sides, but there’s also no overlooking the actual impacts on the players’ lives, particularly on the women’s side. Asked if she had a favorite part of the new deal, Purce had an immediate answer.

“You know, you’re not the first person to ask me this,” she said, laughing. “The money.”

(Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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