Pushed by Consumers, Some Sponsors Join Soccer’s Fight Over Equal Pay

Chris Curtin, Visa’s chief brand officer, said the company was not necessarily trying to address thorny issues with sponsorship dollars, but rather was “attempting to articulate who we are as a company and what we stand for as a brand.”

Visa’s sponsorship is an anomaly. The negotiations coincided with the equal pay debate (and litigation), leading to the unusual step of formalizing how a sponsor’s money would be spent, with U.S. Soccer acceding to close the deal.

Nike and Visa’s entrance into the equal pay debate stands out, because U.S. Soccer sponsors generally want to avoid taking public stances on contentious issues. Several other federation sponsors — Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson and Continental Tire — did not respond to requests for comment, and another, the watchmaker Tag Heuer, declined to comment. Volkswagen said it believed in “equality, inclusion and access,” and AT&T said the company had “clearly communicated our position that we expect players to be equally compensated” to U.S. Soccer.

Matthew Kohan, a Budweiser spokesman, said the company did not plan to renegotiate its contract with U.S. Soccer soon; its deal expires in a few years. He added that most of its sponsorship contracts contain incentive-based compensation, and so Budweiser was paying the women for winning the World Cup, though he would not reveal the amount.

“There are still plenty of businesses sitting on the sidelines, that think the best thing is to stay quiet, to stay out of hot-button controversies,” said Winkler.

And then there is Secret, the women’s deodorant brand of the consumer goods conglomerate Procter & Gamble. Secret became a U.S. Soccer sponsor on March 4, emphasizing women’s strength and teamwork. Four days later, the players filed their lawsuit, and 10 days after that Secret introduced a commercial supporting equal pay that featured Morgan and other players.

Secret said that it had been working on the commercial for nine months and that the timing was coincidental. The timing was not coincidental the next time Secret talked about the issue.