The following article by Sandra Sully appeared in The Sunday Telegraph on May 15, 2011.
In a room full of females, raise the issue of women in sport and you can expect a collective groan and eyes rolling in unison. And, given the facts on sponsorship, media coverage and support, it's hardly surprising.
Take the Matildas, Australia's national soccer side. They regularly qualify for the World Cup and the Olympics but still play to half-empty stadiums while making the same commitments as their male counterparts, the Socceroos.
It's a given perception that women in sport get a raw deal, and arguably the focus for too long has been on their appearance and sex appeal.
But over the past few years there's been a substantial shift in the paradigm of women's sports coverage. Sponsors and television networks alike are starting to see the value in investing in women.
"Sex on a stick sells, but so does success," says one major sponsorship executive who wished to remain anonymous.
The last Australian Sports Commission report, Towards a Level Playing Field, says "female sport and male sport receive starkly disproportionate amounts of coverage on ... television, despite the ongoing success and strong participation levels of women in sport".
"Women have worked hard to progress the profile of women's sport but it almost always falls on deaf ears when it comes to selling it to men," says sports commentator and former Olympic swimmer Nicole Livingstone.
"They claim it's not good to watch - girls aren't as fast, as strong, or as skilled.
"For women's sport as a whole, they need to have a star that can instantly sell it for them - and this doesn't happen very often."
Instead, the likes of men's cricket, AFL, rugby league, rugby union, soccer, tennis and golf rule Australian sport, attracting the biggest sponsorship deals that deliver national television coverage.
But the game plan is changing.
This week the ABC announced it will televise Australia's final warm-up match on home soil before the Matildas head to Germany for the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup in June.
"This is the Matildas' chance to shine," said ABC Sports commentator Stephanie Brantz.
"Too often the Matildas fly under the radar compared to the Socceroos."
It is worth remembering that professional men's sport has been around far longer, and is far more established, as retired Australian netball captain Liz Ellis points out.
"AFL, rugby etc pull the big crowds," she admits.
"They've made a lot of headlines and a lot of mistakes. But they have 100 years of history on their side - and they're still working it out. We've got a really good opportunity to learn from them."
Importantly, the Australian Sports Commission report straddled January 2008 to July 2009, well before digital television in Australia was born, and shows how dire the situation was.
But it's in this realm - digital free-to-air television - that the platform has been provided for sponsors and television networks to find value in investing in women.
Netball is a case in point. It's the hot new ticket on the sports landscape and making huge inroads.
In a national first, netball is now shown live 10 hours a week, over a 19-week season, compared to a one-hour-a-week highlights show broadcast previously on the ABC.
As Ellis points out: "Right now, women's netball pays more than men's basketball."
Apart from being the No. 1 participation sport for women in the country, games are sold out and TV networks are starting to cash in.
"I go to the netball and love it," says David White, former general manager of sport at Network Ten.
"The rise in netball's popularity, its commercial appeal and general professionalism of the top level domestically and internationally has been massive in the last three years.
"And while the girls aren't earning as much as AFL players, certainly in time their salaries and sponsorship appeal will grow substantially and I think they'll blaze a trail."
The recent Commonwealth Games final between arch rivals Australia and New Zealand peaked at 1.67 million viewers in five cities.
"When you add about 30 per cent for regional views you can quite comfortably deduce it peaked at 2.2 million," says White. "That puts it right up there in terms of one of the most watched sports of the year."
Craig Kelly, CEO of sports marketing and management company Elite Sports Properties, looks after 140 AFL players across 16 clubs, as well as Olympic legends including Susie O'Neill, James Tomkins and Raelene Boyle. He feels the women's arena is on the verge of experiencing unprecedented growth.
"I've got 30-40 female athletes on our books and we want to grow it," he says.
"We've identified women's basketball, cricket and netball players, and for us they're just as important as the men on our books. They're starting to earn decent enough money for us to warrant putting the time and effort into it."
They are so confident of the potential of women's sport they established a women's division called ESP Majestic in January.
Stephanie Gilmore from Murwillumbah, NSW, is one young woman riding the crest of that wave of change. The 23-year-old four-time world surfing champ has just hitched a ride with Quiksilver to the tune of $5 million. That sort of money was unheard of years ago.
Surfing aficionados see Gilmore as the apprentice to surfing legend Layne Beachley - who claimed seven world titles.
"But the fact is, Stephanie Gilmore has earned more money from her sport in four years than Beachley had in 18 years on the circuit," says Andrew Fraser from 5 Oceans Media, which looks after Beachley as well as a stable of other young talent.
"In terms of individuals, the women are very appealing to the media. Three of my clients - cricketer Ellyse Perry, Layne Beachley and sailor Jessica Watson - are in constant demand," he says.
Women's basketball is another sport that's starting to ramp up its aggression on and off the court.
According to Allison Tranquilli, one of ESP Majestic's managers, some players in Australia can earn between $50,000 and $150,000 a contract. Widely considered to be the best Australian female basketball player of all time - and one of the best players in the world - 31-year-old Lauren Jackson, from Albury, recently slam-dunked $230,000 for 12 games at home, on top of her lucrative US and European contracts.
Liz Cambage, 19, of Mount Eliza, is treading a similar path. She's made the WNBA draft and, if successful, will be in the same league financially.
It's worth remembering that thousands of Australians - both men and women - put in countless hours to achieve their goals and many never gain the recognition they deserve.
Ask Liz Ellis and she points to the fact that Australia has the best men's and women's hockey players in the world yet, remarkably, neither can attract the recognition, sponsorship or earnings they deserve.
"You can't whinge for too long," she says. "You've got to get out there and have a good product and give people reason to like your product."
Coach of the NSW Swifts Julie Fitzgerald agrees. "I strongly believe that women's sport should not cry poor and beg for coverage.
"We must be proud and convince media of what they are missing out on - not demand equal coverage for the sake of equal coverage or just because we are women."
While there's still some way to go, with women like that at the forefront of Australian women's sport, and broadcasters apparently hungry for content, the future looks brighter than ever before.