NEW YORK — As world championships inch closer, the pay dispute between USA Hockey and the women’s national team is getting hotter. The two parties still haven’t come to terms on a deal.
USA Hockey released a document Friday that details what it says it offered to pay the women’s national team and what the players are demanding. But the players said it is full of “patently false” information.
The women’s team players have threatened to sit out the upcoming International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship in protest against unfair pay. The tournament, held every non-Olympic year, begins in Michigan on March 31.
The players say USA Hockey doesn’t offer them a living wage, and that the men’s hockey team is afforded more benefits and marketing help.
USA Hockey has said it will bring on replacement players if the team does not reach an agreement before the world championships begin.
What USA Hockey is offering – and what the players say in response
USA Hockey says it offered the women, among other things, a $24,000 annual base salary and an extra $7,500 if they win the gold medal at the world championship games.
For Olympic game years, USA Hockey said the women would stand to earn $74,000 to $90,000 if they take home silver or gold.
But players say those numbers are misleading because they conflate USA Hockey’s payments with money that comes from the U.S. Olympic Committee, which offers the same medal bonuses to athletes across all sports and genders.
The only money the players get from USA Hockey comes during the six-month period leading up to the Olympics. In 2014, ahead of the last Olympics, USA Hockey paid the women’s Olympic Team $1,000 per month during that time period.
USA Hockey did offer to bump up that amount to $3,000 a month. But the organization hasn’t offered the women any money for the time the team spends training, competing and making public appearances for USA Hockey outside that six-month time frame, a team spokesperson said Saturday.
USA Hockey could not be immediately reached for a response to the players’ claims.
What the US Women’s National Team asking for
Dee Spagnuolo, a partner at the law firm Ballard-Spahr, which is representing the players, told CNNMoney that the women are asking for a $68,000 annual salary and child care, maternity leave and other benefits.
The players also want the opportunity to compete in more games throughout the year. Currently, Spagnuolo said, they only engage in about nine competitions during a non-Olympic calendar year.
USA Hockey claimed in the documents it released Friday that the players are asking to make between $146,000 and $149,000 per year if they earn first or second place at the world championships. And they want $210,000 to $237,000 for a top-two finish at the Olympics.
But Spagnuolo says those numbers are “baffling” and inflated.
She said she believes USA Today may be factoring into those numbers costs for things like coaching and equipment — not just cash compensation to the players.
“That’s not very helpful. [The players] can’t use that money to eat and they can’t use that money to pay their rent,” Spagnuolo said.
What the USA Men’s Hockey team makes
Players on the USA Men’s Hockey team are offered the same amount in medal bonuses from the U.S. Olympics Commission. But most USA Men’s Hockey players also have the chance to earn big money in the NHL, where the minimum annual salary is $650,000.
The National Women’s Hockey League, by comparison, is a young enterprise and struggling to stay afloat. The league announced in November that it is slicing salaries in half, and most players were earning only between $14,000 and $18,000 per year to begin with.
That means professional female hockey players have much lower earning potential throughout the year. Some opt to not even play in the NWHL because they can potentially earn more elsewhere. And about half of the women’s team members work one or two jobs in addition to training and competing.
And because the women’s team players aren’t tied up in a professional league all year, they perform more duties and spend more time training with USA Hockey. That’s why, the team says, they deserve a consistent paycheck.
The women’s team is also asking for the same treatment as the men’s team when it comes to publicity, travel and support for female youth leagues.
Spagnuolo says USA Hockey spends about $3.5 million per year on developing boy’s hockey programs, but she it doesn’t spend anywhere near that much on girl’s youth hockey.
USA Hockey has declined to share a specific dollar figure for its spending on girl’s youth hockey. It says it is a “world leader” in developing the sport among females.
She said members of the women’s national team have been at odds with USA Hockey over payment terms since 2000, but have never sat out a competition in protest.
“It’s obviously not their first choice to sit out the world championships,” she said. “But they’d be willing to miss the opportunity because they realize it’s not going to get better without a united and dramatic move.”
There is still a chance that the two sides will reach an agreement before the world championship begins. Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, said in a statement Friday that he wants to avoid bringing in replacement players.
“We remain committed to having the players that were selected to represent the U.S. in the upcoming women’s world championship to be the players that are on the ice when the tournament begins,” Ogrean said.