Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Hope Solo and misguided legal actions

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It appears that Hope Solo is up to her old tricks again: According to a recent entry on her blog, she is initiating a federal law-suit to get “equal” pay. This in a continuation of an earlier suit ([1]).

These are highly unfortunate developments, which risk setting a damaging precedence, should the suit be successful, removing or weakening the performance aspect of remuneration and risking more “Title IX”-style problems. And that is just in sports: If and when such procedures catch on in the overall economy, there is no telling what the results could be. (I have a number of older texts on related problems, including [2], [3], [4].)

For want of new details, I have briefly looked into the original situation. Going by [1], the (then) complaint alleged that “[t]here are no legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for this gross disparity of wages, nor can it be explained away by any bona fide seniority, merit or incentive system or any factor other than sex”.

I have already discussed much of this matter in an older post on remuneration in Swedish soccer, and I will not re-iterate the arguments made there. However, I do explicitly note that audience figures are similarly poor among women compared to men in the U.S.: For instance, Wikipedia on MLS attendance and NWSL attendance shows that the MLS for 2017 had a total of 8,270,187 spectators over 374 games, with a mean attendance of 22,113—while the NWSL had 609,960 spectators over 120 games, with a mean attendance of 5,083. In other words, less than quarter per game and less than a third of the games…* (For further reference, a single 17-game round of the Bundesliga often exceeds the above season’s total of the NWSL.) The (international) situation in the men’s World Cup and the women’s World Cup is less extreme, but has the same tendency. For instance, the last four men’s tournaments have averaged roughly 50 thousand spectators at 64 games each. The best women’s average was 37,944 over 32 games in 1999; the highest overall attendance was in 2015 after the number of games had been pushed to 53—but with a mere 26,029 in average attendance.

*A better comparison would take total revenue and/or ticket prices into account, but, with the large difference in spectators, the research would not pay off—even a considerably higher ticket price for women’s games would not make up for this difference. To boot, chances are that the men’s tickets are more expensive due to greater demand; to boot, any difference in ticket price would be reduced by secondary game-visit costs, like overpriced hot-dogs.

The lawsuit appeared to claim that the women’s team would actual earn more money for the U.S. soccer federation than the men’s team. Here I have two objections:

Firstly, if that is the case, the women should have an excellent bargaining position and their first move should be to negotiate (see also an excursion below)—not sue. There might or might not be some deranged Old White Man somewhere who takes a perverted pleasure in keeping women down, but, contrary to Feminist propaganda, this is a rare case indeed. Motivations like a wish for more money and more power are far, far more common, and those who can give them what they want can get something in return. Starving the golden goose is just stupid. However, do not expect to get things without negotiating for them: Big organizations rarely work that way; and there are plenty of both Old White Men and Young Black Women who are more than happy to underpay everyone who lets them get away with it.

Secondly, the claim is at best misleading, as can be suspected from the above. I had a look* at a PDF-report with official numbers that is linked in [1]:

*A detailed interpretation might require more background information or more detailed numbers, and I make reservations for errors of interpretation.

Generally, it is misleading to base comparisons of a single year and a greater time stretch has to be considered: The numbers for each team can vary considerable based on the external circumstances of the year, as when the men’s World Cup in 2014 (fiscal year* 2015) increased the numbers for the men in that year and the women’s World Cup in 2015 (fiscal year 2016) did the same for women in that year. Furthermore, there is often a dependency on short-term success, which also make any short-term comparisons misleading. What e.g. if the U.S. women had missed their mark in 2015 the way they did in the Olympics in 2016?** Indeed, the great budgeted numbers for the women’s team in 2017 include an “Olympic Victory Tour” (chart 2; chart 3 for the men). I do not know what the later real games and numbers were, but I do know that the U.S. Women did not win the preceding Olympics, making this “Olympic Victory Tour” a budgetary distortion.***

*Unless referring to a championship, references to years will be fiscal years below.

**Note that I am not arguing that their success should be discounted—they did win and do deserve the credit (and any bonuses they might have negotiated in advance). What I do argue is that differences from one tournament to another (especially, when combined with the question of what tournaments are available in the given year) make it important to be cautious with prognoses for the future. They won in 2015, but flopped in 2016. The German men won the World Cup in 2014 (and were Olympic runner-ups in 2016), but were last in their group in 2018. Keep in mind particularly that there is always an element of chance involved and that even the best team of the tournament is unlikely to win it without at least some luck.

***Interestingly, per game, the men’s budget had both higher average attendance and higher average ticket-prices, making it reasonable with higher per game rewards for the men. (Per game rewards appearing to be one of the main bones of contention. I make no claim as to how much higher would be reasonable at this stage, however.) Note that the overall numbers are further distorted by the greater number of “away” games for the men.

