Two U.S. Senators are again wading into the equal pay fight between the U.S. Women’s National Team and soccer’s American governing body, and this time they are seeking information on one of the more opaque and contentious aspects in the dispute.
In a Wednesday letter addressed to Don Garber, the commissioner of Major League Soccer and the chief executive of Soccer United Marketing, or SUM ― the private company that markets and sells commercial and broadcast rights for the U.S. teams ― Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) requested details about how the revenues from those marketing deals might affect the pay of USWNT and U.S. Men’s National Team players.
“We are interested in learning more about the amount of revenue generated by the Women’s Team and how the relative value of the Women’s Team and Men’s Team are assessed by SUM,” the senators wrote. “As the company that owns the marketing rights to the United States Soccer Federation, you are uniquely positioned to shed light on this issue.”
Garber and SUM didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Murray and Feinstein have previously sought information from the U.S. Soccer Federation, which oversees both teams.
The equal pay dispute began in March when five USWNT players filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In the complaint, the women’s players cited public U.S. Soccer figures to claim that they had been paid 25 percent less than their male counterparts, despite generating more revenue in the most recent years and finding more success on the field.
U.S. Soccer has disputed those claims, saying the women earn just 2 percent less than the men. The two sides have publicly gone back and forth over the interpretation of those figures in the ensuing months.
The marketing deals with SUM make up a significant portion of the revenue the national teams generate each year. But because SUM bundles the commercial broadcast rights for the men’s and women’s teams as a single package, it is hard to discern the relative marketing value of either side individually.
For that reason, Murray and Feinstein are seeking specific breakdowns of annual revenue generated by each team over the past eight years, details of individual revenue streams that include the USWNT, and a description of SUM’s efforts to “promote the growth of women’s soccer both domestically and abroad.”
U.S. Soccer has said that SUM does not break down individual revenues or values for the men’s and women’s teams. It has also suggested it is safe to assume that the USMNT generates more marketing value, in large part because men’s soccer has historically done so.
Murray and Feinstein, however, are somewhat skeptical of that argument, noting that the final match of the 2015 Women’s World Cup ― which the USWNT won ― set national viewership records for men’s and women’s soccer broadcasts on Fox. That echoes arguments the top USWNT players have made, and both the senators and players have sought transparency on the issue of marketing revenues.
“This general lack of transparency ... makes it challenging to accurately understand the magnitude of the disparity in the revenue generated by the Women’s and Men’s Teams and the impact that differentials in these revenues have on the salaries of the Men’s and Women’s Team players,” the senators wrote.
Murray and Feinstein, two of the senate’s most ardent supporters of legislation that would promote equal pay for women workers, have repeatedly pushed U.S. Soccer on the apparent pay disparity between men’s and women’s players. Along with 20 other Senate Democrats, they introduced a resolution in May calling for equal pay for USWNT players. The nonbinding resolution unanimously passed the Senate later that month.
They also pressed U.S. Soccer for further details on broadcast deals and marketing rights in a similar letter sent in August, before the USWNT began play at the Rio Olympics.
In the latest letter, the senators reiterate that the pay dispute between the USWNT and its federation is indicative of larger problems across the country, and highlight the need to address pay discrepancies for men and women.
“We strongly believe that pay disparities like the one between the teams send the wrong message to young people and have no place in the 21st century economy,” they wrote.