The 2023 NSWL Challenge Cup, a mid-season tournament that kicks off April 19, will hit $1 million in prize money for the first time in league history.
The financial backing is part of a multi-year, multimillion dollar deal with HR, payroll and workforce management company UKG.
The sponsorship deal, which began in 2022, saw the prize pot for the 12-team season-opening tournament increase tenfold in 2022 and now double again in 2023 with a stated goal to "bring pay equity to the world of professional sports."
"Our athletes have long been on equal footing with their male counterparts in terms of skill and ability, and UKG's partnership is critical to advancing the league's extensive efforts to raise awareness and rectify the unfair reality that women on and off the field are being short-changed, literally," NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said in a news release.
Major League Soccer's MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando in 2020 had a total prize pool of $1.1m and the MLS Cup has similar prize money.
The U.S. women's national team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit in early March 2019, which resulted in a $24m settlement three years later. The players had been seeking $66.7m in backpay.
In 2022, U.S. Soccer became the first football federation to award equal FIFA World Cup prize money to the men's and women's national team players for participating in a World Cup along with joint CBAs with the U.S. Soccer Federation, USWNT Players' Association and the U.S. National Soccer Team Players Association. The joint CBAs run through 2028.
Because of the new deal, the USWNT earned more money when the USMNT reached the knockout stages of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar than it did from winning the women's World Cup in 2015 and 2019.
The USWNT has won four total World Cups and four Olympic gold medals. The USMNT, by contrast, has never won a World Cup and its best finish was reaching quarterfinals in 2002.
This year, the Women's World Cup will receive $150m in prize money, a 300% increase over 2019 but still only about a third of the $440m the men got in Qatar 2022.
FIFA said it is aiming for parity between the men's and women's tournaments by 2027.
The UKG sponsorship initiative also includes a collaboration with Angel City FC forwards Sydney Leroux and Christen Press to raise awareness about pay equity in the United States via a campaign called "Challenge Accepted."
"Every person doing every kind of work deserves to be paid equitably and shown that their time and talents are valued," said Press.
The NWSL Players' Association joined the AFL-CIO in 2021 and MLSPA followed suit in 2023.
Portland Thorns are the Challenge Cup defending champion and the tournament runs through Sept. 9.