With the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in full swing, the ongoing calls for gender equality in the game of soccer are taking center stage once more. The U.S. women’s national team, backed by their number one world ranking in women’s soccer, is at the forefront of equality discussions with their fight for equal pay alongside the U.S. men’s national team. They also happen to represent a nation which has lately been on the forefront in the battle for equality in all arenas. In the USA soccer ecosystem, most people agree that providing merit-based compensation and fair opportunity to all genders in USA soccer is the right thing to do, but the real question is how to implement this culture and structure of equality. USA soccer much search for a solution that benefits women and girls all throughout the ecosystem, not just a select few. The market mechanism of promotion and relegation is the best place to start as it creates the most real, tangible opportunity for players, coaches, employees and fans in the women’s soccer ecosystem.
The USA women’s national team seems to be on track to gain victory in its fight for equal compensation from the U.S. Soccer Federation, but what comes next if and when the the U.S. women’s national team wins its fight for equal compensation? The resulting income gain for the 23 members of the national team would be great, but what about the millions of other women and girls in the USA soccer ecosystem? Nothing really changes for them besides being able to revel at a symbolic victory at the pinnacle of the women’s soccer ecosystem. If USA really wants to be about equality for women’s soccer, why not think of structures and mechanisms which could provide real, tangible opportunities and pathways for women and girls in the game? The national team does quite well, but what about the almost non-existent U.S. women’s pro soccer landscape? The MLS-backed NWSL is barely scratching and surviving. As recent as a few years ago, the league was fielding unpaid players. The nation that hosts the number one women’s national team in the world can barely afford to pay its first-division women’s club players? How ridiculous is that!
Open the USA soccer ecosystem so that all people and clubs can compete. Create REAL opportunity for female ownership. The below quote from this piece by Mehdi Manseur brilliantly outlines how an open USA soccer market with promotion and relegation is just what is needed to sustain and grow USA women’s soccer at all levels:
Women’s Pro Sports An open sports system would also have profound effects on women’s professional sports in America, which has failed to develop in comparison with our European counterparts. Many of America’s professional female athletes seek employment abroad because of the lack of opportunities within the major team sports in America. All notable attempts to start female sports leagues in the United States have been in the form of closed systems with similar obstacles placed upon new entrants to protect the already established entities and prevent open competition from any outside groups.
As such, there is no incentive for individuals or groups to invest in new female teams unless they are provided assurances they will be allowed to enter the closed system or unless they intend to invest sufficiently to establish an entire league themselves. Since the already established entities limit and control competition to protect their investments and since seeking out sufficient investment to form an entire league is an incredibly high burden, the current dynamic works to dissuade new investment into female sports and limits the potential growth of the overall industry in America.
An open system of female sports would provide a stable and reliable structure for which new entities can enter the market and compete against already established entities upon meeting certain objective standards and criteria. Doing so would promote new investment into female sports since new teams would never need permission from established entities to enter the marketplace and never need to seek out sufficient capital to form an entire league.
Rather than permit the development of women’s pro sports to be constrained by closed systems that serve only the interests of a select few, it would be supported by a stable overall structure that allows it to grow organically with the free market determining where in America teams could thrive.
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