To coincide with the return of the A-League Women (ALW) competition, the PFA has released its annual Report analysing all aspects of the prior season (2022-23).

Several of the Report’s findings have already been detailed in recent PFA Posts: 

This PFA Post will highlight three of the other key points to emerge from the Report, all of which speak to an overarching theme of growth and potential in women’s football.

There is a sense of excitement and momentum ahead of the new season, which looks set to be the biggest and best yet on the back of a game-changing Women’s World Cup.

But it won’t just happen. The Report empowers decision-makers with evidence-based analysis to ensure that we maximise this once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Player feedback on integration of women’s teams shows room for improvement

Other than Canberra United, every ALW team is part of a broader club which also fields an A-League Men team. Throughout the 2022-23 season, the PFA received anecdotal feedback from players from several clubs raising concerns about how their team was treated within their club.

The PFA included a new battery of questions in its end of season player survey to assess this aspect across the board.

The Report reveals the results of this part of the survey, aggregated across the entire playing cohort. It shows that less than a third (31%) of players agreed that the women’s and men’s teams were well integrated at their club.

A majority of players disagreed that their women’s team has an equal say in club decisions (72%) or that the ALW team is a priority for club leadership (62%). Nearly three in four (72%) agreed there is unequal treatment on the basis of gender at their club, including 34% who strongly agreed.

The silver lining of this exercise was that player comments suggested that simple behaviours, attitudes, and elements of club culture go a long way. Therefore, many of the opportunities to do better do not require a financial component; club leaders can make progress immediately, if the willpower is there.

The responses to the six statements were combined into a ‘Club Integration Index’ for each club. The Report reveals these Index scores for each club on a deidentified basis to show that some clubs are doing better than others, while all have room to improve.

The PFA is sharing these and other survey results with all clubs and the APL to drive change in areas which players have highlighted. The 2022-23 findings provide a benchmark against which progress in 2023-24 will be measured.

World Cup windfall shows the importance of attracting and retaining talent

The Report features a special section on the A-League’s links to the Women’s World Cup.

Seventeen ALW players represented their countries at the tournament, not including those who had featured in the ALW on loan before returning to their parent clubs. A further four players from NSW state league clubs featured in the Philippines squad.

FIFA distributes funding to the clubs that help prepare the players for its big show. This Club Solidarity Fund was US$11.3m in 2023. Half of the Fund will go to the clubs which contract players at the time of the World Cup, and the other half will be split between the clubs which developed the players between the ages of 12 and 22.

In 2019, when the Fund totalled US$8.5m, Australian clubs took in US$269k, around half of which went to ALW clubs (US$137k).

The Report estimates that these figures will be significantly greater for 2023, although predicting specific figures is beyond its scope.

Such numbers represent a notable windfall in the context of the domestic women’s football economy – and it could be set to skyrocket in future. FIFA’s similar disbursement for the Men’s World Cup – the Club Benefits Programme – was worth US$209m in 2022 and rises to US$355m for the 2026 edition.

FIFA has promised to equalise World Cup Prize Money for men and women in the next cycle, and while it might not yet do the same for club disbursements, even closing the gap slightly would be a boon for leagues like ALW.

The Report flags this growing revenue stream as a great incentive for our clubs to develop, attract, and retain top class talent.

Also in the Women’s World Cup section, the Report borrows analysis from FIFPRO to identify that ALW risks falling short in the number of match minutes it provides. Looking at the domestic leagues of World Cup nations, only four of the 27 FIFPRO assessed guaranteed fewer matches to its players last season.

The ALW’s expansion to a full home-and-away season in 2023-24, with 22 rounds plus finals, is a positive step in this regard.

Improved contract stability is a welcome trend

The Report reveals that the percentage of players on multiyear contracts leapt from 2% in 2021-22 to 22% in 2022-23, according to data made available to the PFA.

The competition has historically been defined by single-season deals, but with the emergence from COVID-19 and the enactment of the 2021-2026 A-Leagues Collective Bargaining Agreement, clubs are starting to take a longer-term view.

The share of players in their first year at their current club did not change (60% in 2022-23 cf. 61% in 2021-22), so it doesn’t appear that clubs are necessarily building more stable squads than before. The difference, rather, could be that players who would previously have to wait for a new contract from their club each year are now benefitting from the security and certainty of a multiyear deal.

This development is welcome, but for the league to feature the best players and enable them to fully commit to football, it’s crucial that the contracts also cover all 12 months of the year while also offering a commensurate full-time wage. AFLW will hit both targets under its new CBA.

This week, ALW players continued to advocate the benefits of this shift, for players, clubs, and the league alike.

Brisbane Roar’s Chelsea Blissett said:

“Once the season is done … we don’t have the stability throughout the off-season, so a lot of us have to work. We don’t get paid in the off-season, and our wages aren’t that massive where we get to be completely comfortable in our lives.

“I think it’s just always the unknown of where I’m going to be next? Where am I going to move? Where am I living in six months? How long do I have to work? I feel like with the expansion of the league going further, and with more and more teams, then with 12-month contracts we won’t have to worry.

“I think that will increase the attractiveness of the league as well, and it will grow the league and give players confidence in the league, so they can solely focus on football.”

Sydney FC’s Cortnee Vine said that the shift to full-time professionalism was key to keeping more Matildas in the league:

“We need to make it full-time, we need to pay better and be more professional in this league. It’s getting there, but it still needs so much more work, and that’s why those girls have left, and stayed away because those leagues [overseas] are professional, they pay a lot more than this league, and I just think once we start fixing that they will start to come back.”