On Sunday, moments after the U.S. Women’s National Team defeated the Netherlands 2-0 to win its second consecutive World Cup title — its fourth championship overall — Fox cut to commercial, and a Nike advertisement aired.
The ad, shot in stylish black-and-white, was a take on U.S. Soccer’s “I believe that we will win” chant, which is commonly used by supporters of both the men’s and women’s national teams. Among other things, the commercial stated its belief that “a whole generation of girls and boys will go out and play and say things like, ‘I want to be like Megan Rapinoe when I grow up,’ and that they’ll be inspired to talk and win and stand up for themselves.”
It was moving, invigorating, and down-right inspirational.
It was also extremely frustrating.
Nike is a brand with a value upwards of $15 billion. And in 2019, it’s time for global brands like Nike to stop just using their power to promote these women as inspirations, and start using their power to get these women paid what they deserve.
Sure: Nike has done a lot for women’s soccer, and implying otherwise would be foolish. It sponsors several USWNT players, including Alex Morgan, Mallory Pugh, Tobin Heath, and Megan Rapinoe. They are not only U.S. Soccer’s biggest partner, but they also have an ongoing deal with the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) as the league’s primary uniform, apparel, and equipment provider, as reported by The Equalizer.
And this gives Nike far more leverage in this fight, not less.
Sponsors have so much power in the sporting world: Leagues and television networks and players all need the sponsors in order to survive. So, what would happen if an organization as powerful as Nike insisted on pay equality? It’s hard to imagine the needle not moving in the right direction.
And as far as women’s soccer has come over the past couple of decades, that needle still has a long way to go. This year, USWNT players will get about $250,000 each for winning the World Cup and participating in the scheduled four-game Victory Tour in the United States. The U.S. men’s team would earn well over $1 million each for the same feat. A recent Guardian report showed there is a $730,000 per-player difference in the World Cup bonus structure between U.S. men’s and women’s teams.
Naturally, FIFA is the worst culprit of them all. The U.S. women won $4 million for winning the World Cup. Last year, the French men won $38 million when they took home the title. Overall, FIFA gives out $410 million more in prize money to men than women in the World Cup. While they have announced plans to increase the amount of prize money for future women’s World Cups, the gap will remain staggering for the foreseeable future.
That inequity makes FIFA’s patronizing “Dare to Shine” slogan down-right insufferable. These women are shining. They always have been shining. And now, they’ve used their light to expose the many ways the powers-that-be have been trying to hold them back.
Recently, some brands — clearly recognizing that it would get them public relations points — have taken the concept of inequality into their own hands. Earlier this year, after the USWNT announced it was suing U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination, Adidas announced that it was paying its women soccer players the same performance bonuses as it would pay its men’s soccer players at the World Cup. Luna Bar also stepped up and announced it was going to pay each of the 23 women named to the 2019 USNWT World Cup team $31,250, which is the exact difference between the women’s and men’s World Cup roster bonus given by U.S. Soccer. On Sunday, Budweiser became the first official beer sponsor of the NWSL. And in Visa’s new deal with U.S. Soccer, it is mandating that more than 50 percent of its money go towards the women’s team.
Is all of this coming from a place of pure charity? Of course not. Investing in women is good business. Nike certainly knows this — last month, the USWNT World Cup jersey became the highest-selling jersey in the history of Nike.com, even beating out all of the men’s jerseys.
So, yes, it’s wonderful that Nike is releasing chill-inducing commercials celebrating these phenomenal athletes, and that it believes that “we will keep fighting not just to make history, but to change it forever.” But Nike and other mega sponsors don’t just have the power to promote these ideals; they have the power to implement them. Perhaps they should just do it.
This article was originally published in ThinkProgress on July 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission.