Soccer has long reigned as the most popular sport in the world, but only since the start of the new millennium has professional female competition taken firm roots. The Women's United Soccer Association emerged as the world's premier female league following the euphoric U.S. victory in the 1999 Women's World Cup. Unfortunately, WUSA folded in 2003 after just three seasons. Out of the ashes rose Women's Professional Soccer, a new seven-team league which began in 2009. Despite women's soccer's burgeoning popularity, salaries for most professional female soccer players remain extremely modest, especially outside of the top-flight WPS league. Still, the outlook appears bright for the future as infant franchises and leagues attempt to become more sustainable.
Average WPS Player Salaries
WPS teams have to fill out their rosters with a mere £367,250 in salary cap space, according to "The New York Times." This limited funding stems from the fact that WPS games average only 3,800 fans in attendance per game, as noted by "USA Today." Paying WPS players what they are worth continues to be a challenge as the league struggles to build from the ground up. The average WPS player salary for the inaugural 2009 season was a paltry £20,800 for a seven-month playing contract, and the average dropped to £17,550 for the 2010 season, according to "Sports Illustrated" columnist Jeff Kassouf. Many players make even less, such as Joanna Lohman, a midfielder for the Philadelphia Independence and former All-American at Penn State, who earns just £16,250 a year.
Elite WPS Player Salaries
The WPS league may be in its fledgling stages, but it still boasts some of the best talent in the world. Most teams feature a handful of elite players with experience playing for their national teams in international FIFA competition. WPS has rules that stipulateU.S. Women's national team players must be paid at least £26,000 per season by their WPS teams, according to the "Sports Business Journal." Established stars from the U.S. Women's National team and elite foreign players from other national squads typically earn in the range of £39,000 to £52,000 per season. Standout WPS stars falling into this elite category include Brazilian forward Marta, Nigerian forward Eniola Aluko, French midfielder Camille Abily, Canadian forward Christine Sinclair, and U.S. national team stars such as Heather Mitts, Hope Solo and Abby Wambach.
Second Tier Domestic Leagues
The talent pool in women's soccer has grown to the point that many skilled players are left on the fringes of the premier WPS league. Two second-tier domestic leagues exist in the U.S. for up and coming players and veteran players who can't quite cut it in WPS. There's the W-League and the Women's Premier Soccer League, both of which are open leagues that combine amateur and professional teams to provide promising college players with the opportunity to play alongside established professional players while still maintaining their collegiate eligibility. College players must play for free to retain NCAA eligibility, while professional players in these second-tier leagues generally earn a pittance from soccer and have to work extra jobs on the side to get by.
Professional Women's Soccer Around the World
The U.S. is just one of many countries with professional female soccer leagues. In fact, 26 other countries also have some form of organised professional or semi-professional women's soccer, according to a 2009 article in "Curve Magazine." The most prominent of these foreign female soccer leagues include the Swedish Damallsvenskan, the Mexican Super Liga Femenil de Futbol and the German Frauen-Bundesliga. Most women's leagues around the globe remain semi-professional, meaning that players make so little that they are forced to work additional jobs on the side to supplement their income. "Sports Illustrated" ranks the U.S. WPS league as the most lucrative women's soccer league in the world, noting that even the salaries in some of the better European leagues still lag slightly behind the WPS. On the other end of the spectrum are female players in developing countries with unfavourable economic conditions and aspiring players in countries with cultural elements that discourage women's sports. Salaries are practically nonexistent for female players in such environments, prompting those lucky few who have the skills and the resources to seek employment with foreign clubs.