How Much Do NWSL Players Really Make? An In-Depth Look At NWSL Salaries
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For the first time ever, 2022 NWSL salaries guarantee players a living wage. The NWSL and its players signed the league’s first Collective Bargaining Agreement on Feb. 1, 2022, increasing women’s soccer salaries across the board. So just how much do women’s soccer players make? The CBA, recently made public, tells us everything we need to know about NWSL salaries.
It took 10 seasons for the NWSL to finally sign a CBA with the NWSL Players Association. The deal, which will run through the 2026 season, was widely praised and transformed the league. One of the biggest changes was removing the U.S. Soccer Federation and Canadian Soccer Association from bankrolling national-team players while also increasing salaries across the board and benefits, such as parental leave.
Earlier this month, the NWSLPA published all 72 pages of the agreement for all to see.
— NWSLPA (@nwsl_players) May 2, 2022
After diving through the document, here’s what we can say about NWSL salaries. Below is a summary of NWSL salaries, benefits and how the pay scales compare to similar leagues like the FA WSL, WNBA and MLS.
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NWSL Salaries — What Do Women’s Soccer Players Make?
In the early days of MLS, not all players made a living wage. Minimum salaries were miniscule, below $13,000 in many cases even as late as 2005. The NWSL has been similar.
Before the CBA was agreed to, NWSL minimum salaries were $22,000, $10,000 below what is considered a living wage. About a third of players made the minimum in 2021, with 75 percent making under a living wage. Many players were forced to take second or third jobs to survive.
That all changed with the new CBA, which guaranteed a salary of $35,000 for all players.
Minimum NWSL Salaries
- 2021: $22,000
- 2022: $35,000
Maximum NWSL Salaries (Before Allocation Money)
- 2020: $50,000
- 2022: $75,000
The NWSL minimum salaries will increase by four percent each season moving forward. NWSL salaries have increased across the board, both to ensure they all were above the $35,000 minimum and to give all players a raise. For players making the previous minimum of $22,000, that increase was $13,000. For those making north of $99,000, that increase was just $1,000.
The average total compensation was raised to $54,000, which is significant considering the maximum salary in 2020 was $50,000 (not including players paid by the USWNT or Canadian national team).
The maximum salary in 2022 is $75,000, not including Allocation Money (more on that below). With allocation money, the max a player could receive is $575,000.
Additionally, national team players receive money from their federations for appearances in international matches, allowing the top players in each country to supplement their income.
NWSL Salary Cap
- 2022 NWSL Salary Cap — $1.1 million
- 2022 NWSL Allocation Money — $500,000
In 2019, one of the world’s best players, Sam Kerr, left the league to sign with Chelsea, which was able to pay her a reported $410,000 per year. At the time, the most an NWSL club could pay a player was $350,000, having just approved $300,000 in allocation spending per club on top of $50,000 maximum salaries.
The 2020 season was the first to allow allocation spending. By 2021, the NWSL salary cap was $682,500, not including the $400,000 in allocation money permitted. NWSL clubs can use allocation money to pay one or more players above the maximum or for transfer fees.
The new CBA sees the salary cap nearly doubled to $1.1 million in 2022, with $500,000 in allocation money. Finally, an NWSL club can legitimately afford to sign a Sam Kerr, with clubs capable of spending up to $575,000 on a player, though that would limit the ability for other players on the team to be paid more than $75,000.
Soon after the CBA was announced, 2021 NWSL Rookie of the Year Trinity Rodman signed the richest contract in league history, a four-year deal with $1.1 million (about $275,000 per year).
NWSL Salaries — Bonuses
The new CBA outlines minimum bonuses for specific awards ranging from winning the NWSL Championship to being named to the Best XI. The minimums are as follows.
- NWSL Shield: $5,000
- NWSL Champion: $5,000
- NWSL Runner-Up: $3,750
- NWSL Semifinalist: $2,500
- NWSL Quarterfinalist: $1,250
- Challenge Cup Champion: $1,000*
- Challenge Cup Runner-Up: $500*
- Best XI Award: $5,000
- Rookie of the Year: $5,000
- Most Valuable Player: $5,000
- Golden Boot: $5,000
- Defender of the Year: $5,000
- Goalkeeper of the Year: $5,000
- All-Star Bonus: $2,000*
* — If held
That $5,000 reward for Rookie of the Year is notable because the 2019 NWSL Rookie of the Year, Bethany Balcer, received a $50 Chipotle gift card and that was it.
The same day the NWSLPA made the CBA public, the NWSL announced a deal with UKG to increase the Challenge Cup prize money tenfold. Instead of the $1,000 reward for winners, the N.C. Courage players instead received $10,000, which is significant money for most players, especially those closer to the league minimum.
While more money is always better, some players lamented the fact the additional prize money didn’t go to winners of the NWSL Shield (regular season title) or NWSL Championship (postseason title), trophies much more coveted and much more difficult to win.
yup! I’ve beeeen saying this too… no respect is shown towards Shield Winners even though its the hardest thing to do in our league…♀️ https://t.co/new93DMNaj— Crystal Dunn | Soubrier | (@Cdunn19) May 7, 2022
If the NWSL were to follow the above ratio for prize money, players who win the NWSL Shield or NWSL Championship should receive $50,000. That seems a fair reward but also a bit unreasonable unless the league can secure sponsor money to make it so. One hopes this in the cards, because why else would the NWSL do the UKG deal for the Challenge Cup and not the NWSL Shield or Championship. Then again, leagues and sponsorships create strange bedfellows.
One thing to note is the addition of an All-Star Game clause. The NWSL has yet to announce any plans for an All-Star Game, but the CBA spelled out bonuses in case one is played in the next five seasons.
