Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
PLAYERS & TEAM EARNINGS

LFG: Tackling the USWNT’s Battle for World Cup Glory–and Equal Pay

Filmmakers Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine take Boardroom behind the scenes of the documentary, which is streaming now on HBO Max.

LFG, the feature-length documentary providing an inside look at the US Women’s National Soccer Team’s 2019 World Cup triumph and its fight for equal pay, premieres on HBO Max Thursday.

It begins with an explanation of the profane rallying cry that inspires the film’s title.

It’s an audacious start for an audacious group of women bold and brave enough to bring a lawsuit against their employer, the US Soccer Federation. It was the active role the team took, and still takes, in their fight that propelled Oscar-winning husband-and-wife duo Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine to want to tell this unique story.

“They’re not going out there and hiring a lawyer who’s doing all the work,” Fine told Boardroom. “They are fighting for equal pay. This is a compelling story and a story that needs to be told. You need to understand their struggle and their fight for this, that they’re working incredibly hard and sacrificing for something.”

The film intersperses moments of this enduring battle as the USWNT decamps to France for the 2019 World Cup, a golden opportunity for the team to prove its worth on the most visible and public of global stages. After the women dominated the tournament and claimed America’s fourth World Cup title (you’ll recall that the men’s team has zero), Fine and Nix Fine jumped on the idea that this historic lawsuit— what the latter called the biggest thing since Title IX—  needed to be shown directly from the players’ point of view.

But the players were locked down in training prior to the World Cup, and the filmmakers weren’t able to sit down with the tournament’s golden ball and golden boot winner, Megan Rapinoe, until the day of the team’s ticker-tape parade in New York City.

“She’s like ‘I’m in, but only if other players are,'” Fine said. “‘And you’ve gotta get them yourself.’”

And so they did, adding USWNT players Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn, Sam Mewis, and Jessica McDonald and their voices to the film, blending in their stories and their background as people, not just athletes, to bolster the main plotline concerning their lawsuit.

“We knew we’d want the players to tell their own stories. We don’t use narrators,” Nix Fine said. “And to their credit, they interviewed in a very in-depth way. They gave us their time, their words, and their thoughts.”

It was Rapinoe who really drove the storytelling at the beginning of the documentary, however, and helped carry it until the end through her iconic performance during the World Cup and the public platform her heroics have afforded her ever since.

“Great characters make great films,” Fine said. “As the World Cup started to happen, Megan was already on our radar, but she just had this momentum. We quickly saw that she became kind of a mouthpiece for the team. She kind of embodied everything. And so when she came back, we were like ‘she’s gonna blow up. She’s already big and going to get even bigger.’”

Apart from the team’s global stars, Fine and Nix Fine also wanted to show the “everyplayer,” which evolved into McDonald’s story, who struggled and sacrifice to stay on the team and in the sport while raising her young son. O’Hara and Sauerbrunn have been involved with the lawsuit for years now and know the ins and outs of the process, but the team purposely brings younger players like Mewis into the negotiation process to bridge the fight to the next generation.

 “Obviously they care about equal pay,” Fine said, “but I think they care more about getting equal pay for future players and future women and how this would impact the world. I think they care more about that than what’s in it for them.”

In 2020, as mediation with USSF failed and the struggle for equal pay headed toward a jury trial, the coronavirus pandemic hit. In addition to delaying both the proceedings and the Summer Olympics, the single biggest showcase for women’s soccer outside the World Cup, it put the USWNT’s journey into a different kind of storytelling perspective.

 “We have scenes and things we’d like to cover, but it’s real life,” Fine said. “You just have to be prepared for all the twists and turns. We never knew how the story was going to end. We had to be prepared all the time.”

LFG‘s filmmakers weren’t sure how their ending would look or how long it would take to get there, and credit HBO and CNN Films for being patient and sticking with them. They ultimately decided on concluding with the summary judgment dismissing the team’s claim that the US Soccer Federation (which declined to participate in the documentary) systematically underpaid the women’s team in relation to the men, as it was the biggest shock of all to Fine and Nix Fine.

When telling the story of a lawsuit or a competition, you hope for the best and plan for all the different outcomes, they said. “The outcome that happened was quite a curveball,” Fine said.” But I think now looking back at it, I think it’s quite strong in the film, a very strong moment.”

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Get on our list for weekly sports business, industry trends, interviews, and more.

It’s a moment that underscores what the best female soccer players on the planet still have to go through just to begin to feel valued and have a seat at the table solely because they’re women, Fine said.

“It rises to equality in general. And I think that so many people will be nodding their heads at this film like ‘been there, felt that,”’ Nix Fine said. “It’s really important to be able to set the record straight for the experience of these women being able to have their moment to share their side of the story, and that it goes back decades.”

The fight the USWNT continues to wage beyond LFG ‘s closing credits is part of the broader experience of women globally. It’s something they’ve gone through forever and perhaps will forever, Nix Fine said.

“Really, for us, it’s about how you value the person across the table from you, the person you’re talking to,” Fine told Boardroom. “Before they talk, what are you bringing to the table, personally when you’re valuing them? How does my son value a woman athlete playing the same sport as him? And I think that to me is the undercurrent of this film that I’m really proud of, and I hope that it brings out that conversation for people.”

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Get on our list for weekly sports business, industry trends, interviews, and more.