A second bite of the cherry: reviewing the 2019-2022 wage deal for the Australian Football League Women

Published 14 November 2019 By: Braham Dabscheck

Aussie Rules

The Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW) commenced operations in 2017. It comprised eight teams. The Australian Football League (AFL) and Australian Football League Players’ Association (AFLPA) negotiated a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) covering the wages and working conditions of players. The agreement was based on a tiered system of payments with an average income of approximately $10,500 for an eight-week pre-season and nine-week competition – seven rounds with all clubs playing each other once and two weeks of finals. It was quickly found that the training and playing demands required of players exceeded those originally envisaged. For the 2018 season payments were increased to an average of over $13,800 to incorporate these extra hours.

The AFL announced that it would increase the AFLW to ten teams in 2019, and then to fourteen in 2020. The AFL and the players disagreed over what the length of the season should be following the inclusion of these new teams. It is an issue which has caused problems with both rounds of expansion. Beginning with the expansion to ten teams, the AFL wanted to maintain a seven-week competition (plus two weeks of finals) while the players wanted to expand the season to nine rounds, all clubs playing each other once. The AFL prevailed and introduced a system of two conferences of five teams with a seven-round season; clubs would play seven other clubs; missing out on playing two other clubs.

This article reviews and analyses the terms of the new CBA for the 2019-2022 seasons.

The new deal for 2019-2022

In November 2018, the AFL and AFLPA entered into a new CBA1 to cover the period 2019 to 2022. To aid an understanding of the analysis that follows it should be noted that this deal assumed a seventeen-week season; eight weeks preseason, seven weeks home and away and two weeks of finals. For 2019, the salary cap for a squad of 30 players was set at $474,800, increased from $332,000 in 2018. The range of payments was $13,460 to $24,600 (see Table One below). This equated to an average salary of $15,827.

The agreement also specified extra payments which would be available for players. They were Additional Service Agreements (promotions, sponsorships) with a guaranteed minimum spend of $20,000 per club with no cap, $100,000 for AFL Ambassador Roles and $127,500 for Finals’ Prize Money, for a total of $427,000. The majority of these extra payments would increase the income of the marquee or star players, possibly two to four players a team, and teams that make the finals and win the Grand Final. This may mean that 10 to 20 players earnt income in the vicinity of $40,000 to $50,000 in 2019. Including these extra payments increases average income for AFLW players in 2019 to $17,250.

To put this 2019 average level of income into perspective, the Australian adult full time annual minimum wage, as of July 2018, was $37,398. It was increased to $38,522 in July 2019. Australian average annual wages in May 2018 were $85,982, increasing in May 2019 to $88,1502.

The 2019 - 2022 deal specified that when the AFLW increased to fourteen teams in 2020, salary caps for 2020 and 2021 would increase to $506,453, with tiers ranging from $14,293 to $26.240. For 2022, the salary cap would increase to $538,107, with tiers ranging from $15,187 to $27,860. Including the extra payments indicated above, average income for players would be approximately $18,088 in 2020 and 2021 and $19,143 in 2022. If we take the 2022 average, this would involve an 82.3 per cent increase on the average that prevailed in 2017, when the AFLW commenced operations.3

The bargaining process to amend the deal for 2020-2022

With the AFLW expanding to fourteen teams, the AFL and AFLPA agreed to make amendments to its November 2018 (outlined above) deal for seasons 2020 to 2022. Beside increasing payments4 agreed in November 2018 (see Table 1, below), the major driver of change and source of contention, not so much between the AFL and AFLPA, but with a significant cohort of the playing group, was the length of the season. The AFL wanted to increase the length of the home and away season to eight games in 2020, nine in 2021 and 2022 plus three weeks of finals. A number of players wanted all clubs to play each other once with a home and away season of thirteen rounds.

The AFLPA being a democratic organisation has a rule5 that 75 per cent of its members must support a collective bargaining deal before it will sign off. It appears that a vote was held in September where the 75 per cent mark was not achieved; the actual voting result not being known. A second vote occurred in early October where 70 per cent of players voted for the deal; close but below the 75 per cent threshold. According to press reports6, ten clubs provided majority support, four unanimous and a further four over 80 per cent, and at four clubs – Geelong, Carlton, Greater Western Sydney and St. Kilda - the majority were opposed with one club having less than 10 per cent support. In what was undoubtedly an embarrassment for the AFLPA, a group of players headed by Carlton’s Darcy Vescio and Geelong’s Meg McDonald contacted the law firm Maurice Blackburn concerning their dissatisfaction with the deal and advice on how to proceed.

