The National Women's Soccer League and the NWSL Players Association agreed to their first-ever collective bargaining agreement on Monday night. The landmark deal introduces player free agency, higher salaries with annual increases and other health and wellness benefits through to 2026.
"This is a historic moment for women's soccer in the United States," NWSL interim CEO Marla Messing said in a statement. "This transformative agreement represents deserved advancements for our players, including significantly stronger compensation packages and benefits, enhanced training and playing environments, and a long-term commitment to continually improve the standards we all regard as essential to securing our position as the best women's soccer league in the world."
Free agency will begin in the 2023 season for players with six or more years in the league. In 2024, players with five years will be eligible for full free agency, and players with three years of service will have restricted free agency. Waived players will receive four weeks of severance pay plus a month of housing and health insurance.
"It was a long road to get here but proud to be a member of the @nwslplayers as we signed the first ever CBA in NWSL history," USWNT forward Alex Morgan wrote on Instagram.
The contract also raises the minimum salary by 60% to $35,000 with 4% annual increases, and it includes increased levels of free housing, transportation, 401(k) matching contributions, health insurance and other benefits. According to the league, that will increase the average total compensation for players by more than 30% to $54,000 over the 2021 season.
In 2021, the minimum salary per player was $22,000, prompting the NWSLPA to launch its #NoMoreSideHustles campaign because many players had to work second jobs to get by.
The NWSLPA, which represents around 200 players, first began CBA negotiations with the league in March 2021, and more than 30 NWSL players participated in negotiation sessions, according to the players' union.
"Players drove every decision in this process," NWSLPA executive director Meghann Burke said in a statement. "Over more than 40 bargaining sessions, these players stood strong and stood together, right up to the moment of ratification. This is a historic moment not only for our sport and our League, but for all working people who stand up and stand together."
Players also secured up to six months of paid mental health leave, 42 days of vacation and a seven-day summer break during the regular season. For parents, players will be guaranteed eight weeks of leave for birth or adoption as well as access to nursing facilities.
Players also can access revenue sharing, including 10% of net broadcast revenues, if the league is profitable for the third, fourth and fifth years of the CBA. The league also will pay as much as $300,000 per year for group license image rights.
The league said that through the CBA, it had committed to $100 million of incremental investment over the life of the contract.
Per the contract, games will no longer be allowed to be played on fields that require "substantial conversion to the dimensions of a soccer field," the NWSLPA said. The league in the past had allowed games to be played on baseball fields, including one instance that earned the league widespread derision.
The players had vowed to go on strike if an agreement was not reached with the league before preseason training began this week, but according to an NWSLPA statement: "Players will report to preseason camp tomorrow [Tuesday] with the safety, security and protections of a collectively bargained contract that sets the NWSL on a positive trajectory for the future."
The deal comes on the heels of controversies in the NWSL, including players calling out coaches and front offices for abusive behavior and poor conditions. Last season alone, five male head coaches out of the league's 10 teams were fired or resigned due to allegations of misconduct. Two of those disgraced coaches, Rory Dames of the Chicago Red Stars and Richie Burke of the Washington Spirit, led teams that eventually reached the NWSL Championship match.
Investigations are continuing into how the Portland Thorns and the NWSL handled complaints filed against former coach Paul Riley, who was accused of sexual misconduct. The NWSL launched a joint investigation with the NWSLPA, and the U.S. Soccer Federation retained former acting attorney general Sally Yates for a separate investigation.
The NWSL's 10th season begins with the Challenge Cup on March 19.