W-League big winners in new CBA, as greater contract freedom for A-League clubs beckons

Equity in high-performance standards in the A-League and W-League, a 32% increase in the W-League salary cap floor and an increase in the A-League salary cap floor are the highlights of the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) struck between Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) and the Australian Professional Leagues (APL).

The new five-year deal was described as “ground-breaking” by a joint statement between the two bodies, in an announcement that highlights the newfound confidence in the economic environment for professional football in Australia.

Much of that confidence can be linked to the new five-year broadcast agreement with ViacomCBS and Network 10 and it is no surprise that this new CBA has been deliberately linked in length to the broadcast deal.

PFA Co-Chief Executive Kathryn Gill explained that being able to achieve this agreement was a huge milestone for the professional game in Australia, after such a long period of uncertainty in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the end of the previous broadcasting deal with Fox Sports.

“The players’ vision for the negotiations was economic security and stability for the clubs, the leagues and the players. This agreement is a foundational step towards this objective and our leagues will be stronger as a result,” she said via the joint statement.

“It has been an incredibly challenging time for our game; however, we believe the CBA will provide a platform for our leagues to be re-launched and for a genuine partnership between the clubs and the players to be forged.

“I would like to acknowledge the work of Greg O’Rourke, Danny Townsend, Tracey Scott, Chris Pehlivanis and John Tsatsimas for their efforts and commitment during the negotiations and especially the players who participated so actively throughout.”

PFA President Alex Wilkinson noted the immense sacrifice made by many players to usher the game through the COVID-19 pandemic, which he says helped pave the way for this agreement.

“This generation of players, club owners and staff have been asked to make immense sacrifices to preserve our sport during unprecedented times,” he said.

“As a result of these sacrifices we have been able to take an important step forward and provide greater certainty for the clubs and players and make important progress in areas such as our high-performance environment, player welfare whilst further embedding our commitment to gender equity.”

Under the new CBA, genuine equity in high-performance standards in the A-League and W-League have been entrenched in order to create a “world-class workplace” for all of the country’s footballers.

This CBA will be the first to deliver common standards across higher performance and medical departments across both the W-League and the A-League.

Increases to minimum and maximum player payments are also factored in during the course of the five-year CBA with a particular focus on an increase to the W-League salary floor, providing another massive boost on the back of the recently announced expansion of the competition to also include Central Coast Mariners, Wellington Phoenix and Western United.

There will also be a reformed contracting model that allows for greater capacity in squad investment for clubs, with an allowance for up to two “Designated Player” spots, which will allow clubs to invest between $300,000 and $600,000 in players whose salaries will be excluded from the A-League salary cap.

These “Designated Players” will be in addition to the current exemptions, such as “Marquee Players”.

Furthermore, there will also be greater capacity for clubs to contract youth players with an increase in the cap on scholarship players.

The CBA also provides for guaranteed funding for player welfare and development programs, as well as greater support for the PFA Past Players Program.

APL Managing Director Danny Townsend said the deal was proof that the APL was living up to its promise of greater investment since taking control of Australia’s professional leagues.

“When APL took control of the leagues, we promised it would herald a new era of investment and this agreement shows the progress that has already been made,” he said in a statement.

“This is a clear example of what can be achieved when we work together with a common vision to realise the potential of Australian football.”

APL Leagues Commissioner Greg O’Rourke added the investments would help clubs deliver a much-improved on-field product.

“Players are partners with us in the game and central to its growth. Having all of our partners on-board with the re-imagined future of the game is vital, and this agreement marks an important milestone in our new relationship,” he said.

“There will be immediate improvements across the men’s and women’s leagues, most notably for women’s football, all of which will flow through into improved experiences for players, and ultimately into growing and improving our game.”

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Matthew Galea is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

Western United home games on the move

Western United Regional Football Facility

Western United will stage home games in Tarneit, as the long-awaited move to the West of Melbourne takes shape.

Wyndham City Council said on Tuesday that construction of the Regional Football Facility in Tarneit is nearly finished, allowing Western United to move in and begin preparations for the first home games.

Western United fans have supported the club throughout its history and will be able to see the country’s top footballers in their own neighbourhood in 2024.

The Liberty A-League Women’s home game against the Newcastle Jets on Sunday, March 17 is scheduled to be the first match, followed by the NPL Victoria and Isuzu UTE A-League Men fixtures.

Western United and Western Melbourne Group (WMG) Chairman Jason Sourasis described this as a turning point for the club, stating that everyone will be working tirelessly to be ready to host games as soon as possible.

“This is a momentous milestone for everyone involved in the project. It allows us to move into our permanent home, playing out of only the second rectangular stadium in the state of Victoria that is approved to play A-League Men and A-League Women games,” he stated via press release.

“The next phase of growth for Western United Football Club will be underpinned by a community and fan-first philosophy as we entrench our football club into the Wyndham community and grow our own brand empathy within the fastest-growing municipality in Australia.

