What the NRL can learn from the launch of the AFL Women’s League


The launch of the AFL women’s league is a great development. It has also been deservedly copping some flack recently over the pay conditions of the players. Most players will be paid just $5000 for the 8 week season. Two “marquee” players for each of the 8 clubs might even get $25000. Oh and that doesn’t cover insurance which the players will have to cover themselves.

For glory… and unfair pay

Those numbers are pretty damn low. Just ask yourself, would you train like crazy and take time out of your job for $5000 minus a few thousand for insurance?

And while that might be something you could ignore if this was a start up league, with no big corporate backing, it’s not. It is a league being run by a billion dollar business, the AFL. The same organisation that is already getting a load of return on that investment in the form of good will, free marketing and the like.

Given the circumstances paying the players such a small amount simply isn’t good enough. What the AFL should be doing is investing in the product, paying players fairly and banking on making that a profitable investment.

There are much better articles on why the players should be paid a lot more, from people who are more knowledgeable than I am on the topic. This article in particular http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/news-and-views/opinion/there-is-no-defence-for-failing-to-pay-players-in-the-afl-womens-league-a-living-wage-20160831-gr5mow.html

I am also primarily a league fan, so what I really care about is what the NRL can learn from the launching of the AFL women’s league when they launch their own in a few years, so they can avoid making the same mistakes.

#1 Pay your players

Its pretty simple. You are investing in a product. You want that product to be the best product possible. For that to happen, you have to pay players a wage that will allow them to take leave of or quit their jobs to focus 100% on the sport.

The challenge should be on the field, not in the pay packet.

If you want to attract great athletes you will have to pay them. So pay them.

In relation to mens sport, those wages will still be much lower, but at the very least minimum wage for a year (35k) should be the floor (sure it might only be an 8 week season, but if you want the best athletes training and taking time out of their jobs and careers and heck, maybe one day being able to be full time athletes, you need to pay them).

#2 Believe in the product and invest in it

If the success of the Gold winning women’s rugby 7s team and the success of the WBBL has taught us anything, it’s that women’s sport will quickly attract a committed audience if you attract great athletes, market them and put them on television.

Gold plated success!

I ended up watching everyone of the women’s 7 games (having a 9 month old baby who wakes up ridiculously early was a huge plus during the olympics) and most of the WBBL games last season. Both are great products whose entertainment value stands alone. So market it, get that shit on Television and believe in it. Pay the networks if you need to for the first few years. Just get the product in front of people in anyway you can.

#3 Differentiate the product.

Women’s sport shouldn’t be viewed as “men’s sport but with women”. It’s a different product that will appeal to a different audience. If your strategy is just hoping to get fans of men’s sport watching women’s sport you are doing it wrong.

Time for some new teams?

Similar to the way that the Men’s (and now women’s) big bash was launched, designed to deliberately turn off cricket fans (like myself) and appeal to a different market segment bringing new fans to the game, leagues should be doing the same with their women’s sporting competitions.

The fans of the men’s version aren’t necessarily your market and even if they are, you need to be offering them something different if you want them to watch and commit to the sport.

Those are three things that the NRL can do better than the AFL when they launch a women’s competition. If they are smart about it, they provide the NRL with a significant opportunity to strike a blow in a battle of the codes, to grow the game and to create a genuinely great product that stands alone.

Instead of following the AFLs model of launching women’s versions of men’s teams, the NRL should instead use their women’s league to grow the game and to create a new product tailored to attract new fans of the game. They should pay their players fairly to attract the best athletes. They should invest in and believe in the product, getting every single game on television if possible.

Personally I think they should launch a national competition e.g. 2 Queensland teams, 2 NSW teams, 2 Victorian teams, 1 Perth team and 1 Adelaide team, to finally give the NRL a National presence and also a product that is clearly differentiated from the men’s competition, one that can appeal to completely different market segments and help significantly grow the game.

All for a significantly smaller amount of money than launching a men’s expansion teams into those markets. For the NRL launching a women’s league could be an opportunity to make its first major inroads into the dominance of the AFL in decades. Its an opportunity that they shouldn’t waste.

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