AFLW League to Gradually Extend Season, Ups Women’s Pay by 29%

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Under the new collective bargaining agreement, the AFL Women’s (AFLW) league is required to meet several goals, including an average television audience of 100,000 viewers per game in order to extend the season to 14 rounds. The stakes were high, as the discussion around the length of the season was one of the most contentious points in the historic joint agreement between the men’s and women’s leagues.

The players’ commitment to the game was evident as they successfully negotiated for 12-month contracts, multi-year deals and an immediate pay rise of 29 per cent. The average earnings of an AFLW player are set to increase from $46,000 last year to an anticipated $82,000 by 2027.

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Contrary to expectations, the decision was made to gradually expand the AFLW season rather than instantly increasing it to 17 games. The season will expand to 11 rounds in 2024, 12 rounds for the subsequent two seasons, and potentially to 14 rounds by 2027, subject to performance.

The possibility of expanding the season is now largely taken for granted. However, AFL boss Gillon McLachlan stressed the need for a measured pace, stating that growth needed to be sustainable. In his view, ensuring consistent crowd attendance and robust television audience numbers similar to the 2018 season had to take precedence.

Despite the league using smaller venues, negotiations will proceed, focusing on garnering support for “heartland grounds”. After the first game round saw an attendance of 4,819, below the target necessary for expansion, the emphasis will have to shift towards increasing audience engagement before the AFLW can contemplate further expansion.

Hope remains that the season could expand ahead of schedule if the targets are achieved earlier. Leading goalkicker and Melbourne captain Kate Hore expressed confidence that, given time, the league could achieve the necessary metrics for expansion, praising the league for its recently introduced “world-leading” maternity policy for pregnant players.

The collective bargaining agreement of 2023-2027 introduces sweeping changes to both the AFL men and women’s competition. Key changes include an immediate 29% pay increase for women players, while the men’s base pay will see a 10% raise in 2023. The league also outlines growth in the length of the AFLW season, aiming for an increase to 11 rounds in 2024, 12 rounds from 2025 and potentially 14 rounds in 2027, pending key metrics. The improved terms include regulated payments for third-year players based on achievements and increase in player support and welfare.