Written by Follow Sports Like A Girl Co-Host Freya Logan
Salary cap issues in different codes have been all over the news recently; the Parramatta Eels being found to be in breach, the A-League considering making public player’s wages and the whole discussion playing out about equalisation in the AFL. Salary caps are a cornerstone of all sporting codes in Australia and perhaps our obsession with them comes from a cultural identity rooted in an egalitarian society and a “fair go”. Salary caps are reviewed, pulled to pieces and in the most egregious of situations – breached. There is however a radio silence when it comes to the discussion of current salary caps within women’s professional sporting leagues and the implications on the salary cap of upcoming AFL Women’s League.
I have to admit, before researching this article I knew very little about salary caps within women’s professional sporting leagues. For one, I assumed that the players got paid so little anyway that the need for a salary cap became negligible and indeed for many codes this is the case. Secondly, there are very few large professional leagues that pay their women athletes in addition to their men’s teams under a salary cap. Lastly, it became very clear that the situation is much more dire than I imagined. Let’s have a look at some statistics:
These large differences are of course inherently interconnected with the ongoing gap in women’s pay and conditions compared to men in professional sports which many have written about before me. The discourse around women’s wages in professional sports is very important but there has been little said about outrageous differences in salary caps. When you boil it down the outcome of the current salary caps in women’s sports is that even if one team had the means and want to pay players more it couldn’t.
Additionally, if we consider the ANZ Championship as a frame to view women’s salary caps it is still incredibly low compared to the range of other “men’s” codes in Australia. The five Australian netball teams have AUD $270,000 each to spend on their squads of 12 players with a salary floor of of $263,000. Compare this to the AUD $10,600,000 salary cap with a salary floor of $10,070,000 for teams in the AFL (excluding GWS Giants) or the NRL which has a base salary cap of AUD $6.1 million plus a range of other payments. The salary cap gap between what are predominately “women’s” and “men’s” sports is also huge. Even considering proposed changes to the league that have suggested a AUD $500,000 salary cap for the new Australian netball league, the differences are still distinct.
What does this all mean for the upcoming AFL Women’s League? If we assume that the women’s league will run under a salary capped system here are two scenarios we could expect:
If we go via percentage statistics* the women players may expect to see their salary cap at 5% of the men’s league. This would amount to a total of AUD $530,000 which would mean the AFL would be a world leader in salary caps for women’s teams – a long way to still go before pay parity but it would be a great start and show that there is confidence in the success of the league.
However if we calculate the the average salary cap of each women’s team** we are left with a salary cap of AUD $260,000 for 16-18 players (depending on what rules the AFL goes for). If all 22 players are paid they could expect approximately AUD $11,818 annually.
Ultimately both scenarios offer an unequal playing ground between women and men AFL players but one provides a great starting position for the new league.
We for the most part can agree that salary caps are intrinsic to an equal playing field. Acknowledging this, how can we expect women’s leagues to provide the same level of professionalism and reach their peak potential to the same level as men when the very system we trust to equalise does not create “equalisation” between genders? By allowing women’s salary caps to stand at only 5% of men’s leagues we are entrenching another form of administrative discrimination which needs to be dismantled for women’s sport to thrive. In a time when salary caps are all throughout our media and with the introduction of a new professional women’s code, women’s salary caps need to be at the top of the agenda.
* This percentage was calculated comparing the salary caps ANZ Championship with AFL(2.5% of their salary cap) and NRL(4.4% of their salary cap), W-League with the A-League(5.7%) and NWSL with the MLS (7.5% of their salary cap) and divided by 4.
**ANZ Championship, W-League and NWSL (converted to AUD) total salary caps averaged.