Closing The Gap

After US women's World Cup victory, the fight for equal pay takes center stage

US women's soccer team celebrates World Cup victory with NYC parade
US women's soccer team celebrates World Cup victory with NYC parade

On Wednesday, New York City held a ticker-tape parade and a ceremony for the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team (USWNT) to celebrate the team's 2019 FIFA World Cup victory.

The event made it clear that after their victory, the USWNT has set their sights on equal pay — and they've earned plenty of support in the process. 

When the USWNT defeated Netherlands 2-0 in the 2019 FIFA World Cup Final, the sold out crowd of nearly 60,000 people gathered at France's Parc Olympique Lyonnais burst into cheers. When FIFA president Gianni Infantino walked onto the field to award the players their medals, the crowd instead chanted "Equal pay!"

The same was true on Wednesday when United States Soccer Federation (USSF) President Carlos Cordeiro took the stage of the celebration ceremony for the USWNT at New York City Hall — the crowd chanted "Pay them!" and "Equal pay!" as he took the podium.

"In recent months, you have raised your voices for equality," said Cordeiro. "Today, on behalf of all of us at U.S. Soccer, I want to say we hear you, we believe in you and we are committed to doing right by you."

"We believe at U.S. Soccer that all female athletes deserve fair and equitable pay," he continued, "and together, I believe we can get this done, because as this team has taught us, being the greatest isn't just about how you play on the field, it's about what you stand for off the field. It's about who we are as a sport and a country."

When USWNT co-captain Megan Rapinoe later addressed the crowd she joked about the cheers, but eventually came to Cordeiro's defense. "Everybody in power gets booed" said Rapinoe. "But I'm going to stick my neck out a little bit, I'm going to endorse Carlos. I think he's with us. I think he's on the right side of things. I think he's going to make things right."

U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro speaks as the United States Women's National Soccer Team are honored at a ceremony at City Hall on July 10, 2019 in New York City. The honor followed a ticker tape parade up lower Manhattan's "Canyon of Heroes" to celebrate their gold medal victory in the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The moment just the most recent in a long history of tension between the USWNT and the USSF, dating back to 1996, when USWNT players threatened to boycott the Olympics over compensation.

In March, 28 members of the USWNT filed a lawsuit against the USSF for gender discrimination and unequal pay. According to the lawsuit, if the men's and women's teams won each of the 20 non-tournament games they are contractually required to play, women's team players would earn a maximum of $99,000 ($4,950 per game), while men's team players would earn $263,320 ($13,166 per game).

At the time of the suit, Cordeiro said he was "surprised" by the team's complaints and emphasized the USSF's "commitment to reaching a common ground." The formal response to the lawsuit by the USSF claimed that any differences in pay was "based on differences in the aggregate revenue generated by the different teams and/or any other factor other than sex."

But according to audited financial statements from the USSF obtained by The Wall Street Journal, USWNT games have generated more revenue than U.S. men's games over the past three years, and U.S. viewership of the 2019 Women's World Cup final was 22% higher than the 2018 men's final, according to a statement from Fox Sports.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) speaking at a press conference sponsored by the Problem Solvers Caucus and the Common Sense Coalition to announce "principles for legislation to lower prescription drug prices" at the US Capitol in Washington, DC.
SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

On Tuesday, West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin introduced a bill that would ban federal funding for the 2026 World Cup until the USSF pays its national women and men's team the same compensation, reports The Washington Post.

The senator explained that he was prompted to propose this new bill after receiving a letter from West Virginia University's head soccer coach, Nikki Izzo-Brown, who expressed concerns that "the WVU Women's Soccer Team could one day make the U.S. women's team and not get paid the same as the men's team."

Manchin called the pay disparity "just plain wrong" and writes that if his proposed bill is passed then "no federal funds may be appropriated or otherwise made available to provide support for the 2026 World Cup, including support for a host city, a participating State or local agency, the United States Soccer Federation, the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), or the Federation de Football Association (FIFA), until the date on which the United States Soccer Federation agrees to provide equitable pay."

According to The Wall Street Journal, the USSF and the USWNT "tentatively agreed to pursue mediation after the World Cup ends."

Now that the World Cup has ended, the USWNT will play a five-game victory tour and mediation is expected to begin.

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

Don't miss:

This 23-year-old is the only full-time female trader at the New York Stock Exchange
This 23-year-old is the only full-time female trader at the New York Stock Exchange