New AFLW player payments for 2018 – don’t call it a pay rise

Contributions by Kirby Fenwick

AFLW players will receive a total of $477,000 more in player payments in 2018, but don’t be too quick to call it a pay rise.

As part of the revised contracts for 2018, players will in fact receive larger overall sums than in 2017, but will be asked to do more contracted work for less hourly pay, and be faced with potentially severe tax penalties for the increased income.

What gives? AFLW players will be paid approximately 13 per cent less per hour in 2018. Image: Michael Willson/AFL Media

The Herald Sun flippantly claimed that all AFLW players had won a “big pay rise” in an article released on Thursday afternoon, which outlines the new payment structure for players.

Tier one players – formerly known as marquees – will have their salaries jump from $17,000 in 2017 to $20,000 in 2018, tier two players from $12,000 to $14,500, and the majority of AFLW players on the base wage from $8,500 to $10,500.

Rookies, who are not eligible to play unless a senior listed player is moved to the long-term injury list, will earn $8,500.

On the surface, that’s great news, and quite clearly that’s where the Herald Sun staff chose to stop, despite us outlining the flaws of calling the proposed new pay scale a ‘pay rise’ back in August.

Had they decided to scratch further than the surface before so boldly proclaiming the victory for the AFLW, they will have discovered that the players are contracted for more hours for significantly less income per hour.

In 2017, AFLW players were contracted for 24 weeks, spending an average of 11 contact hours per week at the club. We can work out that in total, players were each paid for approximately 264 hours for the season.

After a post-season review, it was discovered that players were well exceeding their nine contracted contact hours, hence the payment review.

In 2018, AFLW players will still be contracted for 24 weeks, and will now spend on average 15 hours per week at the club throughout the duration of their contracts. We can work out that in total, players will be paid for approximately 360 hours across the season.

Immediately that should ring alarm bells: a 36 per cent increase in contracted hours, but only a 20.96 per cent increase in total player payments.

By using the average total hours of 264 for 2017 and 360 for 2018, and knowing that the AFLW functions as a second job for the majority of players and hence incurs higher tax rates, the average hourly rate for players in fact decreases by an average 13 per cent in 2018.

Players on the base payment who earned an average of $24.92 per hour in 2017 will earn an average of $21.96 per hour in 2018.

It’s a similar story for tier two players, who will go from an average of $33.63 per hour in 2017 to $29.21 per hour in 2018, and for the previously-named marquee players – now known as tier one players – who will go from an average of $46.03 per hour in 2017 to $39.15 per hour in 2018.

On top of the contracted 360 hours at clubs and for match days, players are also expected to complete 20 hours of appearances throughout the duration of their contract.

Players will not be remunerated separately for the additional 20 hours, which would push the hourly rate even lower.

There is some relief, as the figures do not factor in the $40,000 each club will pay select players for ambassadorial duties – though few players on base wages will see a cent of that money – nor individual player sponsorships that clubs offer.

The reality of the low pay in 2017 was best highlighted by Adelaide Crows premiership winner and cult hero Sarah Perkins – who was paid a base wage of $8,500 in 2017 – telling The Advertiser about the financial loss she experienced in order to dedicate time to AFLW football.

It’s only one case that has been reported to the media, but the same can be said across the board for players on the base wage who had to take time off work in order to fulfil their commitments, and lost a chunk of that pay to tax due to it being recognised as a second income.

So what is the solution?

As much as fans of the AFLW would love for the AFL to put in more for salaries, the governing body is not a bottomless pit of money, despite public misconceptions.

The AFL is also navigating what is a complex league expansion which will see Geelong and North Melbourne join in 2019, and four more clubs in 2020, pushing the current payment pool of $2.752 million up to the $5 million mark, which all comes out of the AFL’s pocket.

Because of the expansion, securing a long-term television deal with Network Seven and Fox Sports is nigh on impossible until the competition reaches 14 teams in 2020.

Both broadcasting networks are expected continue to rake in advertising dollars as part of their free access to the AFLW for the next two seasons.

Expansion is key for the competition to flourish through the next decade, but it’s also commonly known that AFLW players’ pay will skyrocket when a broadcast deal is penned.

It’s a frustrating limbo.

As we mentioned back in August, this adjusted pay scale should be viewed as little more than a sign of good faith from the AFL that it is recognising the work the players are putting in, and a promise of more money to come in the future.

But it sure as heck isn’t a pay rise.