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Soccer Moneyball: The U.S. women’s team just earned six figures each with their World Cup win

When the women’s team negotiated its current agreement, which set base salaries, match bonuses and working conditions, it also carved out some marketing rights that in previous decades had either been granted to the federation or merely left unexplored.

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What is winning the World Cup title worth to the United States women’s soccer team?

In one sense, the answer is incalculable: an achievement no critic can take away, a tangible reward for years of training and preparation, a validation of a life’s work. A dozen members of the U.S. women’s soccer team already knew this feeling; they were part of the team that lifted the trophy in 2015. Now, they are letting it wash over them again.

But there also is a more dispassionate, strictly dollars-and-cents calculation of the championship’s value for every member of the team that beat the Netherlands on Sunday. That math — some of it contracted and fixed, some of it speculative and growing day by day — is quite different.

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In the strictest sense, a U.S. women’s player who wins the tournament can expect a guaranteed payday of about US$250,000, based on enhanced bonuses included in the team’s collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer and a payout schedule for the finishers published by FIFA earlier this year. (Those FIFA bonus figures continue to pale in comparison with the far larger payouts for teams who compete in the men’s World Cup; France’s men, for example, split US$38-million for winning the men’s tournament in Russia last summer. Those payments, and comparisons with FIFA-fueled payouts to the U.S. men’s team after its participation in recent World Cups, are part of a broader and perpetually contentious debate about pay equality for women’s soccer.)

What would victory Sunday look like for an American player’s paycheck? Their contracts with U.S. Soccer paint a specific picture.

Qualifying and roster bonuses: Every member of the U.S. team that qualified for the World Cup in October earned a bonus of US$37,500. Every player subsequently named to the World Cup roster picked up an additional bonus of US$37,500. That means most of the squad had pocketed US$75,000 before any of them set foot in France last month.

Victory bonus: FIFA pays US$4-million to the winner of the Women’s World Cup (the runner-up gets US$2.6-million), money sent directly to the winning federation. U.S. Soccer, as it does with the men’s team, funnels the bulk of that money back to the team that won it: This year, that means each player can expect a winning share between US$110,000 and US$120,000.

Victory tour: A first-place finish also triggers a four-game victory tour in the women’s team’s collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer, with each player guaranteed just more than US$60,000 to take part. If the team and the federation mutually agree to add games, players can expect a proportional bump of about US$15,000 for each match.

The total of all those payments? Roughly US$250,000 a player. And that is before other sweeteners in the players’ contracts such as attendance and ratings bonuses, likely to be triggered by a successful victory tour in the United States after the World Cup.

Of course, the carry-on effects of a championship are not limited to payments from U.S. Soccer. When the women’s team negotiated its current agreement, which set base salaries, match bonuses and working conditions, it also carved out some marketing rights that in previous decades had either been granted to the federation or merely left unexplored. Those have proved to be quite valuable.

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When the agreement was ratified in 2017, the team benefited from only two group licensing agreements — with EA Sports, for its FIFA video game, and Panini, the trading-card maker. Now there are more than 25 such deals, for products from T-shirts and socks to bobbleheads and toys. Jersey customizations alone can mean thousands of dollars in extra income for top players. The other licensing payments go into a pool that is split equally among each player.

The president of REP Worldwide, the sports-marketing company the players’ union formed with its counterparts from the NFL and the WNBA, estimated the potential for at least US$1-million in new licensing revenue over the next year with the U.S. team’s World Cup win on Sunday.

“We’re expanding the pie, which was the whole point,” the union’s executive director, Becca Roux, said in an interview Sunday morning. “This was never a zero-sum game.”

The players soon could be in position to test their own value even further. Top European clubs such as Manchester City, Barcelona and Bayern Munich have made significant investments in women’s soccer in the past decade, and powerhouses such as Juventus, Manchester United and Real Madrid have done the same in the past two years.

Their new interest could drive up club salaries and other marketing opportunities for top women’s players, and after next summer’s Tokyo Olympics — which brings the promise of at least US$50,000 more in U.S. Soccer bonuses for those who play — the best Americans could be positioned to cash in on their value in that rapidly expanding women’s soccer marketplace.

And the pie Roux described soon may expand even more. FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, raved about the success of this year’s World Cup during his end-of-tournament news conference Friday. Thrilled by record television ratings in some major countries and large, enthusiastic crowds inside World Cup stadiums, he said he would propose doubling the prize money in time for the next edition of the tournament in 2023.

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