Sport AFL Why the AFL is paying lip service to women’s sport

Why the AFL is paying lip service to women’s sport

women's afl etihad stadium
The new pay deal isn't good enough. Photo: Getty
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Women’s footy is coming.

Just this week, the AFL Commission and AFL Players’ Association [AFLPA] settled on a revised remuneration package for the women playing in next year’s competition.

According to the AFLPA’s CEO, Paul Marsh, the women “overwhelmingly” agreed on the package, which, wait for it … provides “equality between [the AFL’s] female and male players.”

What nonsense!

The women players are far from equal.

They have little negotiating power and are being ripped off financially.

Though the competition kicks off in early February, training starts this month.

Players will be contracted for 24 weeks, which includes the seven-week season plus the Grand Final.

Under the terms of the AFL’s original package, players were expected to survive on the sniff of a liniment-soaked rag.

The new package released this week is little better.

women's afl mcg
These players deserve better. Photo: Getty

The 16 ‘marquee players’ – of which there are two per club – will receive $27,000, comprising a $17,000 playing fee and a $10,000 marketing component, an increase of $2000 on their original package.

They will also get a raise of $946 for the 2018 season.

The rate for ‘priority selections’ has ‘rocketed’ by $2000 to $12,000, and they too get a pay rise of $846 in 2018.

The big winners, though, were players at the bottom-end of the scale.

Their $5000 minimum wage offer has increased, after concern from players, to $8500 – or $354.16 per week. A $776 pay rise will follow in 2018.

Putting these figures into context is the fact players in the new women’s national netball league will get a minimum wage of $27,375.

To its credit, the AFL has added a few sweeteners, such as travel and limited childcare allowances, free boots and runners, and contributions to the players’ private health insurance funds.

But the AFL is getting a low-cost labour force to promote its brand for next-to-nothing.

By playing football next February in March, the women will provide the AFL with saleable media content and brand exposure.

The men’s pre-season competition offers some content filler, but is treated as training runs by clubs and largely dismissed by fans.

afl pre season
The AFL’s pre-season comp doesn’t get the fans excited. Photo: Getty

Women’s football offers a more competitive alternative during the deadest months on the AFL’s calendar.

Last March, the AFL’s Simon Lethlean, admitted the women’s competition would fill the “content gap” between the Australian Open and the start of the men’s AFL season.

With teams in Brisbane and Sydney, the women will give the AFL exposure to counter the NRL season’s start in the first weekend of March.

Already NAB has bought the naming rights, while apparel supplier, Cotton On Group, and the New York-based sports and fashion brand, New Era, have signed on as partners.

Media interest is also high.

Seven are set to broadcast one game per week, while Foxtel is considering showing them all – albeit for no fee.

But the terms under which the women are playing are throwbacks to a period when men were the breadwinners and women picked up the scraps.

Nobody expects the women to receive the average male player’s annual wage of $A302,104.

But the AFL is a multibillion dollar industry and the estimated $A4.279 million spent on women player salaries over the next two years is lunch-money.

Mr Lethlean suggests some players will find work in footy-related jobs, but this is a short-term fix and useless to those with established careers or businesses.

women's afl melbourne bulldogs
September’s exhibition match between Melbourne and the Bulldogs drew a big crowd. Photo: Getty

It doesn’t work under the proposed structure which requires near professional commitment, a living wage and compensation for interruptions to family lives and careers.

The AFL realises it is backing a winner.

Last year, over 284,000 women played the game at some level, while television ratings for last September’s women’s Bulldogs-Demons clash out-rated all men’s home-and-away games and provided the AFL with millions in free brand exposure.

The competition commences when there is much goodwill towards women’s football and a critical mass of players to form elite teams.

It will give women a pathway to play at an elite level and a greater stake in the game.

But under the current structure, it only reinforces gender power relations in this country.

The decisions affecting women footballers’ futures are being determined by blokes.

The women will provide the low-cost labour in footy’s sweatshops during the hottest time of the year, while blokes in suits will pocket the money in air-conditioned comfort.

And that’s not right.

Dr Tom Heenan teaches sports studies at Monash University.

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