The AFLPA met with players from the dissident clubs to hear their concerns and explain why it wanted them to support the deal. A meeting also occurred between AFLW player delegates, AFLPA CEO Paul Marsh, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan, head of AFLW Nicole Livingstone and AFL head of football operations Steve Hocking to discuss issues in dispute. The AFL maintained that the major reason why it could not expand the AFLW to a thirteen home and away season was because of complications with broadcasting commitments. The AFL wanted all AFLW games to be broadcast. Given that the end of the AFLW season overlapped with the beginning of the men’s AFL competition there were not enough timeslots to broadcast games with a thirteen-week home and away AFLW season. Also, there was not the possibility of playing Friday night games for the AFLW because they would conflict with the ‘day’ jobs of players; with a national competition, players need to travel interstate to play games. A solution would not be available until the finalisation of a new broadcasting deal.

The player representatives pushed the AFL to examine problems they experienced in being able to develop themselves as players. It was agreed that the AFL would fund an independent review of the AFLW to be conducted by the AFLPA and players. The player representatives also expressed disquiet7 about not receiving their first payment until December (following the beginning of pre-season training) which the AFL agreed to resolve. The AFL also agreed8 to increase the length of the season for 2022 from nine to ten rounds. The agreement also specified increases to pre-season training. For 2020 it would increase from 8 to 9 weeks, to 9.5 weeks in 2021, and 10.5 weeks in 2022.

In late October a third vote9 was taken on the now revised collective bargaining agreement. It was endorsed by 98 per cent of players.

Summary of player payments for seasons 2019 to 2022

Table One provides a summary of club-player payments for seasons 2019 to 2022. It provides information on the number of players in each tier, with the majority of players – 16 out of 30 - being in the bottom Tier (Tier 4); income paid to players in each tier; the salary cap for each club over this period; total player payments and the percentage increase in payments for each year. Club salary caps over these four years will increase by 51.1 per cent. Total player payments will increase from $4.748 million dollars in 2019 to over $10 million in 2022. Based on the information contained in Table One (Total Payments Per Club) average income will be $19,208 in 2020; $20,637 in 2021; and $23,904 in 2022.

Table One

Club Player Payments 2019 to 2022

Tier

2019

2020

2021

2022

1 (2 players)

$24,600

$29,856

$32,077

$37,155

2 (6 players)

$19,000

$23,059

$24,775

$28,697

3 (6 players)

$16,200

$19,661

$21,124

$24,468

4 (16 players)

$13,400

$16,263

$17,473

$20,239

Total Payments Per Club

$474,800

$576,240

$619,109

$717,122

Percentage Increase

(43.0%)

21.4%

7.4%

15.8%

Total Player Payments

$4,748,000

$8,121,555

$8,722,078

$10,098,097

Source: AFL and AFLPA websites10.

The October 2019 agreement also contained improvements to other sources of income available to players. Table Two summarises prize money for finals in the period 2019 to 2022. An additional week’s payment will be paid to the teams qualifying for the Grand Final, beginning in 2020. These payments would be equal to over $57,600 in 2020 and 2021, and $61,000 in 2022 (calculations based on Table Three below). This would increase the total payments available from participation in the finals for 2020 and 2021 to slightly less than $290,000, and for 2022 to $307,500.

Table Two

Finals’ Prize Money 2019 to 2022

 

2019

2020

2021

2022

Final

$500

$533

$533

$567

Preliminary Final

 

$1,067

$1,067

$1,133

Runner Up*

$1,250

$1,867

$1,867

$1,983

Premier*

$2,000

$2,667

$2,667

$2,833

Total

$127,000

$232,000

$232,000

$246,500

* Plus Grand Final week payment according to tier.

Source: AFL and AFLPA websites11.

Additional Service Agreements

The agreement also substantially increased the level of Additional Service Agreements from the guaranteed minimum $20,000 per club contained in the November 2018 deal (see above). For 2020, there would be a range of such payments from a minimum of $25,000 to a maximum of $80,000. For 2021 the minimum would increase to $30,000; and in 2022 the range would increase from a minimum of $50,000 to a maximum of $100,000. The agreement also specified that two players at each club with the highest Additional Service Agreements would be excluded from these limits, or calculations.

