Soccer-Landmark U.S. pay deal may inspire sponsors too

FILE PHOTO: U.S. women soccer players pose for a picture with the Trophy for the FIFA Women's World Cup while the team arrives at the Newark International Airport, in Newark, New Jersey, U.S., July 8, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

NEW YORK (Reuters) - After reaching a landmark agreement for equal pay, sponsor dollars could be the next major boost for the United States' four-times World Cup champion women's team.

The U.S. national men's and women's soccer team players will receive equal prize money, including at World Cups, after they agreed collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with the U.S. Soccer Federation on Wednesday.

The deal could inspire sponsors that may have previously looked past the four-times Olympic gold medal winners who routinely outperform their male counterparts.

"In the short term, there's going to be additional dollars going into the sport and women's sport in general," said Adam Holt, SVP Business Development, FanAI.

"From a longer-term perspective... this extra revenue and extra money that's going in is only going to benefit the sport as it continues to grow with more money going into the grassroots."

National television advertising spending for the women's World Cup in 2019 lagged behind the men's in 2018, despite the absence of the American men from the tournament in Russia.

The 2019 women's World Cup saw $96 million in national TV ad spending compared to $350 million for the men's in 2018, according to data from Kantar.

The men's tournament, however, provided more opportunities for spending with 32 teams and 64 matches compared with 24 teams and 52 games for the women's tournament.

Former U.S. Soccer President Alan Rothenberg, now chairman of sports sales and advisory firm Playfly Premier Partnerships, said the CBA represents the two sides "rowing in the same direction".

"What's happened in the past - it's happened in FIFA and in U.S. Soccer - is the women have been forced on the sponsors," he told Reuters.

"That's to say, if you want the men's national team, you've got to also get the women. It's under-valued the women as a result.

"This truly puts them on a par and let's a sponsor buy the whole sport."

Rothenberg, who chaired the 1994 and 1999 men's and women's World Cups when they were hosted in the U.S., pointed to the revenue-sharing framework in the deal as particularly innovative. U.S. Soccer has said it hopes the structure will encourage collaboration to grow the game.

"I wonder if it's a trailblazer for other sports and the whole world because the way they've handled the FIFA prize money, which is really the key toward getting equal payment, is really unique," he said.

U.S. Soccer spokesman Neil Buethe said the vast majority of sponsorship deals were focused on the whole federation.

"We sold the crest, not a single team," he told Reuters.

(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York, editing by Ed Osmond)

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