Further, the numbers are not that flattering for the women. True, page 68 shows a projected income from “Men’s National Team Events” of 21,047,216 for 2016 compared to 23,570,326 + a World Cup 3,234,600 for the women—leaving the women almost six million ahead.* However, actual numbers for 2015 show 14,867,576 + 12,892,819 for the men, reaching higher than the women in their World Cup year—and the overall for the women in 2015 is a mere 3,160,386… 2014 tells a similar story—men clearly ahead. The budget for 2017 would show women ahead again, but here we have the influence of the “Olympic Victory Tour” (cf. above). (No other years are listed.) The tentative** conclusion is that the men’s team brings more money and/or that we have to wait and see what happens with future revenue, before judging*** what would, in some sense, be fair.

*There are some other entries with no obvious sex relation, including “International Games”. I have not attempted to investigate their nature.

**A longer time series would be interesting and could alter this conclusion.

***But not before negotiating: The time for the team to hit the negotiating table, and to do so hard, was immediately after the 2015 gold.

It is true, however, that the men’s team also has had higher expenses (cf. page 71), implying that its profitability relative the women’s team might not have been as good as the revenue indicated. Then again, in the budget for 2017, this is changed and the women have about five million more in expenses… (Likely, the “Olympic Victory Tour” again.) To boot, the demands by Solo et al. would drive the women’s expenses even higher.

A point where the women’s team might* have an argument is the area of publicity and sponsorships. However, if so: (a) The continuation of this is contingent on continued success. (b) The individual players should already have been benefactors through their own sponsorship deals. (c) The better solution would be to generally pay out more of “central” sponsorships to the players instead of fattening the federation. (d) If there really is a long-term effect, this should manifest in better attendance numbers, which can then be used for negotiations and/or will lead to semi-voluntary increases by the federation. (e) Strong publicity and sponsorship effects are a perfect base for negotiations—so negotiate.

*This is not unambiguously clear from the parts of the report I have read.

Excursion on Hope Solo:
As for Hope Sole herself, I have done a bit of reading today, and note that, in addition to her dubious legal actions and payment stance, she is alleged to have badly physically abused several relatives (and threatened police officers, and whatnot), and has been referred to as a “piece of work” by Pia Sundhage* (re-quoted through the New York Times). She has been mentioned on this blog before ([5]), that time in her defense. While I stand by my defense in that issue,** I have at least heard the claim that her suspension was based more on prior behavior than the incident at hand. (But this should be taken with a grain of salt, considering that misrepresentations by the other party are not unusual.) The bearing of this on her payment case is at most circumstantial; however, it is interesting how often Feminist activists (and similar people) have similarly shady behavior patterns and personalities.

*In addition to being a former long-time U.S. national-team trainer with considerable exposure to Solo, she was also one of the best player’s in the world in the early years of women’s soccer. The latter implies both that she is not a bureaucrat talking down a player without understanding her situation and that she is likely to have encountered more unwarranted sexual discrimination than Solo.

**Even assuming that the secondary, vague, allegations are true and refer to something less forgivable: Prior behavior might very well have an influence on the degree of punishment; however, it must not make things illegal that are legal for someone with a better background. (Excepting cases where there is a strong reasonable connection and where the consequences are public knowledge well in advance, e.g. that someone convicted for a felony might be forbidden to own a gun. Even here, however, it is better to err on the side of “too little”.)

Excursion on negotiation:
Should negotiation fail, we have to consider the “why”. It could, for instance, be that the parties involved simply see the world so differently that no mutually satisfactory agreement is possible, in which case the sides need to consider their alternatives (up to and including a refusal to play, in the current case). It could be that the party requesting a change does not make its argument effectively, in which case it might hire a professional negotiator (or a better one, should one already be present). It could be that the one side holds out in the belief that the other side will cave, and then the other side needs to prove the opposite.

It could also be that the one side has a so disproportionately better situation that it can more-or-less dictate terms—which might very well be the case here, and would be well in line with some of my other writings (e.g. in [5]). If, as here, this party is a sports organization dictating to its athletes, however, we have another and more urgent matter—making the organization a tool for the athletes, not the athletes tools for the organization. Focus on that and the issue of negotiation will resolve it self; neglect it and other actions are tantamount to Sisyphus rolling his stone up the hill. (Had this been Solo’s complaint, she would have had my support.)

Written by michaeleriksson

August 30, 2018 at 5:55 pm

One Response

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  1. […] have dealt with similar problems in the past (e.g. in [1], [2]) and will not repeat those […]

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