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It Seems To Me . . .

U.S. womenís new contract is good, but not as good as itís made to be.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Tuesday, February 1, 2000) -- The United States Soccer Federation is trumpeting its newly negotiated agreement with the women who have, and will, comprise the its national team. Adjectives like "landmark" and "historic" are being thrown about. But the key word in this agreement -- located in the fine print -- appears to be "against." When you take this word into consideration the agreement may actually be a whole lot less than originally thought.

In press reports based on leaked information, the women were said have negotiated a deal paying them $5,000 a month in-residence salary (up from $3,100 in their previous contract) plus appearance fees equal to what the U.S. men are paid ($2,000 per match). Add to this various bonuses for things like winning the gold medal in the Summer Olympics in Sydney in September, and you reach calculations such as the one made by the New York Times, that the women stand to make about $130,000 from U.S. Soccer in salary, fees and bonus in the coming year.

But as was made clear in the todayís news conference announcing the agreement, the $5,000 monthly salary is actually a guarantee against appearance fees. It means that each women in residence will make at least $5,000 a month, but probably not too much more.

For instance, in the month of March, the U.S. women are slated to play four matches in the Algarve Cup in Portugal. The assumption was that women who played in all four matches would make a total of $13,000. That's wrong. If a women plays in all four matches, she will make $8,000, plus a share of any bonus money the team earns. If she plays in only three, she will make $6,000. If less than three, then only the $5,000 guarantee.

Right now, if the U.S. goes to the final of every tournament it is entered into this year, and that includes the Olympics, and plays the maximum number of friendlies on the schedule, the most matches a woman could play would be about 33. That would mean the maximum in appearance fees of about $66,000, plus various bonuses. Even if the women win everything, it is doubtful any women will earn more than about $90,000 this year, or well less than some of the early estimates.

On a number of levels, the contract is historic. Basically, it puts the women on approximately even footing with the men, at least as far as appearance fees and expenses and various perks are concerned. Also inherent in the agreement is that U.S. Soccer will begin to support women's programs at younger levels (project Gold)on a par with the support given the men's youth teams.

There is another potential problem here. There is a clause in the contract that says -- in the name of gender equity -- that if at any time during the life of the contract the men's national team "receives compensation equal to a higher percentage of its gross revenues than the women's national team receives of its gross revenues, the U.S. women will receive a lump sum bonus to equalize the compensation ratios."

This absolutely does not say they will receive an equal amount of money. Only an equal percentage of the gross.

Let's assume that the next Women's World Cup is played in Australia. Let's assume crowds are anemic (the average attendance was less than 2,000 per doubleheader in the just completed Australian Cup). Let's assume television revenues are minimal because, with the time difference, all matches shown in the U.S. will be on a 12-16 hour delay. The chances are the next Women's World Cup will actually lose money for its organizers. Even if FIFA kicks in some prize money, the check U.S. Soccer might receive for a gold medal performance might be little or nothing.

Contrast this to the men's World Cup. If the Americans qualify for the 2002 World Cup in South Korea\Japan -- not a given -- U.S. Soccer will receive a seven-figure check. That check would grow to eight figures if the team advances out of the first round. The men and women might get the same percentages, but the gross amounts could be, and almost certainly will be, vastly different.

The women got some interesting perks in this contract. One was what is essentially a $15,000 severance fee for any women currently on the national team roster who is cut in the future (and an equal amount for any player making a certain number of appearances who is subsequently cut). This apparently was important to the veteran players who were central to these contract negotiations. A uncharitable way to characterize this would be to say players who fear their playing days may be nearing an end were more interested in protecting themselves than in aggressively seeking future earnings.

U.S. Soccer says this agreement will make the women "among the highest paid soccer players in America." Maybe, but probably not. The best-paid women under this agreement, and that is the women who are with the team match in and match out, will make about what the average player is starting to make in Major League Soccer. Their counterparts, that is the men who comprise the men's national team, are for the most part earning well above the average in MLS, or a lot more in Europe, and when you throw in their national team compensation (albeit without any guarantee), the women will continue to make substantially less.

While absolute gender equity is still lacking, it is basically a good agreement. Somewhat amusing is the fact, admitted by both sides, if this agreement had been on the table last August it would have been quickly accepted and all the unpleasantness of the last few months could have been avoided.

U.S. Soccer's chief negotiator, former president Alan Rothenberg blamed himself, saying he did not understand the obvious urgency the women were feeling, so he took his time in scheduling talks. Whether U.S. Soccer was actually ready to make this offer last fall will remain unanswered.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at SoccerWag1@aol.com.

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