In case you hadn’t noticed, “footy’s back”.
Except, as has continually been pointed out on social media at least, it’s men’s footy that’s back.
Since the end of January, AFLW has provided fans with an array of highlights in its best season yet. And while it might not have made the front pages, in round eight Carlton kicked the highest score in AFLW history and Darcy Vescio became the first player to reach the milestone of 40 career goals.
To some, taking issue with phrasing like “footy’s back” might feel like mere semantics.
But, this week in particular, women and our allies have had enough.
At March 4 Justice rallies on March 15, thousands turned out in every Australian state and territory, to “put an end to the issues of sexism, misogyny, patriarchy … and lack of equality in politics and the community at large”.
Poor pay and conditions, lack of media coverage and the like rightfully take up the most column inches. But other issues deserve attention and aren’t as insignificant as they might seem.
Why are women excluded from fantasy sport?
Take “fantasy sport” for example. For those who don’t know, it’s effectively an online game where you are given a salary cap or budget to assemble a virtual team of real players in your chosen sport. Each week those players are assigned scores according to their real-life performances, and, like tipping competitions, you compete against friends or colleagues in leagues.
Fantasy sport is fun, but it’s also big business.
By 2027, Allied Market Research estimates it will be worth $48.6 billion worldwide. And while it’s still in its relative infancy in Australia, 60 million people were playing in North America in 2017.
It’s well established that fantasy sport grows fans’ interest in particular sports or leagues, increasing the number of games they watch as well as their knowledge of teams, players and tactics. In other words, it’s a perfect marketing tool.
The problem is, there are no official fantasy leagues for women’s sport.
It’s a fact that shocked W-League fans Ben Laws and Nicole Flint in 2016 when they discovered that none of the world’s biggest women’s soccer leagues (including those in the US and UK) had a competition to rival their hugely popular men’s equivalents.
“There are really simple things that can be done at a very low cost to help grow women’s sport, and they just aren’t being done in any of the codes,” Laws said.
So Laws and Flint got creative. With some help from volunteers worldwide, they built an independent fantasy sport platform called She Plays, which, as well as covering the Women’s English Premier League and National Women’s Soccer League in the US now has an AFLW competition.
Each week, Laws, Flint and other volunteers work around the clock to keep the competitions running — a labour of love borne out of their desire to increase knowledge of, and investment in, women’s sport.
And, after running a 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup fantasy competition, Laws has the stats to prove it’s working.
A She Plays exit survey showed that of the 4,000 who signed up to play, 27 per cent had never watched or attended any women’s sports matches. And of those who did participate in the fantasy competition, 55 per cent said they followed the results or games more closely than they otherwise would have.
‘There’s literally no reason the game wouldn’t exist’
In Australia, there are two main Australian rules fantasy football competitions: Supercoach, run by News Corp, and AFL Fantasy, run by the AFL. Supercoach is more popular and has approximately 200,000 subscribers.
Now a freelance sports writer, Paige Cardona, recently worked at Fox Sports as a Supercoach specialist and lead strategic digital content writer. For years, she asked the question about when and how AFLW Supercoach would happen.
“Early on, there was definitely a feeling of ‘not yet’,” Cardona said.
“It wasn’t a hard no. It was never ‘no-one cares about women’s sport’.”
Instead, according to Cardona, some time was needed to develop a database of players coming through the pathways feeding into AFLW to perform important tasks such as pricing players and determining their positions.
“But now we have the infrastructure in terms of the game and how it’s played,” Cardona said.
All that’s missing, says Cardona, is “money”, prizes and a major sponsor.
The AFL men’s Supercoach competition — sponsored by KFC — offers $50,000 as first prize, while in AFL Fantasy, supported by Telstra, Toyota is offering the winner a Hilux valued at up to $60,000.
“For AFLW Fantasy or Supercoach to happen we really need a morally strong business to put their hand up and go, ‘we’ll be the major sponsors of this product, we will champion it’,” Cardona said.
“The company might cop a monetary loss at first … but in the long run it would actually pay off as subscriptions and sign-ups continue to rise.”
But Cardona said good leadership was not just about expecting a financial return on investment.
“We are in an age where we are expecting and demanding equality in all forms of leadership, including sport,” she said.
“As consumers of the product, we are a key stakeholder. And we should have the opportunity to play a women’s product, not just because we love it but because it’s about equality.”
“Give us the ability to pick our favourite female footy players and you’re inspiring an entire generation of footy fans.”