The case for higher wages: why AFLW players deserve a raise

Contributions by Kirby Fenwick

It has been a week since the AFL and AFL Players’ Association signed off on an historic pay deal worth $1.84 billion, raising the average male player’s wage to $371,000 in 2017 with a steady increase to come over the next five years.

The average wage jumps up $62,000 from $309,000, and players’ pay will be tied to industry revenue for the first time.

The majority of AFLW players, including Best and Fairest winner Erin Phillips, earned only $8,500 over 24 weeks for season 2017. Image: Jason O’Brien/Getty Images

It’s a significant win for the 850 listed AFLM players, but if you’re a supporter of the AFL Women’s competition, it’s also a victory you can’t help but raise your eyebrows at.

Key points:

  • AFLM players get a pay rise of $62,000. AFLW players get a pay rise of $667
  • Specific payment can’t be calculated until a new broadcast deal is settled
  • 31-game season worth a minimum of $10 million for TV broadcast rights
  • AFLW should generate a minimum of $14 million to dedicate to women’s football
  • After competition costs, $7 million could be dedicated to player payments
  • $7 million paid to 240 players would mean an average wage of $29,208 for 24 weeks

AFLW players too will receive a pay rise, but not nearly as lucrative.

As part of the current two-year deal agreed upon by the AFL and 90% of the 2017 AFLW players, the country’s top-tier female footballers will see their average pay rise from $10,077 this year to $10,744 in 2018, still as part of a 24-week contract.

10% of the potential 240 players will earn above $10,000 in 2018, and the competition’s marquee players will earn $27,946 ($10,000 of which comes from the $40,000 allocated to each club for marketing).

For comparison, AFLM rookies are paid at least $71,500 a year, which will rise to $88,000 in 2018 under the new deal, despite many being unlikely to ever play an AFLM match.

In the inaugural AFLW season, players were paid for nine hours of contact with their respective clubs through an eight-week pre-season, and nine hours plus match days over the seven-round season in addition to the Grand Final.

All players greatly exceeded those contractual requirements, devoting an estimated 17-20 hours per week to physical conditioning, club-related events and promotion of the AFLW competition – on top of their day jobs and studies.

The deal was agreed to in late 2016, months before the AFLW would win the country’s interest and immediately become a mainstream media success, smashing the AFL’s expectations in the process.

A total of 198,366 fans attended the 29 AFLW matches at an average of 6,840 per game.

Matches drew a total audience of 5.64 million viewers across free-to-air and subscription TV, with games on Foxtel consistently out-rating A-League matches, which are part of a $57.6 million per year deal between Foxtel and Football Federation Australia.

On social media, the AFLW had accumulated 170,000 fans across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at the conclusion of the 2017 season, a figure that has since grown despite attention turning to the men’s competition.

Over 7,000 AFLW-specific club memberships were purchased across the eight teams – most with little or no promotion – and both badges and guernseys sold out in many cases, boosting club revenue well beyond expectation.

And perhaps most importantly, the AFL created new, and extended on, partnerships with AFLW premier partner NAB, major partner Chemist Warehouse, and the likes of Cotton On, Gatorade, Rebel Sport and Woolworths.

The eight AFLW teams also benefited from expanded sponsorship opportunities, with many signing on sponsors exclusively for their women’s team.

While the value of these partnerships is unknown, rest assured the AFL would not have been left to cover the estimated $5 million competition costs completely out of its own pocket.

With brands flocking to support the AFLW and its clubs and, off the back of impressive audiences, an updated TV deal surely on the way for 2018, it’s time to revise how much AFLW players are worth and pay them accordingly.

Many fans believe AFLW players should be paid under the ‘equal pay for equal work’ mantra.

While it is the goal to have the country’s best female footballers paid a decent wage that enables them to be full-time footballers, it’s not yet financially viable to pay them a wage equivalent to the men.

Instead, the AFLW must be viewed as a separate financial entity, with AFLW players being paid a percentage of how much revenue the competition makes, similar to the AFLM.

However, because there is no broadcast deal currently in place and games are still free to attend, an average payment is difficult to calculate.

Still, using industry figures and estimating potential income, we can calculate a ball-park figure.

It is believed that the 2017 AFLW season cost the AFL approximately $5 million, just under half of which ($2.276 million) was paid to the players.

Back in February, Girls Play Footy anticipated that the television broadcast rights for the AFLW could be worth $20 million per season.

Games were given away to both Seven and Foxtel for free in 2017, on the proviso that the networks covered the broadcast costs.

In doing so, both networks would’ve made an absolute killing in advertising considering the viewership that tuned in.

While $20 million is ambitious, it’s still realistic, particularly now that the season will increase by two games, with the addition of another week of finals for 2018.

However, we will continue assuming a more modest figure of $10 million, the absolute bare minimum the AFL should accept.

There is potential to earn plenty more from radio and digital streaming rights, but again to remain modest, those will not be included.

It’s expected the AFL may also begin charging admission for stand-alone AFLW games, with the average 6,840 fans per match- despite a number of late-season games being played at impossible times for supporters – greatly exceeding the AFL’s expectations.

Using that average attendance, just $5 per head for all ages across the 2018 season could generate another $1 million.

On top of the income from the AFLW’s respective partners – roughly $3 million per season – the AFL should have an estimated $14 million at least to work with.

Not all of that could be allocated to paying players. However, after competition expenses and a financial commitment to growing the game at the grassroots level, it’s conceivable that $7 million could be committed to player wages.

Under the current three-tier payment system the AFL has in place for the AFLW, a shade over $7 million translates to an average player wage of $29,208 for 240 players over the course of a 24-week contract ($1,217 per week).

Top-tier players would earn $75,863 ($3,161 p/w) and second-tier players $34,860 ($1,453 p/w) with the majority of players earning $25,183 ($1,049 p/w).

As you can see, these numbers are not enough to make AFLW players rich, nor are they intended to.

It’s about working towards a fair wage for the country’s top female footballers, who deserve at the very least enough money to devote themselves to being elite.

As shown, there is no reason why the AFL cannot offer AFLW players a decent wage as of 2018.

Expansion for 2019 will require a revised broadcast deal and ultimately a revised player payment scheme, but for the immediate future, this should be considered the bare minimum.

The AFL and AFL Players’ Association are expected to meet regarding player contracts sometime this year, potentially after the league announces in late July which teams will join the competition for 2018.

The AFL is not bound to offering AFLW players a raise, with one year of the previous two-year agreement still to come.

But given the overwhelming success of the inaugural season and the significant amount of support from sponsors and fans alike, how can the players not be offered a better wage?

If the AFL is serious about growing the competition, a fair wage that reflects the value of the players and their commitment to the competition must be a priority.

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