National Women’s Soccer League owners on Monday approved a host of rule changes that they feel position the league to retain and acquire more top talent to keep it among the world’s best competitions.
Headlining the changes is the addition of $300,000 per team in allocation money to pay top-end players more than the new maximum salary of $50,000. The money, which is discretionary and not required to be used, can be applied to a specific set of players who meet certain criteria, including number of international caps in a certain time frame and season-ending NWSL awards.
It’s a roster mechanism which mirrors the early development of allocation money in Major League Soccer, and it’s meant to help the NWSL compete financially for the world’s best players – something they could not do under previous rules. The realities of the world market, and bigger European clubs spending more, have increased the pressure lately. The most immediate application of the rule will play out as Sam Kerr soon decides on where she’ll play next. Under previous rules, the Chicago Red Stars could only offer a fraction of what European giants were. Now, at least, they can compete financially.
Also eligible for the allocation money will be fringe U.S. players who meet certain criteria. Allocated U.S. national team players are due to be paid between $70,000 and $75,000 for their NWSL play in 2020 (in addition to U.S. national team pay), but Americans who aren’t among the chosen few have a harsher financial reality. NWSL owners feel the allocation money could keep those players from leaving for Europe.
The criteria for eligibility for allocation money is the following:
- NWSL Best XI or Second XI for either of the two most recent seasons (2019, 2018)
- International players who have more than three caps for their national team in the prior 24 months
- NWSL MVP, Golden Boot, Rookie of the Year or Defender of the Year winner for one of the two most recent seasons (2019, 2018)
- Domestic players who have completed at least five seasons in the NWSL
- Players who were formerly designated as allocated players by the U.S. or Canada (unless if the player refused the option to be allocated)
- Players previously on a contract that included allocation money
Additionally, the league’s minimum salary has increased by nearly 21 percent year over year, to $20,000. The maximum salary has increased to $50,000, and the overall team salary cap has increased nearly 20%, to $650,000 per team.
“For each of the last three seasons, including going into 2017 where the minimum then near doubled, that was a big increase,” NWSL president Amanda Duffy told The Equalizer on Friday. “But when you’re going from where it was to a $15,000 minimum, you know there’s still progress that needs to be made. Here, with the level of increase, we recognize we still need to grow and continue to work. It’s a big step, an important step with allocation funds. It better positions the league and each of the teams to compete in the global market.”
Total potential spend per team 2019 vs. 2020 (not including housing and auto)
|Salary cap per team||$421,500||$650,000|
|Supplemental players (up to 4)||$66,152 ($16,538 x4)||$80,000 ($20,000 x4)|
|Total potential spend||$487,652||$1,030,000|
Included in that $650,000 team cap is the ‘cap hit’ of U.S. and Canadian federation players. U.S. players count as $31,500 toward a team’s 2020 cap; Canadian players count as $26,000. That 2019 salary cap number assumes teams with full allocation allotment, but teams with fewer federation players had more to work with (each U.S. player in 2019 counted for $26,400 against the cap and each Canadian player for $22,000).
Every player in the NWSL will see the effect of the salary increases. Previously, all standard player contracts were one-year deals with one-year options. Thus, every non-federation player coming out of the 2019 season was either out of contract or in an option year. That has been changed to allow up to three-year contracts with one-year options, offers which have already begun being extended to players.
Monday’s board meeting in North Carolina also saw the approval of drastic changes to housing and car benefits, including mandating year-round housing for players. Since the league’s inception in 2013, players have essentially held seasonal jobs, playing for their team in a market and then returning to their home base (usually somewhere else) and the reality that such a setup might mean moving back in with parents or friends for a few months.
In addition to year-round housing, owners have removed the spending caps on housing and cars to the point that they are almost eliminated. All teams will be required to provide appropriate housing for all players on the senior roster (minimum of 20, maximum of 22 in 2019) as well as the four supplemental players on the roster, or provide an appropriate housing stipend.
NWSL Players Association executive director Yael Averbuch said that the biggest things players have been looking for is more stability. They recognize that pay increases will be gradual, but the better housing is a game-changer.
“Areas we’re looking to improve in the short-term is quality of life and a big piece of that is the stress of the unknown,” she said. “Not having a place to live in the offseason, the ability to secure work for more than a year at a time. These are major steps.”
Duffy says that health benefits were already being offered year-round.
The goal, owners say, is to create a system that didn’t require a lot of work to manage for teams or the league, which expects to have a commissioner in charge by the start of the 2020 season. Owners will be expected to make market-appropriate decisions on housing, and they don’t expect the loosening of said caps to distort the balance of competition.
Like in MLS, allocation money can be traded and used as an asset. The starting point for all teams will be $300,000. Sacramento is expected to soon be confirmed as a 2020 expansion team, which would mean a sum of $3 million in potential allocation money available league-wide for the 10 teams. Any team could trade for additional money to use. Select situations could trigger additional allocation money, such as a $100,000 addition if a team loses a U.S. allocated player in the expansion draft.
NWSL teams can also now pay transfer fees to acquire players using allocation money. There’s no limit on the number of transfer fees a team can pay per season, but teams must stay within their allocation budget limit. Teams can also sell a player to a club outside the NWSL and either retain the player’s NWSL rights or keep a portion of the transfer fee. U.S. and Canadian allocated players are not eligible to be transferred out of the league.
Additionally, the “discovery period” is now perpetual, meaning a player’s NWSL discovery rights stay with a team unless that team removes them. Further details can be found here.
These changes, sources say, have been worked on for months in the lead-up to Monday’s board meeting and were not reactionary to the Kerr dilemma, which continues to play out rather publicly. There was, however, a growing awareness of the need for a solution and the board only meets in person a few times per year.
It may or may not be too late to keep Kerr in the league, even with these new rules, but owners are adamant across the board that this rule wasn’t written for her; it was written with the foresight that there will soon be countless other situations like hers.
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