Christen Press feels badly for most of her Chicago Red Stars teammates.
It bothers Press that the demands of both playing in the women’s World Cup and of traveling to celebrate the U.S. triumph have drained her ability to help the team since returning to National Women’s Soccer League play three weeks after the tournament ended.
And she finds it discouraging that the league’s financial caste system leaves the three U.S. World Cup players on the team flush but so many Red Stars scraping to make ends meet as the team heads for its first appearance in the 3-year-old league’s playoffs.
The situation is generally better for WNBA players, mainly because they can substantially supplement their income by joining an overseas team once the U.S. season ends in September. But that means grinding bodies through nearly 12 months of nonstop basketball.
Every member of the 23-woman U.S. World Cup team roster, including Red Stars Press, Julie Johnston and Lori Chalupny, will earn at least $300,000 in soccer salary and bonuses for 2015. Red Stars players from the U.S. who are not on either the World Cup team or the national team make between $6,300 and $37,500.
The World Cup players missed nine of the Red Stars’ first 18 matches. The NWSL regular-season ends Sunday, and the playoff semifinals are Sept. 13.
“I want so much more for my teammates,” Press said. “You can be one inch from the national team and the opportunity to make so much money and a life out of it. That’s why people hang on so long.
“The (NWSL) clubs are doing their best to make a sustainable system. My hope is that the resources start going back to the players. The players deserve more.”
U.S. Soccer pays for the NWSL league office staff’s expenses and covers the NWSL salaries of players on the national team as well as their national team salaries. This year, those women have salaries between $112,000 and $126,000, with $70,000 for national team play and the rest for NWSL play, according to people who have seen the contracts.
The World Cup players also earned $15,000 each for making the roster and will be dividing $3.6 million in bonuses (some $150,000 apiece) for winning the tournament and taking part in the victory tour exhibition matches. They also divide a percentage of ticket sales revenue (the team share is $1.20 per ticket sold) for all domestic matches, an aggregate of some $70,000 from the first two of the 10 victory tour matches.
With a boost from interest generated by the World Cup, the 10-team NWSL attendance was up some 20 percent over last year, averaging 4,887 after 82 of 90 regular-season matches. If, as expected, it starts play next year, the NWSL will have outlasted each of the two women’s pro leagues that preceded it.
Much has been made of the women’s World Cup champions getting a $2 million bonus from the international soccer federation compared with $35 million for the men’s winners in 2014. But FIFA revenue from the 2014 men’s World Cup was $4.8 billion, while at the previous women’s World Cup, in 2011, the revenue was about $75 million. (Figures are not yet available for this year.)
“I don’t necessarily think women should get the same amount, but the question is whether it is fair in terms of the disproportionate amount,” said sociologist Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota.
Many of the U.S. women’s players will wind up with soccer national team income surprisingly close to that of the men in the four-year period from 2011 through 2015. The last Olympic year, 2012, also provided a big payday for the gold-medal women and virtually nothing for the non-qualifying men, only three of whom likely would have been senior national team members under Olympic roster age rules.
In the WNBA, where half the 12 teams are supported by the local NBA franchise, the salary range this season is $38,913 to $109,500. Many of the league’s top players earn up to 10 times that maximum (or in Diana Taurasi’s case, 15 times) playing the rest of the year overseas. The NBA average salary last season was $4.9 million.
WNBA average attendance has dropped from a peak of 10,864 in 1998, the league’s second season, to about 7,500 from 2012 through 2014 and was up 4.4 percent this year at the All-Star break.
“We’re watching the league survive despite what has gone on in the economy,” said Pokey Chatman, the Sky’s general manager and head coach. “That’s why you don’t get a knee-jerk reaction from leadership when people hear how much money these players can make abroad.
“They have a business model and are working for the league to be here 50 years from now. You can’t start paying the big overseas salaries at the cost of everything going away.”