It is difficult to provide an estimate of the Additional Service Agreements that respective clubs will pay to players from 2020 to 2022. In an attempt to overcome this problem, the author envisages that different scenarios will be developed for each year of the agreement. For example, there could be a ‘low’ scenario based on the midpoint of the maximum and minimum of each year (remember payments to the top two players of each club are excluded) and a ‘high’ scenario based on the maximum and an extra amount of $20,000 for players with the highest Additional Service Agreements not covered by the limit. This would translate to total Additional Service Agreement payments in the range of $735,000 to $1,400,000 for 2020; $770,000 to $1,400,000 in 2021, and $1,050,000 to $1,680,000 in 2022. It should also be remembered that the November 2018 agreement included $100,000 for AFL Ambassador Roles. In the author’s view, such payments will be ongoing over the life of the CBA.

If we include the extra payments available for participation in the finals, Additional Service Agreements and AFL Ambassador Roles then total payments to players would increase by a range of $1,125,000 to $1,790,000 in 2020; $1,160,000 to $1,790,000 in 2021; and $1,475,500 to $2,087,500 in 2022. This would translate into average income for players in the range of $21,887 to $23,470 for 2020; $23,399 to $24,899 for 2021; and $27,417 to $28,874 for 2022. These estimates of average income are substantially higher, more than double the average level of income of $10,500 that existed when the AFLW commenced operations in 2017 (see above).

While these additional sources of income increase average incomes, it should be remembered that only marquee or star players and those teams that qualify for the finals would receive such increases. Other than for those teams that make the finals, a large proportion of the playing group will only receive payments of Tier 4 players as specified in Table One. On the other hand, there may be up to six players at each club who will earn approximately $50,000 during the 2020 to 2022 seasons; there may even be a couple whose earnings will approach $70,000. In other words, there may be 80 or so players who will receive levels of income substantially above the Australian adult annual minimum wage but below Australian average annual wages (see above); players who could devote themselves full time to playing in the AFLW. In addition, a number of players appear in advertisements for sponsors and have picked up gigs as commentators during games and on sports shows.

Another way to consider the issue of player payments is to examine Table Three. The above analysis has documented the sources of and increases in payments to players. Table Three provides calculations of levels of weekly payments for the respective tiers for the period 2019 to 2022. It does not include the additional payments presented above. The commitment of players will increase form 17 weeks in 2019 to 23.5 weeks in 2022, which stems from increasing the number of teams, extra rounds, an expanded finals campaign and increasing pre-season training. Weekly payments for all of these Tiers will increase by 9.2 per cent over this period, slightly above what might be expected to be the level of inflation. In other words, the major driver of change in the level of player payments has been growth in the time/commitments of players.

Table Three

Average Weekly Player Payments for Each Tier 2019 to 2022

Year

Tier 1

Tier 2

Tier 3

Tier 4

Weeks Committed

2019

$1447

$1118

$953

$788

17

2020

$1493

$1153

$983

$813

20

2021

$1492

$1152

$983

$813

21.5

2022

$1581

$1221

$1041

$861

23.5

 

Additional income

The October 2019 agreement continued items that had been previously been agreed to in the November 2018 deal. They were reimbursement of football and travel expenses, relocation allowances, accommodation and meal provisions around training, income protection for up to 12 months for loss of non-football earnings from football injuries, reimbursement for injury/medial costs not covered by medical insurance, access to the AFLPA Injury and Hardship Fund and access to pregnancy and early childhood support. There would also be formalised consultation with the AFLPA on behalf of players on fixtures, rules and the tribunal; access to ticketing and club facilities; regulation of agents through the AFLPA Accredited Player Agents’ Scheme; advance notice (minimum of four months) of key season dates; mandated timing of the first payment by clubs; the introduction of two year standard playing contracts and an Independent AFLW Competition Review to be conducted by the AFLPA and players.

