The first of two trade periods in the AFLW is now complete and at first glance, it appears to be carnage. All 311 players were off-contract, and this trade period allowed the four new clubs entering the competition in 2020 – Gold Coast, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast – to sign up to four players from Greater Western Sydney, Adelaide and the Victorian clubs, as well as up to eight from Brisbane and Fremantle.
Naturally these conditions mean that a lot of movement has taken place. Richmond have made their premiership intentions known early, snagging the signature of Bulldogs captain Katie Brennan, as well as Brisbane star Sabrina Frederick. Predictably, Gold Coast took advantage of their proximity to cross-town rivals Brisbane to snare six players from their 2019 list. Over in Western Australia, West Coast followed the same strategy, signing seven Fremantle players.
Emotions have been running high among fans as they face the fact that their team will look a lot different in 2020. And with a second trade period commencing on 23 April, which will allow existing teams to sign players from other clubs, more change is certain to come.
Carlton forward Darcy Vescio spoke out in defence of her colleagues on Twitter. “I think it’s super unfair for gals to have their loyalty questioned for changing clubs,” she said. “We’re not on lengthy contracts for the big $ and also players literally have to move to grow [the sport]. It’s not the clubs’ fault, nor players’ fault, it’s the current landscape.”
While it is unusual in men’s sport to have so much player movement in one hit, it is not unprecedented in women’ sport. Just last year, because of the expiry of a players’ association deal, all 80 players in the Super Netball competition came off contract at once. Even without the addition of new teams, player movement was in full swing.
The reality of women’s sport is that there are other factors to be taken into account, such as outside employment, education and future planning, that don’t loom as large in the minds of male footballers earning as much as $1m a season.
Former Brisbane midfielder Kate McCarthy noted career prospects as key to her decision to take up an offer from St Kilda. “I am excited about the new opportunity that presents itself at the Saint Kilda Football Club,” she tweeted to her fans on Thursday. “I have been offered a dream role at the club which will help to set me up with a career after football. I cannot wait to see what the future holds.”
While some commentators claim that the player movements means fans will be discouraged from following the competition, the changes mean that the AFLW will become ever more unpredictable and exciting. And with the league embarking on only its fourth season, fan loyalties to particular clubs are not yet set in stone. This means clubs can use key signings to lure new fans and increase rivalry and passion.
Changing clubs as a supporter is not a popular position in the land of men’s sport. Across the AFLM, NRL and English Premier League, children are often born into families whose club ties go back generations. For fans of women’s sport, it’s not completely unusual to follow players, to choose a team for the season based on who has signed for them.
Until women’s sport has the opportunity to establish a history, build tradition and offer pay conditions in line with what male athletes receive, neither players nor fans deserve to be vilified for a perceived lack of loyalty.