With the recent high-profile signings from OL Reign of Tobin Heath and Jordyn Huitema, as well as a short-term loan move from Kim Little from Arsenal, there has again been speculation from fans of other teams according to which the reign has to somehow cheat the system to accommodate everyone. on their list, perhaps thanks to financial support under the table from their parent organization OL Groupe. But those accusations belie just how savvy the club have been when it comes to deals and transfers over the past year, amassing a substantial war chest which they have been able to put to good use during the summer transfer window.
Before we get into the details of the past moves they made, we should first briefly take a look at the current salary cap structure of the NWSL and how that changed with the signing of the league’s first collective bargaining agreement at the start. of the year. For starters, teams now have a base salary cap of $1.1 million to work with. This is a significant increase from the 2021 cap of $650,000, although USWNT players are no longer allocated and are now signed directly by their clubs. For Reigns, that means Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle are now contracted to the club and likely have significant salaries that count towards the cap for the first time (Alana Cook and Sofia Huerta were already directly signed to Reigns before this season). .) Beyond those two, there’s been a pretty substantial increase in salaries across the board, so most (if not all) of that extra $450,000 in cap space likely accounted for since the beginning of the year.
However, clubs have access to additional resources in the form of stipend money, which they can use to cover player salaries above the maximum salary of $75,000 and buy out caps, offer trades and pay transfer fees. It is important to note that all transfer fees must be paid exclusively using stipend funds; no outside funds can be used. Each NWSL team has the option to purchase $500,000 in allocation money this season, and any unused money purchased or acquired through trades in previous seasons can be carried over to the current year. This is where OL Reign particularly shined – in addition to their own loot, they made a number of trades that increased their cash flow considerably. Here are the moves the club have made since the end of last season that have added to their allocation:
That’s $245,000 in additional allocation money, plus another $15,000 coming next year. However, the club also spent some of this money on pre-season deals and transfers:
- They traded $40,000 and a 2023 first-round pick to Gotham FC in exchange for the 8th draft pick this year, which was used to select Zsani Kajan (Reign also got some of that money back when he transferred Kajan to ACF Fiorentina on Monday for an undisclosed fee.)
- They traded $30,000 and a 2023 third-round pick to Houston for Veronica Latsko.
So in total, the club has earned a net of at least $175,000 in allocation money before making its big move this summer. For the right to sign Heath, they sent $50,000 to Louisville along with a pair of 2023 draft picks. We don’t have details on the transfer fee Reigns paid to PSG for Huitema, but we We can get some clues thanks to Alana Cook’s transfer last year from PSG to Reign. Cook’s transfer was among the top 5 fees paid worldwide in 2021, likely between $200-250,000. However, Cook still had two years left on his contract with PSG when he transferred last summer, while Huitema had just one year left, so his fee was likely lower. Perhaps more importantly, the successes of Heath and Huitema will be pro-rated for the remainder of this season.
But what about Little, you might be wondering. Although she is likely to earn substantial salaries at Arsenal, she will only be with OL Reign for around six weeks, so the team will be responsible for around 12% of her overall salary. If she hypothetically earns £250,000, the impact on the Reign salary cap would be around $35,000, which coincidentally is the same as this year’s NWSL minimum wage.
Even if this is not enough to convince you, one last aspect should be: the NWSL office must approve all transactions and contracts to ensure that the regulations are respected. When the stipend funds were unveiled in November 2019, teams were expected to find creative ways to use them to bolster their rosters. The Covid pandemic delayed many of these plans by a year, but also allowed teams to raise additional funds ahead of the 2021 season. OL Reign were also able to make some smart moves at the end of 2020, including loaning players keys, which added three OL players on loan for half of the 2021 season, and they again made a series of seemingly minor moves this off-season which allowed them to make significant signings this summer.
“How is OL Reign doing?” The answer is really that they are doing what any team with a desire to win the NWSL Championship should do: establish a culture that makes it a desirable destination and use the resources at their disposal to acquire players who they believe can elevate the roster. now and for years to come. These are the pillars of any competent organization that has ambitions and recognizes that it can always do better.