3 essential steps to understanding professional soccer

By Kelly Cook, The Washington Post

Tatiana Calderon has put Washington women’s soccer on the map. The second-year defender scored the club’s first ever goal in a College Cup final and posted an all-time best in field plus-minus as a senior. Calderon is one of three teammates competing in the World Cup in Russia this summer, along with center back Kendall Dyer and striker Morgan Brian. With the 2018 Women’s Professional Soccer season set to begin this weekend, it’s time to look back on the career of the 33-year-old defender, who signed with the Columbus Crew SC of the National Women’s Soccer League in May.

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How much does the average professional soccer player make?

Financial figures published in 2015 by Payscale, a website that gathers salary and compensation data, put the median salary of a professional soccer player at $50,588, an increase of 7 percent from 2014. Most soccer players work in the United States and have a long commute to and from work. Financial compensation from American MLS clubs, for example, ranges from $4,126 to $77,244 per year. If you live outside the United States and play for a club in a regional league, you will likely make even less than this median number.

How many professional soccer players are women?

This number is difficult to pin down because it’s derived from money that professional female players earn through their clubs and from the estimated number of women playing soccer at any given time. It’s more reliable to say that women make up about one in six players on a professional team.

Payscale estimates that 93 percent of women in professional soccer are playing for a club, a trend that goes back several years. On average, professional soccer players make about 9 percent less than their male counterparts. But a big disparity can be seen in the amount that women make compared to professional soccer players in Europe and in other sports. For example, the median salary in the English Premier League is about $47,650.

What percentage of professional soccer players are women?

It’s unclear. While federal policy does not make it an official measurement, tracking the participation of female soccer players from U.S. colleges down to their commercial ventures can help measure the number of women professional players. Some soccer leagues, like the U.S. Women’s National Team and the National Women’s Soccer League, have published the employment of their players.

MLS calls for all teams to be entirely owned by women. And since some players have significant other incomes or business ventures, analyzing the ownership of a team might be difficult. But a look at the 16 teams in the original 24-team MLS, all of which are female-owned, finds that the median ownership percentage of female players is 41 percent.

How big are the benefits to women soccer players in the United States?

According to a study from the Sports Business Journal, women are 14 percent more likely to be paid and 21 percent more likely to receive media coverage than their male counterparts. An estimated 20 percent of professional soccer players are making over $10,000 per year, as these players often opt for single-season contracts that allow them to make money whether their team makes the playoffs or not.

Are female soccer players often exploited?

Yes, some women athletes experience financial exploitation, and that is especially true in the world of soccer. The non-profit groups Collective Action for Soccer (CAS) and Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) have been advocating for a U.S. Equal Rights Amendment since 1975, arguing that women would benefit in more prominent sports jobs such as coaches, referees and owners. Efforts to enact the ERA have stalled, though CAS has continued to push for it in the U.S. Congress. In May of this year, California became the 23rd state to have such an ERA.

MORE: 2017 did little to change the fortunes of women in professional soccer

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