As the members of the World Cup champion U.S. women's soccer team were celebrated with a ticker-tape parade down New York City's "Canyon of Heroes," the players who captured the trophy in Canada were hoping for something beyond the parades and accolades at home: a living wage.
After the parade, and after a 10-city "victory tour" of friendly matches that kicks off next month in Pittsburgh, 22 of the 23 women from the U.S. team will return to their "day jobs" as players in the three-year-old National Women’s Soccer League, where the minimum salary is $6,842 — well below the country's poverty line of $11,770.
As the only professional option in the U.S., even the best players in the NWSL make only $30,000. By way of comparison, that league maximum is below the minimum salary of every other American professional sport, from the National Hockey League, which tops the list at $550,000, to the NFL, where the base pay is $420,000, to even Major League Soccer, the U.S. men's pro circuit, where the starting rate is $60,000.
"In aggregate, first division women's soccer players are making 98.6 percent less than professional soccer's male cohort," according to calculations done by Fusion.
While it is true that women's soccer is not the same revenue generator as the men's game across the globe — even Marta Vieira, the highest-paid woman player in world at $400,000 (in 2014), makes less than the least-compensated player in U.S. professional football — the disparity for the best athletes in the NWSL is especially stark.
Part of this is a reflection of domestic revenues. Average attendance at a NWSL game is just 4,411, well shy of the 53,000 fans that turned out for the Cup final in Vancouver, and magnitudes below the record U.S. television audience of 26.7 million. The league's TV contract, a one-year deal with FOX, covers production costs but will not pay any fees to the NWSL for the broadcast of six games and the online streaming of four more.
Photos: U.S. women's soccer team celebrates victory in ticker-tape parade
But Megan Rapinoe, the veteran midfielder for the champion U.S. team, hopes the attention she and her teammates are now getting will change the equation.
"We're making money now. We're making money for sponsors, we're making money for our federation, we're making money for FIFA, and that just pushes us into that conversation, and allows us to have a strong argument when we do want more money," said Rapinoe, speaking Thursday to MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.
Rapinoe acknowledged that the men's game still brings in much more money overall, and so said she did not expect exactly equal pay. But the U.S. star — who eschewed the NWSL to play for substantially more money in France — wants the differential acknowledged and remedied. "We still need to be part of the conversation and take a bigger part of that pot," she said.
Rapinoe has noted in the past that the pay issue is not just a personal concern. The low salaries in domestic leagues dissuades some players from staying in the United States to practice their craft, decreasing the on-field familiarity and off-field congeniality that make for better national teams.
In the conversation with Maddow, Rapinoe's teammate Ali Krieger reveled in the attention the World Cup has brought to the women's game, but also expressed hope it would carry over to discussions of professional compensation: "For New York to be paying attention like this is just amazing,” she said. “Winning at the highest level and on the biggest stage has given us so much leverage right now."