Recently, Australia saw the launch of the inaugural AFL Women’s competition which features a 7-round home and away season and eight teams across Australia. The chatter and excitement for this league was undeniable; nobody could escape the buzz, not that you would want to!
All the social media feeds were buzzing in the lead up to last Friday’s opening game between Collingwood and Carlton at the infamous Princess Park. Long before then, Australia watched Cotton On Group partner with players to design their jerseys, AFL players come out to support the AFLW, and most importantly, saw women’s sport become a talking point in a positive and inspiring way.
— Sport and Recreation (@dsrwa) February 2, 2017
— Sam Mayes (@sammayes7) February 4, 2017
Between four games, more than 50,000 fans packed into small(er) stadiums across Australia to witness history in the making. AFL has been around for 120 years, and only now has a woman been able to play this game at a professional level. A simply amazing feat, and one that could have come sooner.
However, one of the most discussed issues the past few weeks has been the comparison between the furore of the AFLW to the W-League, the female football equivalent in Australia. In comparing the level of fan engagement between the two codes, it’s clear that one stands higher than the other.
But why is this?
In the two seasons that Melbourne City have been in the W-League competition, they have been crowned the Champions. Tonight, they became the first women’s team to win back-to-back titles. But there was nothing to be seen that reflected what this accomplishment truly means.
— Melbourne City Women (@MelbCityWFC) February 12, 2017
Similarly for two seasons, between 2013 and 2014, Brisbane Roar had Nadine Angerer on their team roster. Angerer is an incredible goalkeeper, the captain of the German women’s national team, and in 2014 she was named FIFA World Player of the Year. She is a highly decorated footballer, but again, received none of the deserving hype.
— The Nation Sports (@TheNationSports) January 13, 2014
The W-League should have people excited.
It should inspire the young girls in Australia to play the game, but all that’s seen is the injustice in salary, facilities and the season. This league has not been afforded a sustainable environment and proper incentives for players, including pay, to allow it to succeed. This blog has highlighted the importance of following your passion, but if that means you get paid on average $7,500 for a 16-week competition whilst your male counterpart receives on average $120,000 for a 27-round competition – no. Hell no. In fact, Brianna Davey, a former Matilda, is now playing for the Carlton Blues in the AFLW and she stands to earn approximately $25,000 for the 8-week season. She even touted women from other sporting codes are looking to switch to AFL.
It’s amazing what you can do when you spend your salary cap… #WLeagueGF
— Kevin Airs (@KevinAirs442) January 31, 2016
If women footballers were paid a decent salary, Melbourne City would have exceeded the Salary Cap at least twice over. #WLeagueGF
— Clovis the Apostate (@I_am_Clovitus) January 31, 2016
— Fiona Richardson (@FRichardsonMP) January 31, 2016
Future success of womens sport comes down to five things:
1. Real stadiums.
Admittedly the AFLW is only a 7-week competition but the fact that the Brisbane Lions are playing at South Pine Sports Complex, a 30-minute drive from the Brisbane CBD, is a little unreal. Similarly, with the W-League, Brisbane Roar women play at A.J. Kelly Park, an even further 40-minute drive. Real teams, real stadiums, real fans.
2. Dedicated marketing resources.
Promotion and dedicating resources to giving the women’s team equal support to bump fan engagement. Utilising new technologies and social media, which can be as simple as creating dedicated hashtags for games like the AFLW. Planned interviews, spontaneous Instagram posts, and Snapchat stories; they all make a difference. To target marketing at only women is a mistake. There are fathers, brothers, partners; all who know someone who could fall in love with the game. Teams should be marketing to every gender, every age.To target marketing at only women is a mistake. Teams should be marketing to every gender, every age. Click To Tweet
3. Knowing who your fans are, and what they want.
Young girls should grow up in a country where they are given equal opportunity to play sport at a professional level. A great article by Shawnee Barton at The Atlantic highlights a multitude of ways for sport to provide a better fan experience, particularly for women and families. Methods that don’t only involve donning pink jerseys to celebrate women.
4. Stop promoting “double-headers”.
Having a women’s game at 1:30pm, followed by a mens game at the regular 6:30pm slot feels like the undercard to a main event. The women’s league is not a second-division team, and it should not be treated like one.
5. Changing the culture.
Easy to say, and definitely not easy to do. It breaks my heart to read tweets like this, and see that it has been retweeted 521 times. We need to stop this backwards way of thinking, and it starts with governing bodies and male-dominated sports teams placing an equal value on the women’s game.It starts with governing bodies and male-dominated sports teams placing an equal value on the women's game Click To Tweet