Newsflash: Women’s soccer players make squat. There are a few Alex Morgans and Hope Solos in the world, but most women’s “professionals” are threatening their nations’ poverty lines. A lot of players during the last NWSL campaign made less than five-figures during the 22-game season.
From Australian, where the W-League season is about to start, we get another reminder of those realities. Melissa Barbieri, well-known Australian international goalkeeper, does not have a contract with her national federation right now, having spent more than a year off the field with the birth of her first child. Without the corresponding subsidies, the 80-time international won’t make enough money to support herself during the upcoming season.
Intent on coming back, the 33-year-old is selling personal memorabilia to fund her season. Photos, jerseys, whatever trinkets she has from her soccer career, Barieri’s auctioning off with hopes of covering her expenses.
”’I decided that $5000 would cover me after doing a budget and decided that anything over $5000, I’d give it to my teammates,” Barbieri said. ”You’d find that every club has it’s own way of running, there’s a salary cap but there’s no floor. You’ll find that a player earns $10,000 in a team and another earns nothing.”
It’s similar in the U.S.’s National Women’s Soccer League. The league has a salary cap, and a good chunk of each team’s players have their salaries covered by the U.S., Canadian, and Mexico. But while some players could be earning over $25,000 for a season’s work, others will make around $6,000, often prorated.
Where there’s no salary cap, the situation’s the same. Most professional players are essential semi-pros, not making enough money to sustain more than a college student’s lifestyle.
As Barbieri reminds us, the issue goes beyond women’s soccer.
”It’s not just the W-League, it’s women’s sport and we need something to happen in Australia for women’s sport,” Barbieri said. ”We’ve got some great athletes out there but, unfortunately, a lot of them are struggling. It’s been frustrating for the last 12 years, it’s nothing new, I just came up with a new way of helping myself out. I was thinking of things that I could do and I’m like why not fund raise?”
She’s getting some help. Socceroos veteran Archie Thompson is chipping in, as is national team goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak, meaning she’s likely to eclipse her goal. When she does, other Adelaide United players will benefit.
”A lot of girls are washing windows to make ends meet,” Barbieri said. ”I commend them for changing states to find a team because a lot of teams have Matildas and there’s very little room for them if they’re not the top young players. Coming to Adelaide has been a real testament to their courage and basically their guts.”
There’s much more in Dominic Rossi’s piece at the Sydney Morning Herald (I’ve swiped enough of his quotes), but Barbieri’s story is a reminder of what many soccer players go through across the world. If you’re lucky, you have one job that can maintain you for the year, but a lot of women’s players will go from one league to another, spending time on both sides of the globe to sustain their careers. In each place, they’re spending to their limits on a month-by-month basis, where the best case scenario is getting another 10-15 years out of a game most have to give up after high school.
Should these players get paid more? It’s hard to say ‘yes’ when almost every women’s professional team loses money. There’s a conversation to be had about bias and opportunity, but there’s also the present day reality: There’s only so much to go around.
For a player like Barbieri, it’s worth it to sell some of her past to pay for her present. But there are a lot of other players who don’t have the option of doing so. That’s the reality of women’s professional soccer.