The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team won the FIFA Women's World Cup, defeating defending world champion Japan and exacting revenge for a painful loss on penalty kicks in the championship game four years ago.
They were a team of destiny with a solid blend of young up and coming players, seasoned veterans facing the twilight of their careers and a coach who looked like a wolf in sheep's clothing. Coach Jill Ellis gave nothing away in her round-robin games with minimal tactical maneuvers and questionable lineups only to send a fine-tuned machine into the semifinals where they outplayed No. 1-seeded Germany all over the field before embarrassing the reigning champs on the world stage.
This was a world record third Women's World Cup title for the USWNT, the first of any international women's teams. I remember being in Rio de Janeiro in 1970 when the Brazilian men's national team won the title for the third time, a first in men's soccer history. Being the first team to win a third cup, Brazil was able to bring the Jules Rimet trophy home where it belonged.
It's hard to compare what it meant to each country at the time. Watching this year's final on television the scene could have been filmed in any major stadium in the U.S., not in Vancouver's BC Place. There was a sea of red white and blue (unlike the women's jerseys) and the crowd was deafening. There were film clips on TV of bars and parks all over the U.S. tuned in and cheering on the national team. Forty-five years earlier, the same scene unfolded on the streets of Rio but with an intensity and pure joy that ran through the veins of every Brazilian citizen across the massive country that we may never be able to experience on our soil.
But as my man Robert Zimmerman once wrote, "The times they are a changing."
The money that is available to the players in the modern game reflects a product with international appeal that has exploded with the expansion of television coverage of leagues throughout the world. It's not a thing anymore to turn on the tube and catch a game from the English Premier League, La Liga or Bundesliga from Europe or any number of professional matches in the southern hemisphere. Add to that the expansion of Major League Soccer and the infusion of international retreads finishing their careers in the U.S. and the television and advertising rates help to pump up the revenues of the overall sport.
There have been a lot of complaints following the Women's World Cup about the disparity between what the USWNT won for being world champions ($2 million) and Germany in the men's Cup ($35 million). In fact, the U.S. Men's National Team won $9 million for their 11th-place finish.
I've had friends tell me the game doesn't compare to the men's game and the women don't draw as much revenue as the men's game. That part of the conversation has to change as this year's final match was the largest U.S. television audience — men or women — with an audience of almost 27 million adoring fans.
As a marketing teacher with a master's degree in business administration, I understand the economics of the game. The television and advertising revenue that pours into FIFA's coffers from the men's game is astronomically more than from the women's game. The men's professional leagues around the world help to increase the game's popularity which in turn generates additional revenues, shared by both men and women at the world's highest level of play.
I understand the amount of money the champions earned wasn't brought up until the United States women won the cup for the third time. Would we have been having this conversation had Japan repeated as world champs? Would the top-ranked Germans have been happy to take "only" $2 million back home?
I bet if you asked that 1970 Brazilian Men's National Team if they'd take $2 million, they'd jump at the chance.
The fact that our USWNT won the tournament with their high popularity, visibility, and economic power to draw the attention of both Wall Street and Main Street has brought the issue of equal pay to the forefront. I'm not advocating that the women's champions should be paid equal to their male counterparts because there needs to be an element of revenues against awards, but the disparity in pay is a bit ridiculous.
Aristotle once said, "The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal." But with all of the payoffs and bribes that FIFA has been accused of, throwing a little more cash to the women's game wouldn't hurt a bit.