“I thank everyone that has been on this journey for their unwavering belief, effort, support and patience.”

Western United Liberty A-League Women Head Coach Kat Smith expressed her excitement about playing in front of the Green and Black crowd in the first match at Tarneit.

“It’s such a privilege for myself, the players and all the fans who’ve joined our journey of building a football club to share this significant milestone of moving into our new headquarters and playing a home match for the very first time,” she added via press release.

“I’m extremely impressed with the facility, the equality in its design shows the respect the Club and our partners have for our A-League women and how invested they are in building an amazing future for female football.

“The girls will be absolutely buzzing to be playing in this historic opening match in Tarneit, we can’t wait.”

Wyndham City Council remains a key backer of Western United, with plans to build a cutting-edge stadium that will serve as a football home for cities throughout the West.

Western United and Wyndham City will provide as many updates as possible on confirmed matchdays, activities, and ticketing information for the Regional Football Facility. 

“Women’s Football Transformed” – NewCo ready to propel women’s professional football in the UK

Last November, the English Football Association (FA) revealed it would no longer be running the English Women’s Super League (WSL) and English Women’s Championship, handing the reins to a newly-formed independent organisation, NewCo.

Relatively unknown and tipped for a name-change, NewCo is led by Canadian-born CEO Nikki Doucet, a former General Manager for Nike UK/Ireland who is well versed in the world of finance and sport.

Slowly but surely, the football world is learning more about the company, its CEO, and its plans to propel the WSL and Championship to new heights.

In a statement outlining NewCo’s vision, CEO Nikki Doucet stated the company “will be a revenue-generating, for profit, standalone entity with a professional and dedicated management team.”

The 24 member clubs of the WSL and Championship will be recognised as shareholders of the organisation.

Further to this, Doucet expressed her gratitude for the FA’s role in building professional football for women, and NewCo’s intent for the future.

“They [the FA] have belief in the women’s game and have funded the proof of concept for women’s football in this country and now we’re at a stage where it’s set up to be a standalone entity to capitalise on the growth and opportunity in front of us,” she explained via the FA website.

The WSL’s primary sponsor, Barclays, is halfway through its £30 million ($58 million AUD) investment deal in women’s football that will end in 2025.

Whilst it is NewCo’s desire to maintain relationships with existing sponsors like Barclays, there is an expectation to attract new investment

Media speculation suggests that the Premier League has approved a loan of £20 million ($38 million AUD), that will be repayable once NewCo records £100 million in annual revenue ($193 million AUD).

Speaking to Sky News, Premier League Chief Richard Masters stated that if approved, the loan would symbolise an important relationship between the top tiers of men’s and women’s football in the UK.

The loan will also breathe confidence into clubs, of which some have called for league restructuring to alleviate financial pressure.

NewCo shut down speculation over the potential for the WSL to become a closed league in January, re-stating its “100%” commitment to promotion and relegation between the top two tiers.

Talks over broadcasting rights for the WSL and Championship are also underway, with existing deals between Sky Sports and the BBC concluding at the end of the 23/24 season.

At the conclusion of the 22/23 WSL season, research driven by the Women’s Sport Trust (WST) showed a 36% season–on–season increase in match viewership in the UK.

Given this major increase in viewership, and popularity of women’s football generally, one expects that Sky Sports and the BBC will renegotiate a new deal.

Likely competitors will be TNT (formerly BT Sport), and streaming service Amazon Prime, who have dipped their toes in the water with Premier League coverage in the past two seasons.

Whether a new deal will affect international viewership, particularly in Australia via streaming platform Optus Sport, remains to be known. However, Doucet has made it clear that increasing its audience network is a key goal.

“Reach and revenue is the thing that we’re trying to figure out,” she told reporters.

“I think, more than anything, it should just be as easy as possible for fans to be able to watch the league or the team or the player that they want to watch. How we can do that is what we’re exploring.”

League breakaways, particularly those in favour of profit-driven, independently-run entities, are often fraught with controversy across football’s many sub-sectors.

However, in keeping with the transparent and widely forward-thinking approach of women’s football, NewCo’s takeover of the WSL and Championship could take the development of professional women’s football to the next level.

Women’s football transformed is the tagline underpinning NewCo’s vision for the WSL and Championship, and Doucet offers no shortage in imagination for what it hopes to achieve.

“In 10 years from now, I hope you’re asking me questions around things like how do I get off the waiting list for tickets to WSL games, so we’ll have stadiums at top capacity, all the top players wanting to come here,” she proclaimed.

“I want to be answering questions around elite female athlete health and how that has transformed ‘high street’ physiotherapy. I want you to look at an all-female team and the first thing that goes through your head is “wow, that’s a high performing team’ with no hesitation.”

Further announcements about NewCo’s plans will be eagerly anticipated, as the current WSL and Championship seasons’ near their conclusion.

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