The AFL CEO Earns More Than The Entire Women's League Will

He's talking the talk, now it's time to cough up.

05/09/2016 9:32 AM AEST | Updated 05/09/2016 1:32 PM AEST
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He towers over them, financially and physically.

Australian Football League CEO Gillon McLachlan took home $1.7 million last year. The combined remuneration for the entire eight-team women's AFL league which launches its debut season next year?

$1.6 million, give or take.

That's right; the CEO of the AFL, who yesterday described the weekend's Women's All Star Match as "a landmark night for our game, and we hope for women's sport in Australia", is earning more than about 200 women combined, many of whom will soon be more recognisable than him. Most of these women will be on $5,000 for a 22 week contract. They'll also have to do promotional appearances.

If public interest is any guide, this should change, and soon. But if what McLachlan said on Monday morning is any guide, you probably shouldn't hold your breath.

The Women's All Star AFL Match was the most watched Saturday night AFL match of the year.

As you probably know by now, a staggeringly large TV audience watched the Women's All Star AFL Match on the weekend. Staggering, we should make clear, because no one expected it -- not because it was "women's sport".

The match was the most watched Saturday night AFL match of the year. It eclipsed by at least 30,000 viewers a couple of top-of-the-table blockbusters and numerous derbies between popular Victorian teams which are always guaranteed to draw an audience regardless of the team's fortunes.

"The feedback is incredible. It was really a pleasing outcome. I don't think Seven or us anticipated how well it would go," McLachlan said.

Women's sport rates as highly as men's sport in the right context. The recent Rio Olympics and tennis grand slams are just two examples of that.

But big TV numbers usually rely on one crucial ingredient of sport, and that ingredient is narrative. Without a back story, sport is just bodies flailing about in colourful clothing. We watch or turn up to the game en masse only when we really understand, or really care.

The TV figures for the Women's All Star Match on Saturday night defied that rule. Most people would have known little about the players. Yet we watched in droves. Here's a refresher on just how many tuned in.

Nationwide, the game averaged 746,000 viewers (metropolitan and regional) and peaked at 1.05 million viewers. In Melbourne it averaged 387,000 viewers and scored a 31.6% free-to-air share, winning its timeslot for all key demographics.

Incredible stuff, given most people would scarcely have been able to name a single player.

"These are massive TV numbers, and beyond our expectations. It is thrilling for the AFL and our women players," McLachlan said.

Thrilling indeed. Here's another reminder of just how big this was.

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Up there, for ladies.

Admittedly, the AFL this year took the unusual step of having a week off before the finals, so there was no other AFL footy on telly for Sherrin-starved fans. Secondly, the All Star format meant it was the best versus the best. So it was a higher quality than your average game.

All the same, the numbers are impressive. And they're even more meaningful when you consider that Melburnians had the chance to support the Melbourne Storm in the NRL, who were playing for the minor premiership on Saturday night.

Given the choice, most people said nup, not code hopping. Gonna stick with AFL because footy is footy whether men or women are playing. Or as Gillon McLachlan told the ABC:

"AFL followers have as big an appetite to watch good standard women's football as they do men's."

"The 6,365 crowd at Whitten Oval and the TV viewers watched a fast, skilful and ferocious brand of football, and the women provided a great taste of what's to come when the national league begins in 2017," McLachlan enthused after the game.

"As I told the players, they should be immensely proud of how they have contributed to the development of women's football over the past three years and especially their performance on Saturday night."

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Tats to rival Buddy, too.

Australian sport is littered with examples of women earning a fraction of what mean earn. A year ago, it was revealed that the Socceroos earned about 15 times what the Matildas earn for playing a FIFA World Cup match. The disparity is even greater in professional leagues.

McLachlan, for now, is making no promises that things will be different in the women's AFL League. In an interview with the ABC on Monday morning, he repeatedly reminded listeners that the new league has no broadcast deal, no sponsorship deal and no real "commerciality" whatsoever.

"The men's competition is 150 years old. We are starting from a standing start," he said. "One league has been going for a long period of time, the other is in its infancy."

Professional salaries in any sport are always determined in large part by ground attendances and TV audiences, and there's not yet any guarantees that the women's AFL league will have the same drawing power as the fellas from week to week.

But the signs are very good. And a game which signed a $2.5 billion broadcast rights deal in 2015 for the men's competition, and which endlessly spruiks the message of inclusion, could surely dip into the slush fund and stump up a little more than $5,000 for the average women's player. That's the general public sentiment right now anyway.

"Every woman I've spoken to understands the journey we're on," was McLachlan's somewhat unsatisfying response to all that .

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