It has only taken travelling 17,000 kilometres to finally see how women’s sport should be managed, marketed and celebrated. After 6 years of studying sport and a lifetime of being an avid fan, player and advocate of women’s football (soccer), I have finally found a spectacle that attempts to appreciate and encourage women’s participation in football.
Now, before I get ahead of myself I have to point out that there are a number of fundamental differences between the football I’ve played (let’s call it soccer) and Australian football (Aussie Rules), in fact you can’t compare the two games at all (as you’ll see from the above video). What you can compare, however, is the way in which the individual governing bodies represent and promote their female athletes.
What also makes the AFLW special is the way players have been drafted amongst the different clubs. Now, draft systems are pretty complex but in essence they allow for talent to be dispersed amongst all clubs rather than the richest clubs, or the clubs with the biggest incentives to recruit players. This is hugely different from what we see back in Scotland where players are often drawn to one big club.
AFLW (Women’s Australian Football League) is new, in fact it’s only in it’s first season which began in February. With 8 teams, it’s a single table system with no other divisions, so no promotion or relegation and it will stay this way until at least 2019. There are 4 teams from Victoria (Melbourne, Western Bulldogs, Collingwood and Carlton) and a team each from South Australia (Adelaide), Queensland (Brisbane), New South Wales (Greater Western Sydney) and Western Australia (Fremantle). The AFLW is a short season with only 7 rounds of matches. The two teams with the highest points, at the end of the 7 rounds, play in a grand final on the 25th of March.
So how can other governing bodies learn from the AFLW?
- The AFLW season sounds exciting for a start! It only lasts for 2 months and has a grand final at the end, it doesn’t drag on for months where one team can clearly run away with the title. They’ve also been extremely smart about when they’ve chosen to host their season, right before the AFL (men’s football) starts. That means AFL fans will be looking to watch football again, it’s been off their screens for some time so they are looking for football, for any avid AFL fan the AFLW is an extremely exciting prospect.
- It’s on primetime TV! In Scotland, any international Scottish Women’s Football match is shown on BBC Alba, this is a channel that speaks in Gaelic (which by the way is a language that only 1.1% of the Scottish population speak) while ‘Homes Under the Hammer’ is on our primetime TV channels. The AFLW’s television deal is getting the league some fantastic exposure.
- AFL is popular and what the AFLW has done incredibly well is tap into that existing fan base. Almost 7000 fans were in attendance at the Bulldogs game we went to on Saturday night. For a new league that is unheard of. But fans were kitted out in scarves, hats, shirts and flags as if they had been coming to support their team for years. And clearly they had for the men’s game, most of these fans were AFL fans but at the final home game of this new AFLW season Western Bulldogs fans were out in full force! This is something we again do extremely poorly in Scotland. Just last year Celtic Women played Rangers Women, in the league, at Parkhead (Celtic Men’s home ground), even though the capacity of the stadium was 60,000 only 100 tickets were allowed to be sold. Of course the game sold out but no more tickets were offered even though the stadium had room for 59,900 more people! To me and many others it looked as though organisers didn’t want the hassle of having to provide security for a large crowd, that a Celtic vs Rangers game could bring, meaning the players and the league missed out on crucial exposure.
- Finally take a look at AFLW’s marketing! The AFLW has already turned it’s players into stars and not in the way female sports stars have been promoted in the past. The website doesn’t show them pretty in pink, their campaign is based on strength, determination and hard work, young girls who watch the promo video will struggle not to be inspired!
The AFLW looks like it wants to build a following, supporting it’s athletes and encouraging young girls to get involved in the sport. Take a look rest of the world, it’s your turn next.
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