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The Financial Life of a Professional Soccer Player in the NWSL

Samantha Johnson opens up about the struggles she faces and the learning curve she has had to go through.

Samantha Johnson takes her finances off the field as seriously as she does her playing time. (Photo via Samantha Johnson)

By Amobi Okugo, @amobisays

Professional sports on the women’s level have shown tremendous growth, but it’s well known continued steps are vital for true equality.

In an interview with Samantha Johnson, professional soccer player for the Chicago Red Stars of the NWSL, we chat about her personal financial experience as a female athlete and what she does in her free time to make sure she is advancing her career off the field.

Q: A big issue in sports has been the pay gap between men’s sports and women’s sports, can you talk about your experience as a soccer player in the NWSL and overseas?

A: My experience as a female professional soccer player in the NWSL has been a learning experience. When you are young you imagine making it to the pro level and think it will be this gratifying experience. Almost as if you can breathe easy and finally all of your work as a youth player has paid off but it hasn’t. Yes the pun was appropriate. There are two different kinds of professionals in the women’s game. Regular players and national team players. I am one of the regular players meaning I am an employee of the NWSL, not US Soccer.

While playing professionally might be the dream of many, I know making $800 a month my rookie year (2014) was hardly the dream.

I actually think I almost cried when I saw my check because I made that every weekend doing bottle service at the club before I decided playing soccer was a better investment for my time.

It took me awhile to be convinced that I’d made the right decision to go back to soccer.

Although my salary has gone up since my rookie year compensation it has not allowed me to pay for housing during season. Therefore I’ve always opted into host families and loved every minute of that experience.

I’ve only played in the Australian W-League and they take care of players very well. Salaries in my experience were about equal to what I collect in a month in the states however accommodation is top notch. Housing, stipend, car etc. is all taken care of, but that is the overseas life.

Q: What are some smart ways you manage your money?

A: I have spent the last year investing most of my salary into my brand. Website , logo, and social media content. Those are some examples of some tangibles. There is no need to spend my money on stuff that won’t give me a return. In the long run my brand will be a revenue generator which is the obvious intention. A brand opens up entrepreneurial doors and that is exactly where I’m headed.

Q: What has been the best advice you have received financially?

A: Well it’s funny because my dad always tells me I’m the richest person he knows. I always laugh when he says that. He means rich in opportunity because he’s right. He tells me not to stress about money and I’ve learned not to do that. I capitalize on the opportunities I create and in the long run it has and will continue to pay off, literally.

Q: What advice would you have for young players?

A: I would encourage young players to have a plan for life and to live with financial purpose.

Q: What is one purchase you feel like was your best investment and one that wasn’t?

A: The best and only purchase I’ve made was the choice to build my brand. I hired a company to help me do that and it was the best decision I ever made. Even though it’s stressful to give a significant amount of my monthly check to a company to build my brand it’s an investment in myself. I’m thankful I was financially able to do so in the first place. It’s the foundation I need to build anything I want on top, business wise.

Q: How have your sponsorships with specific brands helped you off the field?

A: I have one sponsorship with Concave Football. It is paid. It has helped receiving another check a couple times a year but again it all goes back into the brand. I’m sure by now you are catching on to the theme of my life right now… “invest in yourself”

Q: You are very active in your off the field ventures, can you elaborate on some of the exciting things you have going on?

A: As of late I joined a board for a nonprofit in Chicago, America SCORES. It is a nonprofit that uses soccer and poetry as their tools to help kids build good character. I have volunteered for 4 years in the Chicago community and know it is something I really enjoy and believe in. My brand revolves around helping young girls find their talent and encouraging them to use that as their vehicle for success in their lives. Soccer has been that for me and I would not be where and who I am without it. I’ve found I can impact young girls lives and believe it is a purpose of mine.

Recently, I was asked to help put together a girls’ mentorship program at South Shore International College Prep High school in Chicago. I’ve spoken to the kids there on numerous occasions years prior. I’ve always talked about doing a girls’ program. Now that I have my brand in place they can see it’s a lifestyle and I’m committed to my message that I truly believe in. Our program launched in November and I couldn’t be happier. I’m so excited to help the girls and be someone they can relate to in order to achieve their own goals in life.

Q: As a female athlete, it is common that some athletes either have other jobs or side hustles to build their financial playbook, do you have any or know of any?

A: On my team a couple of us had side gigs but I don’t really know anyone’s hustle but my own. It’s not something I speak up about. I had a side job this season working with kids but they fired me because my practice times kept changing. Haha! Soccer fortunately and unfortunately always comes first. Soccer is not ever going to pay me the money I need to actually support my life but it is my stepping stone into opportunities that I would never have had if I didn’t play. So in essence it pays me in a different way and because of the person I am I take advantage of what the game does offer instead of focusing on what it doesn’t give me.

Front Office Sports is a leading multi-platform publication and industry resource that covers the intersection of business and sports.

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