WASHINGTON, DC (Feb 12, 2020) – For the past 24 years, the United States National Soccer Team Players Association (USNSTPA), the union that represents the United States Men’s National Soccer Team players, has generally conducted its dealings with the United States Soccer Federation confidentially. The reason is simple. No matter how difficult and problematic those dealings have been, the players eventually make deals with the Federation. That’s why we rarely discuss CBA negotiations outside of our group.
However, the Federation has been working very hard to sell a false narrative to the public and even to members of Congress. They have been using this false narrative as a weapon against current and former members of the United States Women’s National Team.
Other than releasing statements of support, we have appropriately left it to the USWNT players and their representatives to pursue their grievances. It is our view that despite the best efforts of USWNT players and their representatives, the Federation has had some success in convincing people of the Federation’s false narrative. By coming forward to explain the situation, the USNSTPA hopes to create a better understanding and perhaps help bring about a resolution.
The US Soccer Federation, like all US National Governing Bodies for Olympic, Paralympic, or Pan American Games sports, has monopoly control over which athletes will be allowed to represent the United States.
Historically, the Federation has used that monopoly power as a weapon against the players. For many years they refused to pay players at all. The Federation benefitted from ticket sales, sponsorship, and merchandising while paying players as little as possible. Even now, they use player names, photos, and footage to create implied endorsements by players of Federation sponsors and sponsor products the players do not use, while not paying the players.
USMNT and USWNT players have always received less than fair compensation when playing for the National Teams. At the same time, every training session and game carries the risk of injury.
For the past 40 years, the Federation fought individual player efforts to convince the Federation to pay fair compensation to the professional athletes who represent the United States in international competitions. To try to change that, in 1995 the USMNT players were the first United States National Team in any sport to form a labor organization. The USWNT players followed a few years later. It took unfair labor practice charges filed by the USMNT players and a 1997 National Labor Relations Board action to force the Federation to even recognize and negotiate with the USNSTPA.
After the USMNT and USWNT organized in the late 1990s, a pattern developed that has continued for more than twenty years. With soccer’s popularity in the United States continually rising, the only way for USMNT players to convince the Federation to improve their wages and working conditions has been to come close to a work stoppage. In 1996 that meant the Federation sending replacement players to play a friendly against Peru and in 2005 that meant US Soccer calling up lower division replacement players to prepare for a World Cup qualifier against Mexico. Each time the players refused to be bullied, eventually securing improved compensation and working conditions.
The Federation norm is forcing players to play under expired collective bargaining agreements, sometimes for over two years. Historically, the Federation has justified its unreasonable proposals by claiming its financial future was uncertain. The Federation still claims it cannot afford to pay the players a fair share of the Federation’s revenue from selling the efforts of those players to fans, sponsors, and television.
The USMNT players stood together and eventually negotiated substantial increases with the Federation in 1997, 2001, 2005, and 2011. As a result, player compensation increased. However, it never came close to a fair percentage of the Federation’s National Team revenues.
The US Women normally negotiated after the men. With our unions working together since 1999, the goal was always to secure for the women comparable gains in pay and working conditions. For more than 20 years, the Federation has resisted any concept of equal pay or basic economic fairness for the USWNT players. Historically, the Federation also refused to include in the women’s CBA the same provisions as the men’s with respect to air travel, hotels, etc. This is systematic gender discrimination that should have never happened.
The current USWNT dispute relates to the agreement the USNSTPA negotiated on behalf of the men in 2011 for 2011-18. From 2003 to 2010, the Federation’s revenues related to the men’s national team and sponsorship of that team had increased significantly. The USMNT players were due for dramatic compensation increases. The men’s 2011-2018 deal was negotiated just at the end of the country’s financial crisis, with the Federation claiming its economic future was uncertain. Given the Federation’s claimed fear of financial uncertainty in 2011, the USMNT players agreed that during the eight years of the new CBA (2011-2018), player compensation would only increase by 25%, a rate of just about 2.8% per year.
As it turns out, 2011-2018 were spectacular years of financial growth and prosperity for the Federation. While USMNT player compensation went up 25% over those eight years, the Federation’s revenues tripled.
In 2009 and 2010, the years with financial information available to the USMNT players when negotiating the 2011-2018 deal, the Federation reported annual cash sponsorship, television, and licensing revenue of about $16 million. Total men’s and women’s National Team game revenue was about $12 million annually. The Federation had just over $50 million in the bank to cover any losses if the economy did not recover. So, as of 2011, when the men executed their CBA, the Federation received $28 million in annual cash revenue related to the men’s and women’s National Teams, with just over $50 million in the bank.
