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Listen up, I have some mansplaining to do.

There’s been some misinformation surrounding the NRLW, so I wanted to weigh in and debunk the nonsense. Right now 300 players are uncontracted, uninsured and unsure what their future holds. They’ve been told that this will be the best national women’s sporting competition in the country, yet players don’t even have a start date. They can’t tell their bosses when they’ll need time off, they don’t know if they’ll have to move interstate for a playing opportunity and what if they have kids? It’s completely unfair to these players and their families. The less time they have to prepare will be reflective in the standard of product we watch in 2023.

The NRL recently confirmed NRLW players would be part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for the first time in history. On top of that, their salary cap would increase by 153% totalling $884,000 thousand dollars to share between 24 players. Incredible right? Also incredibly insulting if you read between the lines.

In response to that media release late last year, I wrote this tweet

Boy did that spark outrage, so many sour and disrespectful replies.

Many assumed I wanted NRLW athletes earning an equal income to the NRL players, but that was simply not what I said. However, I will not apologise for pointing out after 5 seasons this salary cap shows me the NRL is still not serious about investing in the female space, despite saying they are. You do know it’s the fastest growing area in rugby league, right?

In 2023, the NRLW minimum salary is expected to be $28,000, a huge bump from $4000 in 2018. But it’s no longer 4 teams, it’s 10 and the competition is expected to include an 8 week preseason, 9 round matches and a finals series. That’s about 20 weeks of footy and not including All Stars, State Competitions, a State of Origin series and Test Matches. Yet we know none of this because the game still hasn’t released a schedule.

I need to stress, the players aren’t upset about the cap amount, they’re upset about the game denying them a fair CBA. The NRL expects a professional product, but aren’t willing to pay and protect the players in a professional capacity.

The NRL denied the following RLPA proposal:

  • A $960,000 salary cap. I’ll state a fact here: it’s still less than Luke Brooks’ yearly salary.

  • Private Health Insurance (PHI) for all 300 NRLW players funded through the salary cap, conditional upon agreement to players' approved financial model (money). You would think in a full-contact sport, insurance would be a standard inclusion. Average cost of gold standard PHI is $3,000 per year, which would come out of their pay.

  • Minimum 12 month contracts, this includes active and inactive periods. EG: active period is during competition and includes pay, outside of competition pay is inactive but the athlete still has access to club facilities.

  • A pregnancy policy. Paid leave during pregnancy and post birth. The policy would protect and support player parents with a child up to 3 years of age. EG: cover costs for the infant to travel and/or a carer.

  • A clear strategy for the next 5 years. Wouldn’t it be less stressful to proactively plan what your women’s program looks like. Another reason why the game needs an NRLW board separate to the NRL.

  • Minimum high performance standards. EG: players were turning up to training without a physio even present.

  • Included in the player injury hardship and past player medical funds

Now for the great “women don’t bring in any revenue” debate. Let me do some debunking here. Did you know, from every dollar spent on every bet on every NRLW game, the NRL takes a percentage fee from every betting agency for use of intellectual property? It’s called a product fee and makes them a lot of cash, we’re talking millions of dollars. That’s on top of Sportsbet who also pay upwards of $60 million dollars a year just to be the games official wagering partner. Betting is such a large revenue stream, it sits second only behind the NRL’s Broadcast Rights Deal, which is worth $2 billion dollars over the next five years.

Players should be asking Andrew Abdo and Peter V’Landys, Excuse me, what are our projected product fees for the next five years?

Players could be making more revenue out of the most recent Broadcast Rights Deal, but the powers that be didn’t sell the NRLW separately to Nine, Fox Sports and Sky TV. Instead they basically said here’s an early Christmas present, you can have this competition for free. That means until 2027 there is no power for the game to further commercialise the women’s fixture - unless there is a secret clause in a secret contract that we cannot see.

Seems absurd considering they’ve just expanded with another 4 teams. Some of you would love to argue that no one would buy the product. But broadcasters would and they do. Look at cricket, look at Aussie Rules. That’s where other sporting codes got it right in their negotiations. The WBBL had a peak viewership of 812,000 in last season's final. An AFLW game averages 70,000, while NRLW games average 179,000. So if the AFL still managed to sell off their AFLW product to ink a combined historic $4.5 billion dollar deal, how did the NRL not think to capitalise on an obvious area of growth? Most recently, The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced the inaugural Women’s Premier League media rights sold for $170 million dollars before generating $811 million dollars from the 5 franchise sales, surpassing the men’s first IPL deal in 2008 and remember, this is all before a ball has even been bowled. Teams of 18 boast a salary cap of more than $2 million dollars and will play for ONE month, absolutely extraordinary.

And finally, sponsorship. Big companies like Telstra and Harvey Norman don’t throw major sponsorship dollars at the NRL or any sporting organisation unless there’s a defined female pathway. So without NRLW there wouldn’t be the new Westpac sponsor to boast about. It’s believed the deal is worth more than $15 million across 3 seasons and specifies “dollar for dollar investment” in the men’s and women’s programs. I do hope the bank asks for receipts.

You’ve now learnt that actually the NRLW does generate revenue and have been robbed of making even more money for themselves, but also for the broader game!

Moving onto gratitude, one of my favourites.

The women should be grateful they’re even allowed to play sport…NRL players had to wait 100 years for a CBA. They play 6 games and they aren’t even good.

Here’s another fun fact. The first women’s rugby league match played in Australia was in 1921. It was played at the Sydney showground and the place was packed according to newspaper articles. Some of you fossils might’ve seen it. Which means females have been fighting to play the sport for 101 years, it was only in 2018 they were given a 4 team semi-professional competition.

A CEO outside of the code told me this, don’t wait to invest in the women’s game, invest genuinely now and you will see benefits within 2 to 3 years.

So next time your mate tries to brainwash you with derogatory fiction on females in rugby league, please resort back to this article.

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