Yet these women are still being paid 38 times less than their male counterparts. The Women’s World Cup payout will total just $15 million—while last year, the payout for the men’s World Cup was $576 million. Though women athletes in every sport are rarely as well paid as male athletes, women soccer players in the U.S. face an astounding wage gap.
Since the frenzy of the 1999 Women’s World Cup—in which the U.S. beat China and Sports Illustrated dubbed the team “Sportswomen of the Year,” a title usually called “Sportsman of the Year” and reserved for men—three national women’s soccer teams have cropped up in the United States.
The first, the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), lasted from 2001 to 2003 and WUSA’s players made spare change in the sports world. Soccer legend Mia Hamm, for instance, was paid only $85,000 in the league’s first year, before agreeing to take a pay cut to $60,000 when WUSA’s financial problems became obvious. “David Beckham makes twice that much in a week for Manchester United,” The New York Times reported at the time.
Initially, WUSA’s teams had a salary cap of $834,000 per 20-person team. When WUSA was replaced by Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), which lasted from 2009 to 2011, the cap decreased to $565,000. This meant players were paid even less, with the average player receiving about $32,000.
While these leagues don’t intentionally set out to underpay their players, limited commercial interest in women’s soccer means paltry salaries are necessary for teams to survive. Despite a riveting finals match with Japan in the 2011 Women’s World Cup, the WPS league remained largely ignored and folded just months later. (This lack of attention is far from unique to women’s soccer: In fact, a recent study found that in 2014, ESPN’s SportsCenter dedicated a meager 2 percent of its airtime to women’s sports.)
Today, the National Women’s Soccer League—which launched in 2013, shortly after the U.S. women took home the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics—has a salary cap of $265,000 per team. The minimum salary is $6,842, while the maximum ranges up to $37,800. Still, Grantlandreports that “most [players are] closer to the former than the latter.”
What’s the salary cap in the American men’s Major League Soccer? According to Politico, it was $3.1 million in 2014. That means for women players in the U.S. on a 20-person team, each player’s salary averages out to less than $15,000 per year. By contrast, each male player’s salary averages out to $155,000 per year.
This income inequality affects more than the players. The men’s national team head coach and technical director, Jurgen Klinsmann, made $2.5 million in 2014. That same year, the head coach for the women’s team, Jill Ellis, only made up to $215,000 (excluding performance bonuses).
Meanwhile, the U.S. women won more than a championship on Sunday: They pulled in an average of 25.4 million viewers per game during the World Cup. Plus, their winning match was the most-watched soccer game in United States history and it also beat the ratings records of nearly every other sporting event of the last few years, including Sunday Night Football and the NBA Finals.
What does this mean for the future of women’s soccer in the United States? Hopefully, that a future exists at all.