One of the most striking signs of the global rise of women’s soccer is the growing international transfer market and the fees club teams are shelling out for players.

Case in point was the record transfer fee of $788,000 paid by National Women’s Soccer League expansion team Bay FC for Zambian forward Racheal Kundananji this year. The Orlando Pride acquired fellow Zambian Barbra Banda for a $740,000 fee.

More international movement shows not only that players have more options, but that women’s clubs have more resources.

“I thinks it’s really cool that now you’re seeing it go both ways, you’re seeing players going to Europe and major clubs, and those players getting a massive deal like at Bay FC,” said U.S. captain Lindsey Horan, who plays professionally in France for Lyon. “I think that’s incredible. It says a lot about the women’s game right now and that’s what we want. We want it to grow. We want players to want to come to the NWSL, we want players to want to go to Europe.”

Other U.S. players who have moved abroad to play include Chelsea’s Catarina Macario and Arsenal’s Emily Fox.

The converse it true, too. More international players are coming to the NWSL. This season the league allowed teams seven international roster spots, up from five in 2023. Currently, there are players from 36 countries, other than the United States, on NWSL rosters, a jump from 23 just six years ago.

According to FIFA, soccer’s governing body, there was a 31.3% increase in transfers that included a fee during January’s transfer window compared to the same period in 2023. Additionally, transfer fees paid during the window reached a record level of $2.1 million — a 165% increase over the previous January.

While the numbers reflect the trend toward greater investment in women’s clubs and players, big tournaments like the 2023 Women’s World Cup and the Paris Olympics this summer also tend to boost the women’s game.

“The scale of it now, with the way that they have commercial partners coming into the game and really seeing an opportunity to invest and the interest is finally there, is something that as females in the game we’ve really tried to battle to get, in terms of investment and resources and clubs really taking the women’s game seriously,” said Jen Beattie, who came to Bay FC from Arsenal.

More resources translate to more options for the athletes.

The National Women’s Soccer League embarked on its 12th season this year. The league has big-time sponsors in Nike, Ally Financial and Nationwide, as well as a new media rights deal worth $60 million a year.

Abroad, the Women’s Super League did not become fully professionalized until 2018. But since then, the league has taken off, both in terms of the on-field talent, commitment from clubs and popularity among fans.

“I think especially after the World Cup last year, just kind of the enthusiasm around the game and the support for women around the world is really exciting to see,” said Kate Wiesner, who was selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2024 NWSL draft by the Washington Spirit. “But I think that there’s no better time than now really to be joining the NWSL. And there’s a lot of new and exciting things happening in the league, a lot of resources being poured into it and into the players.”

In addition to new talent, teams are also paying more to retain players.

The Chicago Red Stars signed forward Mallory Swanson this year to a four-year deal with an option for a fifth.

The Portland Thorns were adamant about their desire to keep forward Sophia Smith and signed her to an extension in March that pays her the highest annual salary in the NWSL.

“I’m so lucky to have grown up with this league as an option. And the fact that now that I’m playing in it and there’s even more options just says a lot about the investment in the women’s game and how much this game is growing here in the U.S. and globally,” said Smith, 23. “It’s never a bad thing to have options. And the beautiful thing about that is if it’s not here, it could be in Europe.”

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