The National Women’s Soccer League announced on Monday, Jan. 31 that it had agreed to the first-ever collective bargaining agreement with the NWSL Players Association. This was the first CBA in league history, marking a big step in women’s sports in the U.S.
The CBA will include many different benefits to players and will go through until 2026. The NWSL is in the midst of preseason and has seen the growth of the league, with multiple new franchises in the last few years.
“This is a historic moment for women’s soccer in the United States,” NWSL interim CEO Marla Messing said in a statement on behalf of the league. “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.”
One of the most important changes was with the addition of a free agent system, as players wanted more freedom and flexibility to change teams. Free agency will begin in 2023 for players with at least six years in the league. In 2024, players who have five years under their belt can be eligible for full free agency, and those with three years will be restricted free agents.
Waived players will also receive four weeks of severance pay and a month of housing and health insurance. This makes sure that recently cut players have more protections for them, as previously players could be cut with little to no notice.
The CBA includes a 60 percent increase in the minimum salary to $35,000, with a 4% annual increase. This minimum salary change comes after protests last season when the minimum a player could make was $22,000 and some of these players had to get second jobs to support themselves.
There are also increased contributions to free housing, health insurance and other benefits. The league states that the average overall total compensation for players will increase by 30 percent to $54,000 over this season.
Players also get up to six months of paid mental health leave, a seven-day summer break during the regular season and 42 vacation days. Players are also guaranteed eight weeks of leave for birth or adoption and access to nursing facilities.
The 2021 season was filled with controversies, including five male head coaches out of the 10 in the league getting fired or resigning in lieu of allegations of misconduct. This new CBA provides hope for fans and players alike that the league is moving forward and prioritizing players’ needs in order to grow the sport.
The 2022 season will begin with the Challenge Cup on March 18 and the regular season will begin shortly after the final on May 7. Two new expansion teams, Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC, will play their inaugural game against each other on March 19 in Fullerton, California.