Men’s Rugby League funding the Women’s game isn’t “woke”

03 Dec 22, 1:47PM 0 Comments

Written by Keith Whitelock

Photo by NRL Images

Men’s rugby league shouldn’t have to fund women’s rugby league because it doesn’t make a profit!

This is an all too common argument stated in the comments section of almost every article celebrating women’s rugby league.

The presupposition that any loss making venture is not worth pursuing is a dangerous one and mired in a misunderstanding of how businesses actually work. In saying this, the feel good factor around women’s rugby league inevitably has a use-by date. With this in mind, the main question that needs to be asked is ‘what is the business plan to develop women’s rugby league into a standalone, profit-making entity?’

For years, Amazon Web Services was the only profit-making product under the Amazon suite of products. Few people claimed that the better known online market place, Amazon.com was not worth pursuing, rather, short term pain justified long term gain. And in the fourth quarter of 2017, Amazon marketplace made as much money as the previous 58 quarters (14 years) combined.

Westpac Bank this week unveiled a record $8 million, four year sponsorship of the NSW Blues State of Origin teams. Both the men’s and women’s teams will receive the same outlay in a groundbreaking deal for the NSW Rugby League. Australia’s second largest bank, with assets approaching $1 billion, is exactly the type of blue-chip sponsor that has often eluded the game of rugby league in the past.

It could be argued that Westpac would not have sponsored the women’s team if it wasn’t for the exposure that a front of jersey sponsorship of the men’s team can provide. However, it could also be argued that Westpac Group would not have sponsored the men’s team without the existence of the women’s team.

Like it or not, the key focus on diversity in the corporate sector and the existence of a women’s league provides a pathway into corporate sponsorships that will be crucial if the women’s game is to one day stand on its own. An argument can also be made for government funding, not to mention the need for both a men’s and women’s competition if rugby league is to one day partake in the Commonwealth Games.

Ironically, some of the fans setting the precedent that a sport needs to make money to be a worthwhile venture are the same fans who celebrate the growing rivalry and development of international rugby league, a traditionally loss making venture in itself. The double standard here is low hanging fruit, so this writer won’t dwell too heavily on this point of view.

Studies have shown that girls who play sports have higher levels of confidence and substantially lower levels of depression. The sense of community and belonging that playing in a team sport provides can help to develop key life skills such as teamwork, goal setting and the pursuit of excellence. Is it wrong for us to want our daughters and sisters to be a part of this and one day even make a career out of rugby league?

Most people would agree that, currently, men’s rugby league is of a higher standard than women’s league. Most people would also agree that the quality of men’s rugby league is far superior now compared to a time when playing rugby league was not a fulltime job. Funding women’s rugby league with the end goal of creating fulltime career opportunities will rapidly enhance the on-field product in a similar vein to what has occurred with the men’s game.

Those with a macro view of the game often state how important it is to have mums onside. Also acknowledged is the reality that kids who play rugby league are more likely to become lifelong fans and club members. The more future mums who play the game, the more fans that are created for both the men’s and women’s game.

With the exception of the Brisbane Broncos and perhaps the South Sydney Rabbitohs, every other NRL club was making substantial losses up until recently. The argument that a venture isn’t worth pursuing unless it makes a profit would have resulted in the extinction of almost every club from the top grade. An obvious defense against this chain of thought is that sport sits outside of the usual measures of success for a business and thus shouldn’t be compared to the corporate world; so why all of a sudden have we moved the goal posts for women’s rugby league?

Ultimately, the more people who play the game of rugby league, the better. This writer is confident that women’s rugby league is on the path to self-sustainability. If done well, women’s rugby league can provide a key pathway into new markets that the men’s side of the game has failed to gain traction. Who would have thought we’d see teams from Brazil and Canada in the 2021 and 2025 Rugby League World Cup? A rising tide lifts all boats and developing the woman’s game is not woke but simply good business sense.

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