How side hustles help pro women's soccer players with low salaries make ends meet

"My total focus should be just being the best athlete I can be. But I haven't been able to do that."

North Carolina Courage player Kaleigh Kurtz (left) and Houston Dash player Jasmyne Spencer (right)
Andy Mead/ISI Photos and Abbie Parr | Getty Images

After spending several seasons as a professional athlete, Houston Dash player Jasmyne Spencer is making more money in the National Women's Soccer League than ever before. Still, going into her ninth season in the league, Spencer earns just over $30,000 a year from pro soccer.

Compared to her first contract of $5,000 in 2013, a contract worth more than six times that seems like a huge step up. But it still isn't enough to solely cover her living expenses and save for financial goals like buying a home.

From 2013 to 2019, Spencer worked a range of side hustles, as a vet assistant, an assistant coach at an NCAA Division II college, and a private coach — all while playing in the top women's league. Now she runs her own sustainable lifestyle brand, and she still coaches on the side. "My total focus should be just being the best athlete I can be," says Spencer. "But I haven't been able to do that because I've had to work other jobs and do other things to make ends meet."

North Carolina Courage player Kaleigh Kurtz is in a similar situation. She was offered $13,709 in 2018 as a rookie (that's less than the league minimum, because she was signed part-way through the season). Her current salary is $26,400 a year, and she works on the side with The Bucy Foundation, a soccer-focused nonprofit, to make ends meet. 

Grow spoke to Spencer and Kurtz about how they have used, and continue to use, side hustles to get by. 

Spending more time on side hustles than soccer

Until 2021, both Kurtz and Spencer said they spent just as much time, if not more time, at their side hustles than they did playing soccer.

For Spencer, that meant working as a vet assistant for $16 an hour while playing in Orlando and Seattle. In Orlando, she spent around 20 hours each week at vet clinics and kennels. When she went to play in Seattle, she averaged almost 30 hours each week. 

Spencer coached individuals and group sessions for 1 to 3 hours a few times a week, making $40 to $80 an hour. After lockdown began, she transitioned to virtual coaching sessions but she hasn't held one since the spring of 2021. The company hosting the sessions transitioned to in-person training and the time frames didn't fit into her schedule.

Between 2018 to early 2020, Kurtz worked as a vet assistant in North Carolina. After starting as an unpaid intern, she later made the minimum wage and worked between 10-20 hours a week. Similar to many other NWSL players, she coached kids, making between $50 and $100 per session.

Earning enough from the NWSL and her side hustles required so much time and effort that Kurtz says she did "literally nothing" else.

Going 'on loan' abroad to make more money

Before 2020, if you played for the NSWL, you were only paid from the beginning to the end of the NSWL season. If you wanted to continue playing and make money the rest of the year, you had to go abroad to play on loan, or on a temporary stay with another team. Players frequently went to Australia's W-League because their four-month-long season occurred in the NWSL's off-season.

Spencer has gone abroad to play soccer five times in countries such as Australia, Denmark, and Cyprus, and found her wages to be higher there than at home. Spencer often made half to two-thirds of her NWSL salary in the four months she played in Australia.

Although money wasn't a huge factor for Spencer at first, later on in her career it was crucial: "I couldn't live on my own [in the States] without going to Australia" to play on loan in the off-season.

A NWSL career 'completely up in the air because of the wages'

When the last whistle blew on her final college match with the South Carolina Gamecocks, Kurtz knew her soccer career wasn't over. But at the time, she had not made any plans to go professional because of the low salaries in the NWSL: "It was completely up in the air because of the wages, not because I didn't love soccer." 

After seeing her first contract at $13,700, Kurtz knew she needed to create and stick to a strict budget. Growing up, she saw her parents use an envelope system to budget and used an app called Good Budget to digitally recreate that same kind of system.

In addition to budgeting, Kurtz views her side hustles as a way to prepare herself financially for a life and career after soccer.

Getting ready for a life after soccer

Today, Kurtz works with The Bucy Foundation, founded by one of the owners of her team, the North Carolina Courage, to help create mini soccer pitches in and around Cary, North Carolina.

Working between 15 to 20 hours a week, Kurtz hopes she'll make a few thousand this year, to help her set up for a life after playing professionally and to save up to buy a house. Working with the foundation has helped sharpen her project management skills and provided her with important work experience, she says. 

After getting injured in 2019, Spencer was left with a lot more time on her hands. Due to her injury, she couldn't stay on her feet all day at the vet clinic.

It was tough to make ends meet on disability payments. Since she wasn't paid by the NWSL for the entire year, Spencer was considered a seasonal worker. The first payment she received was $12.82, and it was supposed to last for two weeks. Spencer was able to submit her Australian contracts as proof that she usually plays all year and her disability payments were increased accordingly.

In her downtime, Spencer decided to revamp Jas It Up, her sustainable lifestyle brand, and rebrand it as a full clothing line. Her goal is to educate and inspire people to lead an eco-friendly lifestyle. Unlike her other side hustles, she didn't start Jas It Up as a way to make ends meet; it was a passion project.

Spencer was surprised when it became something she could depend on as a source of income. Since the beginning of 2020, she sold over $10,000 worth of merchandise. Those funds have helped her save for her goals, including a wedding and a house. 

Side hustles are a fact of life — and a distraction

Working multiple jobs is so common for professional women's soccer players that in August, the National Women's Soccer League Players Association launched the #NoMoreSideHustles campaign to highlight the players' needs for side hustles and the need for fair contracts. In response to the campaign, a number of current and former NWSL took to the internet to share their side hustle stories.

The NWSL's minimum player salary is $22,000 per year and the maximum salary is $52,500. The NWSL says 4% of its players get total compensation of less than $30,000 a year, and the NWSL players association estimates that 75% of the players make $31,000 or less, CNBC Make It reports.

Kurtz and Spencer both say that having to work multiple gigs is a distraction from their main job: doing their best as professional athletes.

A big part of their responsibility as professional athletes is making sure they recover properly from their exertions on the field, Kurtz points out. Working extra hours on your feet as a vet assistant or coaching young kids takes away from that recovery, at the risk of affecting future performance. 

Working side hustles, Kurtz says, "is not helpful for us to be the best that we can be at our actual jobs."

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