AFL Women's (AFLW) is Australia's national semi-professional Australian rules football league for female players. The first season of the league began in February 2017 with 8 teams, expanded to 10 teams in the 2019 season, and expanded to 14 teams in the 2020 season. The league is run by the Australian Football League (AFL) and is contested by a subset of clubs from that competition. The reigning premiers are Adelaide.
|Current season, competition or edition:|
2020 AFL Women's season
|Sport||Australian rules football|
|Founded||15 September 2016,|
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
|No. of teams||14|
|Headquarters||Melbourne, Victoria, Australia|
|Most titles||Adelaide (2 premierships)|
|Sponsor(s)||NAB, Chemist Warehouse|
AFLW Under 18 Championships
In 2010 the Australian Football League commissioned a report into the state of women's football around the country. Along with findings concerning grassroots and junior football, the report recommended the AFL Commission begin working toward the establishment of a national women's league. While the option of new stand-alone clubs was considered, a model utilising the resources and branding of existing AFL clubs was to be the preferred model for the planned league.
The first on-field step towards the competition took place in 2013, when the AFL announced an exhibition match to be played between women's teams representing Melbourne and Western Bulldogs in June that year. The historic match had a crowd of 7,518 and was won by Melbourne by 35 points.
On 15 May 2013, the first women's draft was held, establishing the playing lists for the two clubs in the forthcoming exhibition match. The match was played on 29 June 2013 and marked the first time two women's sides had competed under the banners of AFL clubs. The exhibition series was repeated with one game between the clubs in 2014 and two in 2015, the last of which, played on 16 August 2015, was the first women's AFL game to be broadcast on free-to-air television. It attracted an average audience of 175,000 which outweighed the 114,000 average audience for the AFL men's clash between Adelaide and Essendon of the previous day.
The success of these exhibition matches prompted the AFL to accelerate its plans for a nationwide women's competition, announcing a preferred start date of 2017. Prior to this, the league had announced only aspirational plans to have the women's competition established by 2020. The already-planned 2016 exhibition series was expanded at this time, with a total of ten matches to be played in venues across the country and featuring a range of new temporary representative teams.
In 2016, the AFL opened a process for existing clubs to tender applications to join the new competition. The eighteen clubs in the men's Australian Football League had until 29 April 2016 to place a bid for a licence, with thirteen clubs making bids. These were Adelaide, Brisbane, Carlton, Collingwood, Fremantle, Geelong, Greater Western Sydney, Melbourne, North Melbourne, Richmond, St Kilda, West Coast and the Western Bulldogs. The AFL's preferred distribution of clubs was four clubs from Victoria and one each from New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.
The inaugural teams were announced on 8 June 2016. As the only teams to bid in their respective states, Adelaide, Brisbane and Greater Western Sydney were granted licences to compete in 2017. Both Western Australian clubs made bids, with Fremantle's bid chosen ahead of West Coast's. Eight Victorian clubs made bids: Melbourne, Western Bulldogs, Carlton and Collingwood were successful, with Geelong, North Melbourne, Richmond and St Kilda unsuccessful. All five unsuccessful bidders were granted provisional licences.
Details about the branding of the league were released in the second half of 2016. The AFL announced that the league would be named "AFL Women's" or AFLW for short, on 15 September 2016, with the logo being unveiled on 19 September 2016. The logo is a stylised rendition of an Australian rules football ground goal square and goal posts, drawn from a perspective which shows a "W". On 10 October 2016, the National Australia Bank was named as the league's naming rights sponsor.
The first premiership game was played on Friday, 3 February 2017 at Princes Park (then named Ikon Park). The AFL had initially planned to host the game at Melbourne's Olympic Park Oval, with a capacity of just 7,000, but was forced to change the venue to Princes Park due to overwhelming interest and a lack of adequate seating. The match was deemed a "lockout" with a capacity crowd of 24,568 in attendance, with a few thousand estimated to have been waiting outside. As a result, Gillon McLachlan, the AFL's CEO, personally apologised to those who missed out. The game was also a great success on TV, attracting a national TV audience of 896,000 including 593,000 metropolitan free-to-air viewers, 180,000 regional free-to-air viewers and 123,000 on Fox Footy. The Melbourne metropolitan audience of 424,000 was on par with that of Friday night AFL men's matches.
The inaugural season concluded with the Grand Final held on Saturday, 25 March 2017. The Adelaide Crows were crowned the league's first premiers after defeating minor premiers the Brisbane Lions. The scoreline read Adelaide 4.11 (35) def. Brisbane 4.5 (29).
Expansion of the competition occurred in two instalments, with two clubs added in 2019 and four in 2020, to result in 14 teams in total. The ten AFL clubs not originally participating in the competition were invited to bid for inclusion, with priority given to the five clubs that unsuccessfully bid to participate in the inaugural season. The deadline to lodge submissions was 16 June 2017. The only clubs not to bid were Port Adelaide and Sydney. North Melbourne worked with AFL Tasmania to craft its bid, with the club aiming to play home matches in Melbourne, Hobart and Launceston, and also select half of its playing list from Tasmania. A final decision on which clubs are admitted to the competition was expected by the end of July 2017 but was delayed several times to September 2017.
