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

A new collective bargaining agreement has been struck between Professional Football Australia and the Australian Professional Leagues.

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.”

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.

K-League’s beneficial partnership with La Liga: A blueprint for the A-League?

Late last year, the Korean K-League and Spain’s La Liga signed an MOU to advance the collaboration and communication between both leagues and mutually grow their competitions.

At the time of the announcement of the three-year partnership, matters that the two leagues were set to focus on included the development of sport projects, different training programs, addressing anti-piracy issues and creating an economic control mechanism for the K-League and its clubs.

Since last December, the leagues have conducted a wide range of joint workshops and campaigns on these different agenda items.

For example, La Liga has offered multiple training sessions to coaches and K-League staff based on the experience of the La Liga Sports Projects team in their initiatives across the globe. These sessions are held virtually (with a scope to return to face-to-face if COVID allows) with Spanish clubs such as Valencia CF and Elche participating in them, and is set to continue deep into the 2021/22 season.

Similarly to what has been done with coaching education, both leagues have held virtual training conferences on financial control to ensure the viability and long term growth of the K-League and its teams. Using an offline format, a mechanism which has allowed La Liga clubs to reduce their debt from €650 million in 2013 to €23 million in 2020 will also be explained this coming season.

A prominent area which the two leagues looked to address in the initial months of the agreement was the fight against audio-visual piracy. The K-League have launched the “Protect K-League” campaign and alongside the technological advancements developed by La Liga’s anti-piracy branch, this seems to be a high priority for the two competitions.

The eSports field will also be targeted in the coming months, with the K-League and La Liga to carry out joint projects and activations. Both countries have seen the importance of the gaming world and have grown significantly in this sector in recent years.

Yeon Sang Cho, general secretary of the K-League, spoke about the advantages of the arrangement with La Liga.

“Since the signing of the agreement last December we have seen how our relationship with La Liga has gone from strength to strength and how we have worked together to overcome such a difficult situation,” he told the La Liga Newsletter.

“We are impressed with La Liga’s commitment.

“Thanks to it we have been able to adapt to the limitations imposed by the pandemic; carry out virtual training meetings for K-League coaches and their clubs; and also an in-depth analysis of economic control mechanisms, which are key to creating a sustainable professional football industry. Here at the K-League we are very happy with the progress of the relationship and we look forward to a future where these ties become even stronger.”

Sangwon Seo, La Liga’s delegate in South Korea, spoke of the early success of the partnership.

“For us at La Liga it is a great source of pride to be able to count on such an important ally as the K-League and to share our knowledge and experience with them,” he told the La Liga Newsletter.

“These first months since the MOU was signed have been very productive and we have experienced a very enriching exchange of knowledge that has allowed us to move forward despite the global pandemic.

“At La Liga we face this season with great enthusiasm, and a desire to deepen our relationship with the K League and to bring our joint projects to fruition.”

It’s a great move for the K-League to improve their operations through help from one of the world’s top leagues, something which the A-League should envy.

Because of initiatives like this they are setting their clubs up financially for the long-term future and accessing training methods that are of a world class standard.

The A-League should be looking at this example of the collaboration between these two leagues if they want to become a more prominent competition in Asia.

Player sentiment up, average age down: PFA releases annual report

Sentiment is well and truly up for A-League players, according to the annual Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) report.

This time last year, only 33% of A-League players felt confident about the direction of their football careers.

According to the PFA’s latest annual report, that number is now 56%.

Of the A-League’s 312 players, 200 responded to the 2020/21 A-League survey, capturing 70% of the current cohort, with the results proving that even despite the ongoing turbulence and uncertainty of COVID-19, the majority of players feel much more confident about their futures within the game.

The report highlights that Australian players actively want to remain in the A-League, as opposed to seeking opportunities overseas.

The key numbers that demonstrate this include:

  • 55% of players said they would like to stay playing in the A-League next season, up from 45% last year.
  • 56% of players are confident about the direction of their football careers, compared to 33% in 2019/20.
  • Only 4% of players would move to an overseas league even if it was for similar money and/or playing standard.
  • Only 16% of players who would prefer to move to an overseas league would only do so if the money and standards were better.

Other highlights of the report include that the average A-League player is getting younger.

Over the last 14 years, the average age of the A-League player has consistently trended upwards.

In 2020/21, however, this changed and the average age trended downwards, dropping from 27.6 to 25.1.

The number of players utilised in the A-League who were aged 21 and under came in at 107, representing 35% of the 300 players who received A-League minutes during the 2020/21 season.

The youngest squads on average belonged to Central Coast Mariners and Adelaide United, with average ages of 23.6 and 23.9 years respectively.

Another highlight was the fact that of the league’s 312 contracted players, 300 received A-League minutes.

“These reports have been immensely valuable, helping the PFA and the players better understand the industry in which they are employed, monitor the application of high-performance standards, assess technical progress and survey the players’ experience,” PFA Co-Chief Executive Beau Busch said of the report.

“For the last five years, we have been able to utilise these reports to formulate evidence-based positions to improve the environments in which our members work through collective bargaining.

“Promisingly, after a period of significant uncertainty, the players have indicated that they are more confident in the direction of their careers and the future of the competition than this time last year, signifying a positive shift in the perception of the A-League.”

The report also highlights the fact that A-League attendances were the lowest ever in the competition, thanks in large part to COVID-19, with an average attendance of 5,660.

Foreign players in the league reduced by 12 to a total of 51, whilst the average salary in the A-League is $136,791.

Access the full report HERE.

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