The future is bright for the NWSL
The U.S. women's soccer league is growing thanks to broadcast deals and advertising investments
Soccer is quickly becoming a more popular sport in the United States, mainly due to the overwhelming success of the U.S. Women's National Team winning the past two Women's World Cup championships. This has developed into more interest in the domestic women's league, the National Women's Soccer League. But despite more interest and success, the NWSL and the USWNT have faced many hurdles in establishing women's soccer as a force in U.S. professional sports.
Earlier this week, USWNT stars Megan Rapinoe and Margaret Purce joined President Biden at the White House for "Equal Pay Day," bringing attention to the growing pay gap between men and women in the U.S. Rapinoe has been a very vocal advocate for equal pay for the women's national team.
"I’ve been devalued, I’ve been disrespected and dismissed because I’m a woman,” said Rapinoe. “And I’ve been told that I don’t deserve any more than less, because I am a woman.”
In 2019, the USWNT filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation for the lack of equal treatment and pay. While the USSF settled the inequitable working conditions part of the lawsuit in 2020, the equal pay part was dismissed. The USSF claims that the reason why the women's team was paid differently was because they accepted a collective bargaining agreement that structured pay differently than the men's CBA. Judge R. Gary Klausner agreed and dismissed the suit.
The USSF also covers the salaries of national team players who stay and play in the NWSL. This allows NWSL teams to sign high profile and quality players to remain competitive and marketable. With the success of the USWNT, these players draw advertisers and make the league more highly sought out for broadcasting.
In March 2020, the NWSL signed a three-year broadcasting partnership with CBS. While the deal was initially for broadcasting 87 games across CBS Sports Network and CBS All Access (now Paramount +), the season was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The league has also landed big time sponsors in Budweiser, Nike, Verizon, and Secret Deodorant. This influx of new revenue allowed the NWSL to raise their salary cap 19.33% to $650,000 for each team in 2020. Housing, travel assistance and auto expenses are also covered by the team without any additional cap space used. Players are also allowed to sign longer contracts, up to three years plus an option for a fourth, and there is no limit on guaranteed contracts.
The new revenue also allows the NWSL to offer allocation money to offer international players more money than the salary cap and contract cap allows. The allocation money can also be used to pay players more for exceptional performance, such as being the league MVP, winning an annual award such as the Golden Boot or Rookie or Defender of the Year. Domestic veterans of the league who have played in the league longer than five years can also receive allocation funds.
While the NWSL has a lot of room to grow, NWSL President Amanda Duffy is optimistic about the future.
"This is an important step in the growth of the league from which every NWSL player, current and future, will benefit and these changes will further enhance the league’s global leadership in the women’s game," Duffy said of the new compensation guidelines.
The U.S. Women's National Team is paving the way for women's soccer players to earn as much as their male counterparts, and the NWSL is the platform by which those players can showcase that they are worth the investment. In time, the NWSL can match the financial success of the WNBA and help fledgling women's sports leagues such as the Women's National Hockey League to thrive and allow girls who dream of playing pro sports a place to play.