On 27 September 2017, the AFL announced that North Melbourne and Geelong had been selected to come into the competition in 2019. North Melbourne retained its commitment to playing matches in Tasmania. The league then expanded an additional four teams in 2020, with the AFL selecting West Coast, Richmond, Gold Coast and St Kilda to join the competition. The growth in clubs was accompanied by the introduction of American-style conferences for the 2019 season, further details of which can be found in the season structure section of this article. The 2020 season was curtailed and eventually cancelled without a premiership awarded due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
|Club||Entry in 2017||Entry in 2019/20|
|Greater Western Sydney||Yes||Yes||N/A|
The competition's fourteen teams are based across five states of Australia. Eight are based in Victoria (seven in the Melbourne metropolitan area), Queensland and Western Australia have two teams each and New South Wales and South Australia have one team each. Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Tasmania are the only states or territories not to have AFL Women's teams, however North Melbourne has a formalised partnership with Tasmania, which enables the club to draft players from and play home games there.
|Adelaide||Crows||South Australia||Richmond Oval||—||2016||2017+||4||2||2019|
|Fremantle||Dockers||Western Australia||Fremantle Oval||2016||2016||2017+||4||0||—|
|Gold Coast||Suns||Queensland||Carrara Stadium||2016||2019||2020||1||0||—|
|Greater Western Sydney||Giants||New South Wales||Blacktown ISP Oval||2016||2016||2017+||4||0||—|
|North Melbourne||Kangaroos||Victoria & Tasmania^||Arden Street Oval||—||2018||2019||2||0||—|
|St Kilda||Saints||Victoria||Moorabbin Oval||—||2019||2020||1||0||—|
|West Coast||Eagles||Western Australia||Lathlain Park||2016||2019||2020||1||0||—|
|Western Bulldogs||Bulldogs||Victoria||Whitten Oval||2013||2013*||2017+||4||1||2018|
|^ denotes that the club has a formalised partnership with this state or territory|
* denotes that the club had a foundation women's team
+ denotes that the club was a founding member of the AFLW
Below are the venues that will be used during the 2020 AFL Women's season.
The club's playing lists were constructed from scratch through the later stages of 2016. All participants in the 2017 season are required to be over the age of 17.
Initially, clubs were asked to nominate a list of desired players, with the AFL assigning two of these "marquee" players to each club. In addition, clubs were able to sign a number of players with existing connections to the club, or with arrangements for club sponsored work or study. This number varied for each club, in an attempt to equitably spread talent across the teams. In addition, clubs were required to recruit two "rookies" - people with no Australian rules football experience in the previous three-year period. The majority of players were later recruited through the 2016 AFL Women's draft. The balance of list spots was filled with free-agent signings in the week following the draft. In total clubs have a 27 active listed players in addition to injury replacements signed to take the spot of long-term injury affected players.
The current collective bargaining agreement, in place until the end of the 2022 season, has total player payments per club of $576,240 in 2020 and $717,122 in 2022. Players are split into four tiers.
The rules are mostly the same as men's AFL, with a few exceptions. For 2019, the main differences were: the women used a slightly smaller ball; played shorter quarters (15 minutes instead of 20); had 16 on the field at a time (instead of 18); 5 interchange players, and no limit on the number of player rotations (instead of 4 interchange players, and 90 total rotations).
Other differences for 2019 were throw-ins were 10 metres in from the boundary; and a "last touch" out-of-bounds rule applies, except within the 50-metre arcs. During 2018, the "last touch" rule applied everywhere.
Prior to the commencement of the home-and-away season teams are paired off to play an exhibition trial match. In 2017 these matches took place during varying weeks of January.
Premiership season and finalsEdit
For the first two seasons of competition, the home-and-away season was operated on a single table and seven matches were played by each of the eight teams.
With the addition of two extra teams in 2019, the AFL Women's home-and-away season introduced conferences, a concept not common in Australian sports. The use of conferences was retained in 2020, along with the inclusion of four additional teams.
As of the 2020 season, the fourteen teams are split into two conferences of seven. The home and away season takes place over 8 rounds, with teams playing each of their inter-conference rivals once, as well as two cross-over games against teams from the other conference. The finals series then runs for 3 weeks, with the top three teams in each conference progressing to the knock-out stage of the league. In the first week of finals, teams A1 and B1 are given a bye whilst A2 hosts B3 and B2 hosts A3 in elimination matches. In week two, A1 hosts the winner of B2/A3 and B1 hosts the winner of A2/B3 in the preliminary finals. The two preliminary final winners then meet in the AFL Women's Grand Final at a venue to be determined by the AFL.
In 2019 four teams qualified for the finals series. The top two teams from the respective conferences qualified to the preliminary finals, with the first-ranked team in Conference A meeting the second-ranked team in Conference B and the opposite employed for the other preliminary final. The winners of those matches then met in the Grand Final. For the first two seasons of competition, the two highest place teams at the conclusion of the home-and-away season qualified for the Grand Final match, in the absence of a proper finals series.