By 2017, when the USWNT players were conducting their most recent CBA negotiations, the Federation’s annual sponsorship, television, and licensing revenue had grown from $16 million in 2011 to over $49 million. Annual National Team revenues at that time ranged from $29 to $55 million. The Federation had $168 million of net assets. The annual combined revenue related to the men’s and women’s national teams had increased to between $78 and $104 million, with over $168 million in the bank. Once again, both National Team revenues and Federation assets in reserve had tripled.
With the women going first, negotiating a new deal in 2017, the expectation was for dramatic increases in their compensation, comparable to the Federation’s triple-digit increases in revenue. Instead, the women’s 2017-2021 CBA did not bring the women equality in working conditions and the women did not benefit from the dramatic increase in revenue associated with the USWNT. In fact, in 2017 the Federation insisted the women sign a 2017-2021 deal that was worse financially than the men’s soon-to-expire 2011-2018 CBA that had been negotiated six years earlier.
The equal pay dispute, filed by members of the women’s National Team and set for trial in the spring, compares the women’s 2017-2021 deal with the expired men’s CBA negotiated in 2011. The correct comparison should be between what the women got with their 2017-2021 deal and triple what the Federation agreed to pay the men in 2011 or whatever the men negotiate in their new CBA that will be retroactive to January 1, 2019. Those comparisons are what make it clear that the Federation had no intention of compensating the women fairly.
Which brings us to the real issue here. Our view is as follows. Yes, the women’s 2017-2021 deal is worse than the men’s 2011-2018 deal. Yes, the Federation continues to discriminate against the women in their wages and working conditions. We understand why the Federation’s control, not only over the USWNT but also over the only women’s professional league in the United States, the NWSL, might have created tremendous pressure on the USWNT players to get a deal done, even if it was on completely unfair and discriminatory terms. Faced with a monopolist controlling their two primary potential employers and aware that a work stoppage could destroy the third effort at a women’s professional soccer league in the United States, it is our view that the women had no reasonable alternative but to accept the 2017-2021 terms the Federation demanded.
What we believe should happen is simple. Pay the women significantly more than our recently expired men’s deal. In our estimation, the women were due at least triple what our expired deal was worth in player compensation. We believe the Federation should have agreed to a deal directly tied to a fair share of the revenue players generate. That is what should have happened, based on the entire history of labor negotiations involving the men and women players and the Federation.
Now, the Federation is taking the frivolous position that the USMNT players’ compensation should also stay at those 2011-2018 numbers. This is not because there is any basis for that position. Instead, it’s a desperate attempt to cover-up the fact that what they did to the women in 2017 is indefensible.
Has the new leadership of the Federation simply admitted that what the former leadership did was wrong? Have they offered to negotiate a new, fair deal with the USWNT representatives? Of course not. Instead, the Federation has doubled down on its misconduct. Rather than promote the sport of soccer in positive ways, they are involved in constant disputes and litigation. Rather than share the massive surpluses the women helped generate with the players, they are using those funds to dramatically increase the Federation’s annual legal fee budget to over $10 million to try to impose massive legal fees the women cannot afford. They’re lobbying and using every legal trick in the book to try to distract Congress, the Judge, and the soon-to-be-empaneled jury.
With that mindset, the multiple litigations involving the US Soccer Federation are no surprise. They’re trying to protect their monopoly, their massive revenue streams, and their continued ability to exploit US National Team players.
It is time for this to stop. The Courts, juries, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, Congress, new Federation leadership, or a combination of all five need to reform the Federation. The exploitation of athletes to generate revenues that are siphoned off to benefit owners of for-profit leagues and teams, Federation personnel with massive above-market salaries and bonuses, and self-promoting all-expenses-paid Federation “volunteers,” must end. The practice of paying multi-million dollar bonuses to personnel associated with the Federation for running various Federation-controlled tournaments in the United States should be investigated and outlawed. Soccer is perhaps the most corrupt sport in the World. We do not want a US Soccer Federation that behaves like FIFA.
What can you do? Tell the Federation’s sponsors you will not support them until the Federation starts doing the right thing and gives the women a new CBA that pays a fair share of the gate receipts and that television and sponsorship revenue to the players. Write to your Congressional representatives and tell them it is time to reform the Federation. Let the Federation know that you do not believe the false narrative they are circulating. Support the players, not the Federation.