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NWSL, Players Association agree to first-ever league CBA

The first CBA in women’s pro soccer in the U.S. includes an increase in pay, mental health supports, and free agency

On the eve of their preseason, the NWSL Players Association (NWSLPA) and NWSL both announced they have agreed to the league’s first collective bargaining agreement. The agreement — the first-ever CBA in women’s professional soccer in the U.S. — is subject to final approval from the NWSL Board of Governors, which is expected to take place Tuesday morning. The CBA will last 5 years, extending through the end of the 2026 season.

A week ago, the NWSL Players Association had announced they would not report to preseason camp if there was no CBA in place by Feb. 1, noting they had “negotiated in good faith with the NWSL” since March 2021. With just hours left ahead of that deadline, both sides have agreed to a CBA that includes a number of promising policies that support the players — including an increase in pay, severance for waived players, mental health and parental leave, and free agency.

“From our inception, the Players Association has put players first,” said NWSLPA President Tori Huster. “Our mission in this historic CBA was to put this same philosophy at the center of NWSL’s future. With the amount of care and attention that we have given this process since Fall 2020, we are proud that players can confidently enter the tenth season of the NWSL in a better position than ever before.”

The primary terms of the CBA are projected to require additional incremental investment by NWSL owners of nearly $100 million.

“Our owners are committed to providing the significant and unprecedented investment required to build and sustain a professional women’s soccer league that properly supports our players, both as professional soccer players and as individuals,” said NWSL Interim CEO Marla Messing on behalf of the NWSL Board of Governors.

Specific details in the CBA include:

Increased total investment in players

  • Raising the minimum salary by almost 60% year-over-year to $35,000 and implementing salary increases for all players
  • Raising the average total compensation by more than 30% to $54,000 compared to the 2021 season (total compensation will include salary, housing, transportation, fully-vested 401K contributions, health, life and disability insurance)
  • Increasing the numbers of and amounts of player bonuses, and compensating players for certain promotional and commercial appearances
  • Introducing the opportunity for players to receive 10% of net broadcast revenues, if the league is profitable in years 3, 4, and 5 of the CBA
  • The NWSL Players Association also noted that the CBA will include 4 weeks severance pay + 30 days housing & health insurance for waived players

Introduction of free agency beginning in 2023

The NWSL will introduce free agency in accordance with the following eligibility:

  • In 2023, individuals who have six years of service with the NWSL will receive full Free Agency
  • In 2024, individuals who have three years of service in the NWSL will receive Restricted Free Agency
  • In 2024, individuals who have five years of service in the NWSL will receive full Free Agency

By comparison, MLS and the MLS Players Union successfully negotiated free agency in its 20th season, while the NWSL is about to enter into its 10th season as a league. This represents the strong negotiating efforts of the players and their union, but also is indicative of the larger market at play in women’s soccer right now — with leagues around the world becoming more competitive and attractive to players.

Defined season, vacation time, and other paid leave

  • Mental health leave for players who need it for up to 6 months
  • Parental leave for new birth or adoptive parents, as well as leave and salary continuation for pregnant players
  • A fixed season with start and end windows, as well as limits on the maximum number of games in a season and on the frequency of games
  • Players will be guaranteed 42 days of vacation, a seven-day summer break (in season)

“I’m proud of everything in the CBA and indebted to our lawyers and the NWSLPA for fighting for us. What hits home for me is the 6 month paid mental health leave because it means players don’t have to be forced to show up every day when they feel the weight of anxiety and depression,” OL Reign forward Bethany Balcer shared on Twitter.

Improved health and wellness benefits

  • All teams will provide the services of, at minimum, a team physician, massage therapist, sports scientist, sports psychologist, and team clinician to provide mental health services.
  • The league will employ a physician as its Medical Director
  • The NWSLPA also noted that there would be “no more playing on fields that require substantial conversion to the dimensions of a soccer field”

Enhanced group license provisions

  • The NWSL will commit $255,000 - $300,000 per year for group license rights

OL Reign player reactions

With OL Reign players reporting to preseason camp on February 1 — which head coach Laura Harvey revealed will include a trip to Arizona to train in some warm weather — this was welcome news. Here are just a few of the Reign player reactions to the CBA.