Online Enquiry

* Required fields

Some Post COVID-19 Questions for Australian Sport | Episode 1: The Commercialisation of Professional Women’s Sport

Posted By Dale Wood  
15:00 PM

"These here are crazy times." When Dale Ryder of Boom Crash Opera sang those words in Onion Skin, I wonder if he foresaw COVID-19? I’m sure he did. But did he ever believe they could be this crazy?

The sporting, entertainment and cultural sectors have provided me with employment and my own business for over 20 years now.  And it doesn’t make me Einstein suggesting we’ve seen nothing so threatening in that time (including your GFCs, 9/11s, etc).

If I know anything, the sports industry, when the dust settles, will get moving again with changes that are permanent. Key revenue streams will bounce back (over time), the crowds will come back, the excitement will return. But the largesse won’t. That is going to have significant impacts for sports and clubs as employers. Of course many such organisations already run on the breadline. For those that make it through the other side (all of them, we hope), the minimum organisational structures can be reconstituted. However, for those that live a little larger, organisational structures will become leaner. I don’t see another way. Sports are going to be more conservative with their resources, and that means a focus on putting something away for rainy days. This will hit the athletes too. They will need to share some of those deposits into future funds.

Let’s be honest, many will be grateful full-stop to even be able to earn a living via sport, whichever role you play.

Regardless, there are a number of issues that the industry will need to address as we come out of COVID-19. These matters are not ones that simple cost cutting can address. And solving them sooner rather than later could be critical in times that are bound to be austere in the immediate future.

The first in the series…

Episode 1: The Commercialisation of Professional Women’s Sport

Great, and necessary, advancements have been made in providing opportunities for women to make careers out of team sport in Australia. I’ve made my feelings very clear, salaries for anyone that chooses to ply their trade in industries relying on the discretionary spend of fans. Your earnings are dictated by those fans. If they are willing to pay, you get paid. That holds regardless of activity or gender. Of course, there are minimum amounts to support athletes but without the commercial backing, it is difficult for these amounts to ever do more than partially subsidise a professional sports career. Afterall, many in sport, culture and entertainment DESERVE to be paid more for their efforts. Unfortunately, no one is ENTITLED to a comfortable (let alone extravagant) living. Until that is understood and accepted, we will never get to solving the major problem.

Women’s team sport in Australia has two major hurdles. I think the first, the provision of opportunities, is being addressed better than ever before. The second, commercialising the sport, so the athletes can be better remunerated (and greater investment can be put into pathways and product) hasn’t yet been cracked.

At the same time, it hasn’t nearly been focused on enough. Resources have been allocated to getting the show on the road, not keeping it on there whilst providing better conditions for the athletes and coaches.

So in a time where free cash flows are awfully thin on the ground, once the COVID-19 dust settles, the following questions should be answered by sports. Do they have:

  • Detailed and evidence-based commercial strategies for women’s sport
  • A mechanism to transitioning to value-based content where there is a value placed on the athletes and events?
  • Resources to drive this commercialisation and importantly, increase the eyeballs?

Easier said then done, but without this, it will stay in the realm of amateur to semi-pro. And all the moral outrage in the world won’t change it in the long term.

Epilogue: The Continued Support for Professional Women’s Sport

You noticed my last point assumes that women’s professional sport continues to exist and hopefully flourishes post COVID-19. Reading and hearing absolute rubbish questioning the continued funding of competitions such as AFLW makes my blood boil.

Whilst no-one is entitled to a living from any occupation that benefits from the market’s discretionary expenditure, sports have an obligation to provide baseline equal opportunities (which is re-enforced by policy across national and state governments). Sports like Australian Rules, Cricket, Rugby League, etc should first cut spending in areas other than their women’s competitions and pathways. It’s the least they can do.

There’s nothing to solve here – only to do what is right.

Let us know if you have any questions you think need to be answered during and post the COVID-19 pandemic.