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Aussies really do love women's sport

The Matildas' recent success resulted in a sold out Pepper Stadium for their clash with Brazil.
The Matildas' recent success resulted in a sold out Pepper Stadium for their clash with Brazil. DEAN LEWINS

I WROTE in January that until the Australian viewing public put bums on seats, the sport gender pay gap would remain heavily in favour of the men.

At the turn of the year there were promising signs the gap may eventually decrease, but the question of public interest remained.

The NSW Breakers became Australia's first fully-professional female sporting team, and CA agreed to include Australia's female cricketers in the Memorandum of Understanding for the first time.

Of course an agreement on the pay structure would come eight months later, but it was always going to.

Then the interest question was answered emphatically, when Carlton and Collingwood opened the AFLW season in front of 24, 500 fans at Princes Park.

Spectators were forced to sit in stairwells as the venue was locked down for security reasons.

Melbourne wanted to watch women play footy!

But I was still sceptical; not of the product but the timing. AFLW had little to compete with for fans' attention.

So if you had told me in the midst of an NRL finals series, two Sydney-based teams would draw a smaller crowd than the Matildas in an international friendly, I likely would have scoffed.

Not because the Matildas did not deserve to play in front of a packed-out Pepper Stadium. But up until this year, Aussies never really cared to make it happen.

On September 9, the Sea Eagles and Panthers drew just 15,408 fans to their semi- final at Allianz Stadium.

At the weekend, riding a wave of public support following their recent dominant performances, the Matildas attracted 15,000+ to Penrith for their 2-1 win over Brazil.

Yes the Matildas have played in front of bigger crowds before, but they have all been in games that meant something; be it the Olympics or World Cup qualifiers. This was a friendly, in a non-Olympic stadium on a weekend where the NRL and AFL also hosted fixtures in Sydney.

 

Empty seats a-plenty at Allianz Stadium for the Manly Sea Eagles v Penrith Panthers final.
Empty seats a-plenty at Allianz Stadium for the Manly Sea Eagles v Penrith Panthers final. DANIEL MUNOZ

In isolation, perhaps the low attendance for the NRL can be considered an indictment on NSW rugby league fans.

There were definitely mumblings such a small figure would never be seen at Suncorp.

But on Saturday the GWS Giants attracted the lowest AFL/VFL finals crowd since WWI, with 14,865 at Spotless Stadium in Sydney's west. That came only a week after the Swans set an attendance record for the SCG with 46, 323 showing up for their clash with Essendon.

Sport fans in Sydney have voted with their bums in recent weeks, and on that front the Matildas gained ground. But what about the pay gap? Well that too is starting to diminish, albeit not as quickly.

In 2016, the minimum salary for players in the W-League was just $2,500.

Following last week's new pay deal hatched by the FFA and players union, that number will rise to $10,000 ahead of the 2017 season opener on November 4.

It will rise again in 2018 to $12, 287.

These are not damming numbers, particularly when you consider A-League players over 20 take home a minimum of $55,715.

But for a semi- professional competition that has struggled for attention, it is a start.

CA started the pay conversation with the MOU.

The AFL responded and set the bar for what a successful women's competition should look like. Now FFA are making moves for fear of being left behind.

Governing bodies are starting to give women's sport its just dues because the viewing public have told them they are interested.

Topics:  afl cricket australia matildas nrl sport opinion w-league