The debate surrounding pay equality in sport has re-ignited following claims of proposed pay cuts for female footballers.
On Tuesday, Brisbane Roar were forced to defend claims of asking for pay cuts from their Women’s side, highlighted by the revelation that the annual salary bill for their W-League side makes up merely five percent of the club’s wages bill for the A-League side.
The W-League, Australia’s national soccer league, is entering its ninth edition in November and has started to readily gain traction in recent seasons, leading to increased attendances and indirectly linked to success on the international stage.
This success has fuelled debates surrounding the imbalance between wages between the two genders and whilst there are many cases where the disparity is unjustifiable, unethical and plain wrong, that is not the case in the Australian football market.
In all business settings, the return on investment must justify the actual investment. Quite simply, the return on investment in Women’s sport in contemporary Australia does not justify the investment being proposed by many.
This does not mean it can’t or won’t in the future, but as we speak, it doesn’t.
Brisbane Roar’s average attendance at A-League matches hovers around 14,000 while the Women’s side played in front of no more than 1500 spectators at their Gold Coast home ground in 2015/16.
Without taking into account television deals, sponsorship and corporate agreements, it is clear that the men’s game generates sufficiently more income for involved parties than the women’s game.
However, like most things in one of the world’s most versatile markets, this can be changed.
In the United States, it was reported that more people watched the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup than the Men’s equivalent in 2014. There is a market there for Women’s sport which Australians have simply not tapped into as aggressively as countries like the United States.
Particularly in soccer, it’s getting there, but not to the point where it can be directly compared and evaluated alongside the men’s game.
Another prime example is the AFL’s huge strides forward in introducing the inaugural AFL Women’s competition in 2017, the first national Women’s competition among the major football codes.
AFL Chief Executive Officer Gillon McLachlan was forced to defend the proposed pay scales for its Women players who will earn no more than $25,000 for the seven-week season despite the current average of over $300,000 per season for the men.
However, as it stands, the product and income that Women’s AFL currently provides does not justify current AFL salaries.
A large portion of AFL clubs’ salary caps are funded through colossal television deals, the latest of which exceeds $2.5 million dollars spread over six seasons commencing in 2017.
— AFL Women's (@aflwomens) October 12, 2016
Whilst a standalone Women’s exhibition match broadcast on free-to-air television the weekend before the AFL finals led TV ratings in Melbourne, its peak of 1.05 million viewers nationally was dwarfed by all four men’s matches the following weekend.
It makes sense that as the AFL season proper generates the majority of the income, those funds trickle down into the clubs and players that helped generate it.
For the time being, the pay equality in sport debate will continue. The best outcome for sport lovers and athletes alike is that one day we see our female and male sporting idols receiving similar wages, but that day seems a fair way off.
For now, let’s just watch sport in Australia grow and celebrate the small and steady steps that female athletes are making in the industry, rather than create futile debates that divide Australians in an industry founded on unity and bringing people together.