Soccer has a huge wage inequality issue

Patricia Arquette made the most of her Oscar moment. Last night’s winner for Best Supporting Actress used her first turn at the Academy Awards winner’s microphone to draw attention to wage inequality in Hollywood – a gap that Fusion’s Rob Wile says won’t close until 2058, at its current rate. While the Boyhood star later stumbled, the debate about wage inequality is one that’s gone on for too long, with recent government efforts again meeting confounding opposition.

That there is wage inequality is undeniable, but the push and pull factors which contribute to it form a more nuanced conversation, one that provides a number of points to place fault. At the end of all those effects, we’re often left with an end product that speaks more to the symptoms than the mechanisms.

Take our domestic soccer landscape. At the most basic levels, wage inequality can be seen in the salary caps of our two top level leagues: Major League Soccer and the National Women’s Soccer League. The former is a 20-year-old organization with established revenue streams that have switched the league’s focus from survival to growth. For the NWSL, a league with a total wage cap that’s six percent that of MLS ($200,000 to $3,100,000, per team), survival is still the focus:

salary cap

Sources: Major League Soccer; National Women’s Soccer League.

Put another way, a $3.1 million per team salary cap comes to $155,000 per player, with 20 players per team subject to the cap. Thanks to things like the Designated Player rule (which allows a handful of player’s overall compensation to exceed the salary cap) the league’s average salary is higher, even if a number of off-cap players make below the league average.

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Compare that to the same number in the NWSL. Even with the U.S., Canadian and Mexican federations subsidizing their player’s salaries, each roster spot under the league’s cap only comes to $14,286 per player.

salary per spot

Sources: Major League Soccer; National Women’s Soccer League;

There are, of course, a litany of reasons why the NWSL’s clubs can’t afford to pay players $155,000 per season. It does little good to insist that wage disparity shrink if it means women’s professional soccer ceases to exit, again. But the constraints on the NWSL are a product of a larger societal concern. That the league’s forced to accept those constraints in the name of survival doesn’t mitigate the problem.

Across the 19 teams that played in Major League Soccer last season, players earned $130 million in compensation. While we don’t have the same access to NWSL wage data, the most the league’s nine teams could have collectively paid its players is $1.8 million. In aggregate, first division women’s soccer players are making 98.6 percent less than professional soccer’s male cohort.

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Of course, professional player compensation isn’t the only place where soccer’s economic inequalities exist, even if it’s the place where the divide may be most meaningful. Consider another easy comparison, one available in U.S. Soccer’s financials: Last year, men’s national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann (who also functions as the program’s technical director) made $2.5 million. The corresponding role on the women’s side, currently held by Jill Ellis, makes “$185,000 to $215,000” plus performance bonuses, at best 8.6 percent of what her male counterpart makes.

head coach compensation

Source: U.S. Soccer’s FY2014 Audited Financial Statement.

There’s another vector worth considering, one that’s upstream from individual compensation. The investment U.S. Soccer puts into its men’s and women’s programs likely influences staff and player compensation at lower levels, and over the last two years, the U.S.’s well-supported women’s program has still lagged behind the men’s, even if the disparity is less alarming than the previous measures.

us soccer expenses

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 1.31.00 PM

Source: U.S. Soccer’s FY2014 Audited Financial Statement.

While all these disparities are concerning, consider one factor that’s been crucial to the first three years of the NWSL’s existence. Over the last two years, U.S. Soccer has provided support $918,508 worth of subsidies and support to the nascent women’s league. Last year, U.S. Soccer increased its investment by 170 percent to $670,678 (an increase one reader noted could be down to the timing of U.S. Soccer’s financial years).

domestic league support

That support doesn’t offset the huge divides elsewhere in the landscape. Some could even argue the NWSL needs more support at this early stage to be truly viable. But league support is one, small place where the bars on one side of the graph finally outstretch the others.

Where does that leave U.S. soccer? Well, consider the following graphic, from Wile’s post …

screen-shot-2015-02-22-at-11-31-51-pm… 60 percent is a pipe dream in the world of women’s soccer.