Two Sponsors Give USWNT $1.2 Mil. What about Coke, Nike, Visa…?

Many on social media celebrated Secret’s announcement that it was taking action to close the pay gap for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. (Image Credit: Secret on Twitter)

The fight for equal pay for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team has garnered as much attention as their on-field exploits, which culminated in their Women’s World Cup win in France on July 7. While many companies are now talking a good game about gender equity, two sponsoring companies—Luna Bars and Secret Deodorant—have stepped up and pledged money to the women’s team and its players.

The members of the U.S. Women’s team filed a gender discrimination suit against U.S. Soccer in March, and the two sides have agreed to mediation. Former U.S. star goalkeeper Hope Solo filed a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer nearly a year ago, also charging the Federation with pay and other discrimination. Her lawyers filed a motion on July 22 in Northern California District Court that she be allowed to join the mediation.

While there has been plenty of action in the courtroom, what is going on in the boardroom may be just as significant. U.S. Soccer Federation sponsor Secret (billed as “Official Women’s Deodorant”) is donating $529,000 to the Women’s National Team’s Players Association. Secret, a part of Proctor & Gamble, purchased a full-page ad in the New York Times on July 14 with the headline “WOMEN JUST MADE HISTORY, BUT THEY HAVE ALWAYS DESERVED EQUAL PAY.”

The $529,000 represents $23,000 for each player on the team, and the ad states:

23 is the number of players on one champion team: women or men’s.
23 pairs of chromosomes make up one winning athlete: female or male.
23 is a prime, whole number; it can never be divided.
23 is the number of strength.

In the NYT ad, Secret offers more than a gentle nudge to the U.S. Women’s National Team’s (USWNT) employer: “We urge the U.S. Soccer Federation to be a beacon of strength and end gender pay inequality and end gender pay inequality once and for all, for all players.” The ad closes with the line “Equal work, equal sweat, equal pay.”

This may be savvy marketing by Proctor & Gamble/Secret, nonetheless they are putting their money where their armpit is. Other U.S. Soccer sponsors (Volkswagen, Nike, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, Budweiser, Powerade, Coca-Cola, Continental Tire, Cutter, Tag Heuer, Thorne, Deloitte, Visa, Hisense, Volpi) have so far not done so. Many of these sponsors have gender equality strategies embedded in their corporate giving strategy, particularly Nike, Visa, and Coca-Cola, so they really don’t have a good excuse for their not taking financial action to address the USWNT’s equal pay agenda.

LUNA Bar has gone one step farther in supporting pay equity, giving the women’s players an energizing total of $718,750. An April 2, 2019 press release from LUNA parent company Clif Bar & Company, states, “Believing in equal pay for equal work, LUNA Bar is giving each of the 23 women named to the 2019 USWNT World Cup team $31,250, comprising the difference between the women’s and men’s World Cup roster bonus.” The tag for the initiative is “It’s time we level the playing field because equality can’t wait for someday,” and the company is using the hashtag “SomeDayIsNow.”

The LUNA donation is interesting for several reasons: firstly, the company made the donation well before the World Cup began. Moreover, LUNA is a sponsor of the USWNT Player’s Association, as opposed to the U.S. Soccer Federation. Finally, the money is going directly to the players themselves.

According to USWNT Executive Director Becca Roux. “Many brands raising awareness for equal pay use the USWNT’s fight as an example, but don’t go the extra step to offer a solution to the problem. LUNA Bar has a long history of supporting women’s equality and is truly walking the walk by maximizing the amount of money going directly to the players and intentionally closing one of their pay gaps.”

LUNA is tying the donation to the larger fight for pay equity, and on its website has pieces on salary and other negotiations from USWNT player and Stanford grad Christen Press, as well as from ESPN broadcaster, author, World Cup champion, Olympic Gold Medalist and National Soccer Hall of Famer Julie Foudy.

Nike had perhaps the biggest USWNT marketing coup when it dropped an inspiring black-and-white minute-long commercial on the day of the World Cup win. The spot ends with a group chant of “I believe that we will win,” and closes with the statement “This team wins. Everyone wins.” The ad’s voice-over states, “I believe that we will make our voices heard and TV shows will be talking about us every single day and not just once every four years. … And that women will conquer more than just the soccer field, like breaking every single glass ceiling and having their faces carved on Mount Rushmore. … And that we will keep fighting not just to make history, but to change it forever.”

The USWNT World Cup win has apparently been very good business for Nike with World Cup jerseys and other apparel garnering huge sales. Unlike Secret and LUNA, however, Nike has not put any additional cash into the USWNT’s soccer boot thus far.

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Philanthropy Women covers funding for gender equity in all sectors of society. We want to significantly shift public discourse, particularly in philanthropy, toward increased action for gender equality. You can support our work and access unlimited and premium content with one of our subscriptions.

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Author: Tim Lehnert

Tim Lehnert is a writer and editor who lives in Cranston, Rhode Island. His articles and essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Providence Journal, Rhode Island Monthly, the Boston Herald, the Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. He is the author of the book Rhode Island 101, and has published short fiction for kids and adults in a number of literary journals and magazines. He received an M.A. in Political Science from McGill University, and an M.A. in English from California State University, Northridge.

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