US Soccer enlists lobbying firms to argue women's team isn't underpaid

Megan Rapinoe

Washington (CNN)The US Soccer Federation has enlisted two lobbying firms to push back against claims of pay disparity between the women's national team and the men's team.

The firms, FBB Federal Relations and Vann Ness Feldman, began representing US Soccer after two Democratic senators introduced legislation last month that would require equal pay for men and women's national teams. US Soccer plans to use the firms, whose hiring was first reported by Politico, to convince lawmakers that claims of pay disparity are inaccurate.
The women's team's World Cup win over the Netherlands in July punctuated a larger campaign, tied to the team's success, for pay equality for female athletes. In March, the team filed a federal class-action lawsuit against US Soccer citing gender discrimination.
    US Soccer spokesperson Neil Buethe told CNN in a statement Wednesday that the lobbying firms will help the organization provide "accurate information and factual numbers" regarding its pay practices.
    "We have received a lot of requests from policymakers seeking information about compensation for our women athletes. We took the proper steps by hiring lobbyists to make sure that those leaders have accurate information and factual numbers that will inform them about the unmatched support and investment the US Soccer Federation has provided as a leader in women's football across the world," he said.
    Molly Levinson, spokesperson for the women's team, told CNN the move has left the team "stunned and disappointed."
    "We can't imagine that fans or sponsors would support USSF's effort to misinform and mislead lawmakers about the facts by blatantly inflating numbers and minimizing and diminishing the work women players do," she said in a statement to CNN on Wednesday.
    "USSF should use their platform and resources to support equality in this country, not constantly fight against it."
    Still, Buethe contended the largest gap in pay between the men's and women's team stems from prize money allocations controlled by FIFA. The pay structure between men and women under US Soccer, he said, is different "because each team chose to negotiate a different compensation package with US Soccer."
    Neither lobbying firm returned CNN's request for comment.
    The women's team's March lawsuit was filed in US District Court in California with 28 members of the team listed as plaintiffs. The suit alleges US Soccer's payment practices amount to federal discrimination by paying women less than men "for substantially equal work and by denying them at least equal playing, training, and travel conditions; equal promotion of their games; equal support and development for their games; and other terms and conditions of employment equal to the MNT."
      Speaking to CNN last month, women's team captain Megan Rapinoe emphasized the team's calls for equality were "bigger than soccer" in the wake of their World Cup win.
      "I think we knew that this win ... was going to be bigger than soccer. But that moment, I think, just solidified everything," she said. "It was like this World Cup win is so much more than what was on the field."