NWSL is moving closer to first strike

NWSL players are supposed to report to preseason training camp on Tuesday, but without a deal with owners on their first collective bargaining agreement, players are expected to hold out.

They made that clear on Tuesday when they tweeted that the owners have their “final proposals” in hand.

The NWSL recognized the NWSL Players Association in 2018, but only in the last year has there been serious strides made to finalizing an agreement. The first CBA is always a challenge, and it can take months to agree on every last detail. It took the USL and the USL Players Association three years between recognition and ratification for the USL Championship's first CBA.

In the USL's case, the key points weren't just compensation but new standards for player contracts, working conditions and grievance procedures.

Pay is a huge issue for the NWSL --  #NoMoreSideHustles was the hashtag the NWSLPA used to draw attention to players working on the side to make ends meet -- but so are working conditions, as evidenced by the 2021 ouster of half the NWSL's 10 head coaches on charges of harassment or misconduct and complaints players had about how their grievances were handled.

Among the big issues remaining, reports The Equalizer's Jeff Kassouf, are:

1. Terms of free agency. This will be best chance for players to stake a claim for freedom of movement among clubs and the right to move to foreign leagues without their "NWSL rights" being tied up if they later want to return.
2. Term of the CBA. All leagues want the agreement to extend as long as possible, creating some degree of cost certainty. With increased interest from national media companies and sponsors, the players are betting the league's economic picture will improve sooner rather than later.

The leverage pro players typically have is forcing a league to settle or else risk losing the revenues from cancelled regular-season games (lost ticket sales, concessions and on-site merchandising and make-goods on media and sponsorship deals). With the NWSL, the problem for the players is the regular season won't begin for until after the preseason Challenge Cup ends on May 7. Can they hold out for more than three months?

No league has as long a preseason as the NWSL before the start of the regular season. The NWSL has also always been late in releasing its schedule. As of right now, there is no schedule for the Challenge Cup, slated to start on March 19, or regular season.

Few clubs control their dates. Ten of 12 NWSL share their stadiums with MLS or USL teams, but they have long since announced their schedules.

Like so much about the NWSL, which is about to enter its 10th season of play, progress is stubbornly slow.
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