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Show the Matildas the money: Why their greatest fight is off the field

As Matilda mania grips Australia, some are laughing all the way to the bank, but not the players.

Stylised image of Matildas star Sam Kerr with $100 notes in the background
Sam Kerr is the highest-paid Matildas player but her earnings fall well short of her male counterparts. (Source: Getty) (Getty)

The country has gone Matilda mad. This is the best of times. The script is perfect. But something is still not quite right.

Also by Jason Murphy:

The whole country is caught up in raptures. The penalty shootout against France on Saturday was the most-watched TV event since Cathy Freeman won gold in Sydney - those 49 seconds indelibly etched into the national consciousness.

But who is making the most of those raptures?

Not the players. FIFA offers prize money for the tournament of US$110 million ($A170 million). That’s only a quarter of the US$440 million they gave to the men’s tournament in Qatar last year.

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Sam Kerr is, obviously, the highest-paid Matilda. She makes a reported $600,000 a year playing for Chelsea. And, if you thought she wasn’t repping for Rexona free, you’d be right. Add up all her endorsements and she is banking several million a year, rumoured to be around $3 million.

But her mates out there, including penalty shootout hero Cortnee Vine, and ribbon-wearing danger machine Hayley Raso, are making less bank. It’s what we see in women’s sport everywhere.

The latest Australian Tax Office (ATO) taxation statistics (from 2020-21) show exactly this:

A chart showing the pay disparity between male and female sportspeople.
(Source: supplied)

Male sportspeople made more than $75,000 (blue line) in taxable income in 2020-21. And that was the most even year in the data. Women made less than $40,000 (red line).

The ATO detailed data don’t break out soccer separately to the other football codes. But they do break out tennis, and that’s one domain where women out-earned men in 2020-21. Nick Kyrgios didn’t play that year, whereas Ash Barty did, and wouldn’t stop winning.

Tennis has already brought in equal prize money at grand slams. It has chosen to elevate the women’s game, and got a lot back from it too. Champions like Graf, Seles, and the Williams sisters are global household names. They made women’s tennis great, and the game gave back to them.

Tennis is probably the leader in elevating women’s professional participation and goes to show that investing in women’s sport can pay off for everyone. Ash Barty is also proof female sportspeople can be extremely popular as far as sponsorship opportunities go.

Follow the money

The problem in women’s soccer is the question of where the money is coming from. Ultimately, major professional sports are funded by the people who watch. The money that ends up flowing to players starts its life as a payment from a broadcaster to a football authority.

Given that audiences have been so gigantic, you might have assumed Channel Seven and Optus Sport were bleeding out the ears to get their hands on the Women’s World Cup, especially since it is being run in our own timezone. Nope.

Seven paid just $5 million to get its hands on the 15 games it is showing (according to reporting in the Australian Financial Review, (Seven wouldn’t confirm or deny when I contacted them).

A single 30-second ad slot in an AFL grand final can go for well north of $100,000. And the most recent Matildas game out-rated the AFL grand final by miles, while including multiple ad breaks (albeit not as many as an AFL game - in soccer, ads are mostly at half-time).

In short, Channel Seven got themselves a gigantic windfall. They can probably sell $5 million of ads just for the next game against England. (Not to mention the upside they garner for themselves if their in-house ads can trick you into watching Dancing With The Stars, etc).

But the upside is not over. Because, if we beat England, well. The final, probably vs Spain, will be a giant money tree, dropping fat, ripe fruit into the yards of Channel Seven shareholders. And, even if we lose against England, there’s another Matildas match coming because soccer world cups feature a play-off for third place.

Matildas players celebrate their side's victory in the penalty shoot-out against France.
The Matildas are making plenty of money for Channel Seven. (Source: Getty) (Elsa - FIFA via Getty Images)

Channel Seven got a great deal. But, of course, soccer is a global game and the money that flows in via FIFA comes from many nations. Putting the soccer in our time zone hasn’t been wonderful for viewership in Europe or America, although the poor showing of America’s team is a bigger explanation for their TV ratings being weaker than in 2019.

This is the first time FIFA has sold the broadcast rights for the Women’s World Cup separately to the men’s tournament. The rights sold for much less than FIFA hoped for.

“FIFA is receiving between 10- and 100-times inferior offers for the Women's World Cup than for the Men’s World Cup.“ the FIFA president complained in the lead-up to the tournament.

Several countries have no official broadcaster and, in those places, the matches are being given away free on FIFA+. In other countries, last-minute deals were stitched together for modest sums. The time zone is one explanation. FIFA incompetence is another perennial. And broadcasters' lack of confidence in audiences is another. But the argument that nobody will watch? That’s dead now.

This Matildas team will do well out of their success via sponsorships, even if salaries budge only slightly. I’d love to be the agent for one of them right now. I bet the phone is running hot, with offers to represent breakfast cereals, sports drinks, car brands, insurance companies, financial services and airlines.

And a good agent will string the client along, because the asking price will go up - a LOT - if the team wins on Wednesday, then reach the stratosphere if the Matildas are the ones holding the cup aloft next weekend.

Go, Matildas!

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