The success of the Women’s Australian Football League (AFLW) has certainly taken me by surprise. Perhaps I should not have been surprised at all given the AFL’s deep coffers.
I should firstly say this article is not to set off some code war. I love all sports and feel that there is a place for all of them to work amicably together in an increasingly crowded Australian market.
There are many reasons for the success of the AFLW. The marketing and promotion has been good, there is free-to-air coverage and the free access to games is a massive boon to all sporting fans. But the biggest factor is the clever timing of the league.
In a crowded market, the AFLW has found a pocket of space to insert a short eight game league. It does not clash with the men’s league and is essentially competing with A-League and NBL for media coverage.
The W-League has been around for since 2008 and even in its first year it was nowhere near as popular as the AFLW.
This is based on game attendances where all attendances bar the grand final (4554) were less than 1400. This is compared to the current AFLW crowd average of 10,366.
Sandwiched within the A-League, the W-League struggles to find room to breathe when played directly next to its more established men’s equivalent. The difference certainly cannot be participation levels as the AFL quotes total female participation at 380,000 (breakdown not available) as opposed to association football where there are more than 100,000 registered female participant in outdoor competition.
It is difficult to compare sports but the skill level of the W-AFLW is still developing when compared to the slightly more polished version of the W-league and so I doubt that this accounts for the difference.
I do not follow the Melbourne Victory women’s team yet I seem to have become emotionally invested in the Carlton women team. This is a personal thing but I believe that had the women’s league been played within the men’s season, I gravely doubt I would have taken much of an interest.
Conversely, if the W-League was played at a different time to the A-League, I would most likely have taken a greater interest in the women’s Melbourne Victory team.
Ultimately, the timing of the AFLW allows it to benefit from being in a quiet part of the sporting calendar, and this is the biggest factor that has enabled its early success in the Australian sporting market.