The following major individual awards and accolades are presented each season:
- Best & Fairest Trophy - to the fairest and best player in the league, voted by the umpires
- Leading Goalkicker Award - to the player who kicks the most goals during the home-and-away season
- All-Australian Team - a squad of 22 players deemed the best in their positions, voted by an AFL-appointed committee
- Rising Star Award - to the fairest and best young player under the age of 21 as at the start of the calendar year, voted by the AFL-appointed All-Australian committee
- Grand Final Best on Ground Award - the best player on the ground in the Grand Final, voted by a committee of media members
In its inaugural 2017 season, all matches were televised live by affiliate partners the Seven Network and Fox Footy. As part of the initial broadcast deal, the free-to-air carrier Seven broadcast one Saturday night game per week as standard, in addition to the league's opening match and Grand Final. Pay TV network Fox Footy televised all premiership season matches, including simulcasts of the Seven-hosted matches other than the Grand Final. The two television networks covered the costs of broadcasting these matches, with no licensing fee payable to the league in exchange.
The official internet/mobile broadcast partner of the AFL is BigPond, part of Telstra. The company hosts the league website as well as those of each of the eight participation clubs. The AFL has retained digital broadcast rights to matches in the league's inaugural season and will stream all matches live and free on the league website and mobile app.
Official match day attire together with other club merchandise is sold through the AFL's stores and website as well through the clubs and through some retailers.
Women's exhibition games (2013–2016)Edit
Prior to the creation of the league, the AFL ran four years of exhibition matches between sides representing Melbourne and Western Bulldogs. In 2016, the series was expanded to multiple teams from around the country.
|2013 exhibition game|
|Sunday, 30 June||Melbourne 8.5 (53)||def.||Western Bulldogs 3.3 (21)||MCG (crowd: 7,500)||Match report|
|2014 exhibition game|
|Sunday, 29 June||Western Bulldogs 4.2 (26)||def. by||Melbourne 10.12 (72)||Etihad Stadium (crowd: 24,953 (D/H))||Match report|
|2015 exhibition series|
|Sunday, 24 May||Melbourne 4.13 (37)||def.||Western Bulldogs 4.5 (29)||MCG (crowd: 29,381 (D/H))||Match report|
|Sunday, 16 August||Western Bulldogs 5.6 (36)||def. by||Melbourne 6.4 (40)||Etihad Stadium (crowd: 27,805 (D/H))||Match report|
|2016 exhibition series|
|Sunday, 2 March||Melbourne 3.3 (21)||def. by||Western Bulldogs 6.5 (41)||Highgate Recreational Reserve||Match report|
|Saturday, 2 April||SANFL Blue 5.4 (34)||def.||SANFL Red 5.2 (32)||Adelaide Oval (crowd: 51,585 (D/H))||Match report|
|Saturday, 9 April||Sydney 9.8 (62)||def.||Greater Western Sydney 5.3 (33)||SCG (crowd: 37,045 (D/H))||Match report|
|Saturday, 9 April||West Coast 13.10 (88)||def.||Fremantle 3.5 (23)||Domain Stadium (crowd: 40,555 (D/H))||Match report|
|Sunday, 10 April||Northern Territory 13.11 (89)||def.||Tasmania 7.11 (53)||Peanut Reserve||Match report|
|Saturday, 16 April||Brisbane 5.8 (38)||def.||Gold Coast 3.6 (24)||Gabba (crowd: 20,041 (D/H))||Match report|
|Sunday, 22 May||Melbourne 14.7 (91)||def.||Brisbane 3.2 (20)||MCG (crowd: 26,892 (D/H))||Match report|
|Sunday, 5 June||Western Bulldogs 8.5 (53)||def.||Western Australia 5.10 (40)||Etihad Stadium (crowd: 28,769 (D/H))||Match report|
|Sunday, 5 June||South Australia 4.3 (27)||def.||NSW/ACT 3.7 (25)||Adelaide Oval (crowd: 40,896 (D/H))||Match report|
|Saturday, 3 September||Western Bulldogs 14.6 (90)||def.||Melbourne 7.9 (51)||Whitten Oval (crowd: 6,365)||Match report|
Premiers and awardsEdit
|Brisbane Lions||2017–present||0||2||2017, 2018|
Best and fairestEdit
The best and fairest award determined in the same way as the Brownlow Medal for men, with umpires award 3, 2, and 1 votes to the best three players in each game, and suspended players ineligible.
|2018||Emma Kearney||Western Bulldogs|
MVP (Most Valuable Player)Edit
The MVP award is voted on by the players' peers, in a similar method to the Leigh Matthews Trophy for men.
|2018||Courtney Gum||GWS Giants|
|2018||Brooke Lochland||Western Bulldogs||12|
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- Erin Phillips wins AFLW best and fairest for second time after Adelaide Crows premiership win, ABC, 2 April 2019
- Indigenous player Madison Prespakis named AFLW's best player, NITV, 29 April 2020
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