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NWSL Challenge Cup boosts player bonuses in move toward pay equity

Emily Sonnett of the Washington Spirit and teammates celebrate their NWSL Challenge Cup semifinal win. (Ira L. Black/Getty Images)

The NWSL announced Friday a partnership with UKG, which will serve as the first presenting sponsor of the Challenge Cup and will bring the tournament’s prize money in line with the equivalent men’s tournament.

As part of the three-year deal, UKG will help the league increase the prize pool available to teams, raising the bonuses to equal footing with the men’s U.S. Open Cup, NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman told Sportico.

“We refuse to accept that one organization cannot make a difference in the fight for pay equity — just look at what these remarkable women have done with their collective voice to raise awareness on a national stage about a problem that has plagued our workforce for decades,” said Brian K. Reaves, UKG’s chief belonging, diversity and equity officer. “These worthy athletes are also champions on the field of equality. We are so proud to stand beside the NWSL and work toward bringing pay equity to a sport that, for too long unfortunately, reflected the working reality of many women.”

The NWSL’s CBA, which was ratified this year, outlines minimum bonuses of $1,000 for the winning team and $500 per runner-up, with the option for sponsors to help boost the overall prize money by funding some or all of the total.

According to Sportico, the bonus payouts for this year will be $10,000 per player for the winning team and $5,000 per player for the runner-up. Each semifinalist will receive $1,500.

In 2023, the total prize pool will nearly double, with payouts to match the men’s U.S. Open Cup. That tournament hands out $300,000 in prize money to split among the winning team, with another $100,000 going to the runner-up.

“Our partnership is purpose-driven, and we believe that will eventually lead to broader impactful change, not only for women in professional sports but for women and underrepresented groups worldwide who have advocated tirelessly for the equity they deserve,” Berman said in a statement.

In addition to partnering with the NWSL, UKG is partnering with Angel City’s Christen Press and Orlando’s Sydney Leroux to further advocate for equal pay.

“Every player in this league has worked their whole life to play professional soccer and have the means to support themselves and their families,” Leroux said in a statement. “Pay equity goes beyond the average 18 cents less that women are paid for every dollar that a man is paid — it is about people wanting to live the same quality of life, have the same opportunities, and live the same dreams as others doing the same work.”