In addition to financial benefits, the CBA also outlined how free agency will be implemented. Starting in 2023, players with six years of service will be eligible for full free agency. The next year, players with five years of service will be eligible for full free agency, while players with three years of service will be eligible for restricted free agency.
NWSL Salaries And Benefits
In addition to a living wage, the new CBA promises a variety of benefits, from health/life insurance to paid parental leave.
Here’s a rundown of NWSL benefits.
- Health insurance — medical, dental and vision at no cost to players
- Life insurance — at least $50,000 per player
- Long-term disability — insurance benefits for players paid for by NWSL
- Workers’ compensation — at minimum in accordance with all local laws
- Housing — either team-provided housing with a max of three players per unit and each player having their own bedroom or a monthly housing stipend
- Relocation — up to $2,500 for moving expenses and up to $5,000 compensation for players forced to break a lease
- Automobiles — team-provided shared car or monthly stipend
- 401(k) — NWSL matches 100 percent of deferrals up to 1.5% of a player’s salary in 2023, increasing to 2.5% by 2026
- Profit sharing — if the NWSL becomes profitable in the coming years, 10 percent (capped at to the amount of the NWSL breaking even) of the net media/broadcasting revenues will go toward player compensation
- Per diem — players will receive payment for meals while on the road, starting at $21 for breakfast, $25 for lunch and $35 for dinner in 2022, increasing to $24 for breakfast, $31 for lunch and $42 for dinner by 2026
- Meals — players will receive “reasonable pre-training and post-training meals”
- Pregnancy — players receive full salary while pregnant
- Dependent care assistance program — pre-tax benefits to pay for child services such as preschool, day care and other child or adult care
- Nursing — clubs must provide adequate accommodations for nursing players
- Parental leave — eight weeks of fully pay (birth or adoption)
- Flexible spending account — option to enroll to use pre-tax dollars for medical expenses
- Vacation — 42 days per year (including 32 consecutive for offseason) with a seven-day summer break
- Time off — teams must try their best to provide at least one day off per week, with no teams allowed to go more than 14 days without a day off and at least 10 days off per 10 weeks
- Bereavement — five days leave with full pay for close family deaths
- Sports psychologists — clubs must provide clinical sports psychology services to players
- Surgery — players retain the right to use the surgeon of their choice for surgery
- Mental fitness — players can take a leave of absence for a mental health diagnosis from a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist
- Game tickets — players may request four complimentary tickets per home game and two per away game, with six additional tickets available for purchase
- Tuition benefit — NWSL will establish a college or university to provide subsidized online or in-person education
- Coaching licensing pathway — The NWSL will provide up to $25,000 per year to subsidize enrollment costs for players wishing to participate in U.S. Soccer’s Coaching Licensing Pathway
- Promotional compensation — Players receive $200 plus $100 for every hour past two for promotional appearances beyond three for a club and two for the league; players receive $450 per commercial appearance plus $300 for each hour over three for the club and $800 per commercial appearance plus $400 per hour over four for the NWSL
NWSL Salaries Compared To Other Leagues
So how do NWSL salaries compare to other leagues? Let’s look at the three closest comparisons we can make: the FA Women’s Super League in England (women’s soccer), the WNBA (women’s basketball) in the U.S. and Major League Soccer in the U.S. (men’s soccer).
FA WSL Salaries
- Minimum Salary — $24,482
- Maximum Salary — $250,000 (before bonuses)
The closest comparison to the NWSL is the FA WSL, which has a similar number of teams and level of competition (to be fair: the bottom teams in the NWSL are far superior to the bottom teams in the WSL). According to a recent report in the Telegraph, many players are receiving as little as £20,000 per year ($24,482). The max salary is $250,000, according to that report, which runs counter to the reports Sam Kerr receives $410,000 per year from Chelsea. The FA WSL does not have a salary cap.
Meanwhile in France, some of the biggest women’s players (for Lyon and PSG) make up $520,000 per year. Of course, even that pales in comparison to men’s players; the top footballers in Europe can easily make $250,000 per week.
- Minimum Salary — $60,471
- Average Salary — $120,648
- Maximum Salary — $228,094
- Salary Cap — $1.38 million
Undrafted rookies in the WNBA make at least $60,471, putting the lowest-paid players ahead of most NWSL players. The average salary in 2020-21 was $120,648, with 14 players making north of $200,000. The max salary of $228,094 was attained by Diana Taurasi, Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart. The WNBA salary cap was $1.38 million in 2022.
In comparison, the 17 NBA players made more than $35 million in the 2021-22 season.
- Minimum Salary — $84,000
- Maximum Salary — $612,500 (not including DPs)
- Salary Cap — $4.9 million (before DPs)
MLS salaries combine a confusing mixture of rules from American professional sports and global soccer. You’ve got salary caps, allocation money, designated players, youth contracts and other oddities. It’s a mess.
The minimum salary for senior players is $84,000, though reserves can be paid as little as $65,500. The maximum salary is $612,500 unless the player is given a Designated Player contract. Each club can sign three DPs per season; DPs have no maximum salary. The salary cap is $4.9 million but does not include Designated Player contracts.
There are countless other rules, including Young Designated Players, so it’s hard to give a brief rundown of it all. Fortunately, MLS makes all of its roster rules public, so you can dive into them if you dare here.
The NWSL CBA signed in 2022 did big things for NWSL salaries across the board. The league lags behind a league like the WNBA, and the rules prevent the league’s clubs from paying the highest women’s soccer salaries in the world. But it ranks ahead of the FA WSL and is steadily improving.