I fear the only fair solution is to pay our garbage national men’s team more.

No, actually, this is more complicated than it seems at first glance.

According to a letter released Monday by U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro, the federation paid out $34.1 million in salary and game bonuses to the women between 2010 and 2018 as opposed to $26.4 million paid to the men. The total does not include the value of benefits received only by the women, like health care…

Comparing compensation between the two teams is difficult because the pay structure is based on different collective bargaining agreements…

USSF also says the men’s team generates more revenue. The women’s team generated $101.3 million over the course of 238 games between 2009 and 2019 while the men generated $185.7 over 191 games, according to the federation.

The killer: “WNT games have generated a net profit (ticket revenues minus event expenses) in only two years (2016 and 2017). Across the entire 11-year period, WNT games generated a net loss of $27.5 million.” Likewise, individual men’s matches generated more than twice as much revenue over this period than women’s matches did. U.S. soccer is paying the women more — while losing money on them. And the women want … more money?

Case closed, then! They’re being paid more than fairly. But wait — players on the men’s team agree with the women that they’re underpaid:

Note the second paragraph in particular. If that’s true then U.S. soccer is accusing the women’s team of being a revenue-loser essentially based only on the gate at matches, without accounting for TV right and ads — not to mention the value in terms of prestige that back-to-back World Cups supplies to a program that’s a borderline laughingstock on the men’s side.

There’s more. The men’s team actually received more money ($41 million) overall than the women’s team since 2010 due to the fact that bonuses paid by FIFA (not by U.S. soccer) for World Cup appearances are waaaaay more generous for men’s teams than for women’s. ESPN notes that the 2018 World Cup winner, France, alone received more money than the entire 24-team field did in the Women’s World Cup. That is, a bad-to-middling U.S. men’s team still comes out ahead in compensation to a juggernaut in the women’s sport.

There’s another key difference between how the men and women are paid:

The federation pays U.S. women’s team members per-game payments for national-team play along with professional-team salaries for playing in the National Women’s Soccer League, as all 23 members of the women’s World Cup team do. The federation doesn’t pay professional salaries for the men.

A key divergence in how the teams are compensated has to do with their bargaining agreements, not their genders. The women negotiated a salary-plus-bonuses scheme, the men got a more complicated structure in which you’re paid “by training camp call-ups, game appearances and through performance bonuses.” The bonuses are more generous on the men’s side, but the men don’t have guaranteed pay like the women do. Arguably the women sacrificed some incentives in return for better income security. Maybe they had no choice: A player capable of making the U.S. men’s national team might be lavishly compensated in a pro league somewhere even if he’s not starting whereas the weaker commercial demand for the women’s sport requires women players to demand that the U.S. soccer federation to kick in with guaranteed professional pay for star players.

But then that’s the whole debate here, isn’t it? How much should public demand influence the players’ pay relative to achievement? “All U.S. soccer proved was that the women must consistently win at the highest level to approach what the men make while mired in mediocrity and underachievement,” said sports journalist Tanya Ray Fox, referring to the near-parity between what the women’s and men’s teams received from U.S. soccer since 2010. But if there are more eyeballs on the men for their inferior product, why shouldn’t they receive more for their mediocrity? Judi Dench is a better actor than The Rock, but if the latter can drum up more box office than the former, why shouldn’t he receive a bigger check? Like all sports, soccer is ultimately entertainment. At base, Megan Rapinoe and company are arguing with the fans for not having better taste.