The W-League is the peak of domestic women’s football in Australia, and it has ambitions to become one of the top five competitions in the world.
However, for many players, it is still a part-time prospect.
There is stiff competition out there. Japan is about to launch a fully professional women’s league, with Spain close behind.
The conditions and standards in Australia have been improving. Both on the pitch and in the competition infrastructure.
The minimum wage has increased to $16,344 per season. But across all clubs, most players are still on single-season deals.
What this means is that once a team is out of the finals, that contract is over.
When Newcastle failed to make the top four last season, winger Sunny Franco was free to sign with Brisbane for the next game.
W-League deals are offered in the same way as other professionals and semi-professionals in Australia. Clubs scout the NPLW across the states, locating players and offering trials or contracts.
With the majority of players on single-season deals, players are left with uncertainty and pressure to perform. There is a slight upside of them not being locked into anything as the game’s financial state enters a new era.
Players have been known to negotiate specific aspects to their contracts such as travel allowances. An in-demand star player, particularly in a city with multiple clubs, could be in a position to negotiate higher wages.
As the league establishes independence from Football Australia and a new broadcast deal begins, the conditions and pay could improve further. Players are having to balance the desire for longer contracts with ensuring they can negotiate as the possibilities change.
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What is clear from the recent PFA report is that players need more pay. The last three surveys show that over 90% of footballers say that it would extend their time in the sport.
Damir Kulas of W Sports and Media agrees with the report that the football calendar should be extended.
“Ideally, having the ability to have a long-term deal for the club and the player to have an idea of what a career plan might look like is the optimal approach,” he said.
Kulas favours a 52-week approach, where the clubs can affiliate with an NPLW side “where they can continue playing and training in the same environment.”
“I think the point is the options,” Kulas said of the single-season deals.
“At the moment there isn’t that option to base themselves in one city for years and build a cohesive calendar for themselves, they’re always having to jump around every six months.
“I think it will hopefully get to a point where the players have an option. If they do want to have stability they can opt into that. If they like perusing the different seasons, that’s an option as well.”
The possibility of a new era in the W-League
Times are starting to change. Melina Ayres of Melbourne Victory was signed to a three-season deal in 2020 and Perth Glory has announced a long-term deal for 18-year-old defender Claudia Mihocic.
When Adelaide’s Dylan Holmes moved to Sweden last season, the club received a transfer fee for their captain, demonstrating a financial benefit for players being contracted.
At the time of writing, Lyon and Chelsea are in a bidding war for Barcelona’s Aitana Bonmati. Her contract has a buy-out clause of three million Euros, there is profit in signing a player for longer.
Kulas sees the 2023 World Cup as an ideal opportunity to bring positive change to the game.
“We’ve got a chance to build a legacy in the W-League. (It) can’t just be about more facilities and more pitches, it’s got to be about more opportunities.
“A 52-week program for women within pro clubs is a must, or what we must be aiming for… we should be aiming for that next season, that should be an immediate focus.”
The new broadcast deal with Viacom could offer new levels of publicity and profile for women’s football. Along with the impending World Cup on home soil, the conditions have never been better for the W-League to take the next steps towards full professionalism.
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