NWSL Reveals New Salary Cap, Acquisition Rules With an Eye on Improving Conditions, Product

Allocation money is coming to NWSL as part of a new set of rules designed to keep and attract the world's top players.
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NWSL promised that rule changes were on the way in order to try to keep and attract the best players in the world and improve the overall quality of the league, and they arrived on Friday.

NWSL announced that its salary cap has increased significantly, and the league also is introducing an allocation money mechanism akin to that prevalent in MLS to give clubs greater spending power beyond the salary cap as they identify their top targets going forward. 

Starting in 2020, the salary cap will rise over 19% to $650,000 per team–a figure that does not include up to $300,000 of allocation money that each club can purchase from the league to augment the salaries of players who reach the league maximum ($50,000). Allocation money cannot, however, be used for the designated Canadian and U.S. players who are allocated throughout the league.

There are other limits to how allocation money can be used, with players needing to fall into at least one of these categories, according to a league press release:

  • 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

That NWSL's 2019 Best XI teams were so widely skewered and criticized–from both stars inside the league and voices outside of it–will surely raise an eyebrow regarding that criteria, and perhaps refine how the league goes about selecting those honors.

“We’re going to look like we’re on rocket fuel next year after a couple years of sort of flatline movement,” Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler told SI's Grant Wahl prior to the NWSL final. “Here’s what’s going to happen: We’re poised to announce some great expansion news. We have a long list of very good upgrades to our league that want to be part of what we’re doing and will propel us to a new television deal. There are a number of great new sponsor deals in the pipeline. From a commercial standpoint, we’re going to be in a very different place. And competitively, we’ll continue to upgrade our product and attract the best players in the world to the most competitive league in the world.”

It appears as if Whisler's words are coming to fruition. NWSL has already announced 2021 expansion to Louisville, with Sacramento expected to follow as other cities indicate interest in joining the league. Friday's competition rules are another step in the right direction, though it remains to be seen whether they'll be enough for Whisler to retain his star attraction. Overseas interest in league MVP Sam Kerr is apparent, and her departure could still materialize. According to The Washington Post, in fact, she's as good as gone.

“Sam and her representative and I talk quite a bit, and we’re in the game financially with some of the new structures," Whisler said prior to the unveiling of the new rules. "At the end of the day, it’s going to be up to Sam, and she at some point is going to want to try Europe. But she’s a Chicagoan right now, and she loves Chicago, and we’re going to do all we can to keep her here. And the league won’t be in the way of doing that.” 

Transfer fees will also be a fixture going forward for the league, with clubs permitted to pay them to sign players from outside the league and entitled to receiving a portion of them in lieu of maintaining a player's rights if sold. U.S. allocated players are not allowed to be sold, however.

Other steps the league took to help improve things include raising the league-minimum salary by $3,500 to $20,000 and ensuring that all have housing accommodations covered.

“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,” NWSL president Amanda Duffy said in a league statement.