Under the November 2018 agreement $460,000 was paid to the AFLPA to fund player development services, hardship and injury and AFLPA operations. The October 2019 agreement increases the level of (2019) player development funding from $285,000 to $470,000 per year. Each club will be required to employ a Player Development Manager for players. The player development program would include wellbeing services, financial consultations and education and training grants. To the extent that there are increases in the income players will earn in the future and they make use of player agents, which the October 2019 agreement envisages, financial services may be provided by agents rather than club Player Development Managers.

Analysis

Since the beginning of the AFLW in 2017 and beginning in 2020 the number of teams has increased from eight to fourteen which has created more employment opportunities for players. Where there were once 240 players there are now 420, an increase of 75 per cent. In the period 2017 to 2022 the length of the commitments required of players will increase from 17 to 23.5 weeks. More time demands are being placed on players. Over the same period the average income of players, including all sources, will increase from $10,500 to a range of $27,417 to $28,874, depending on the scenarios presented above. If we take the mid-point of this range ($28,146) this would translate into an increase in average wages of 160 per cent.

A number of things should be noted about this change in average wages:

  1. Much of this change was driven be an increase in the length of the season and pre-season training.

  2. The (midpoint) average, for 2019, is well below the Australian adult full time annual minimum wage; to the tune of $14,000.

  3. The majority of players will receive incomes below these average levels.

  4. Whereas in 2018 there were possibly between 10 and 20 marquee or star players who may have received incomes in the range of $40,000 to $50,000, by 2022 this number may increase to 80 players.

  5. The wages of AFLW players are well below that of female players that represent the national cricket team, the Matildas, the Rugby sevens and below that of league competitions in netball and basketball. It is however higher than the female leagues in cricket and soccer.

The income that AFLW players receive is substantially dwarfed by that of male AFL players. Team salary caps in the AFL will increase from $12.76 million in 2019, to $13.54 million in 2022, with club Additional Service Agreements increasing from $1.13 million to $1.23 million. Total payments and entitlements to all AFLW players would not equal the salary cap of one AFL club. If we can assume that player costs constitute 20 per cent of the total cost of running the AFLW, for the 2020 to 2022 seasons this would translate into total costs ranging from $50 million to $60 million. Given that the AFL and clubs probably generate income in the order of $1.3 billion a season, this represents a small percentage of total AFL and club revenue.

What lies behind the core of the players attempts to extend the length of the home and away season is a desire to develop their skills as players and be treated as professionals. Nicole Livingstone, the head of AFLW, has said that the AFL wishes ‘to sustain the long-term growth of the women’s game at a number of levels’12. In the author’s view, an increasing number of players, following the October 2019 agreement, will be able to earn incomes ‘well’ above the Australian adult annual minimum wage; creeping closer to the level of Australian average annual earnings.

In the author’s view, this number could be increased, as first step, by rejigging the Tiers so that more players are transferred from lower to higher tiers. The next step would be to wean the AFLW off its tiered system of payments with the final stage being abolishing tiers altogether and establishing a ‘higher’, if not ‘high’ minimum wage (presumably within a salary cap) where market mechanisms would determine payments to players as occurs in other sporting codes. Payments to players (salary caps) and minimum wages should, in the author’s view, be increased to levels high enough to enable players to devote themselves full time to training and playing. This would enable an increase in the length of the season, with the added proviso that games could be played on Friday nights or midweek. Midweek fixtures could conceivably be played once the AFL season commences, to avoid clashes with AFL weekend time slots.

Thought may also be given to increasing the length of games from 15 to 20 minutes a quarter. Longer games would enhance the attraction of the AFLW to broadcasters and sponsors. Should the number of players on the field be increased from 16 to 18, as in the men’s game? Such an expansion would necessitate an increase in the size of squads; initially by two to four players. The expiry of the AFL’s current broadcasting deal and subsequent negotiation of new deals with past and potentially new providers, given technological changes that are occurring with delivery platforms, provides an opportunity to move the AFLW onto a full time professional basis which would not only enhance the growth of the AFLW, but also the income of its players.

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Author

Braham Dabscheck

Braham Dabscheck

Braham Dabscheck is a Senior Fellow, Faculty of Law, University of Melbourne, Australia.

Previously, he taught industrial relations at the University of New South Wales for 33 years until 2006 and established himself as an international expert in the field. Among his extensive publications are almost 80 book chapters and articles on industrial relations, economic and legal aspects of sports in Australia, Europe (including the United Kingdom), Japan, New Zealand, the United States and Zimbabwe.

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