The AFL competition consists of eighteen teams from across Australia, in the states of Victoria, South Australia, Western Australian, New South Wales and Queensland. Victoria, with ten teams, accounts for the majority of the competition.
The competition is structured around 23 home-and-away rounds across which teams play 22 games and have one bye, before a four-week finals series in the month of September. The Grand Final is held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground every season.
The Western Bulldogs won the 2016 AFL Premiership after beating the Sydney Swans by 22 points in the grand final.
The winners of the Grand Final win the AFL Premiership, also called the flag. The current reigning premiers are the Hawthorn Hawks, who have won three consecutive premierships in a row.
The AFL’s highest individual award, the Brownlow Medal, is awarded to the ‘best and fairest’ player in the competition for the home-and-away season as determined by the officiating field umpires after each game. Nat Fyfe of Fremantle is the reigning Brownlow Medalist.
The AFL also awards the Coleman Medal each year to the player who kicks the most goals across the home-and-away season. The reigning Coleman Medalist is Josh J Kennedy of the West Coast Eagles.
The competition was founded in 1897 as the Victorian Football League, a breakaway of the Victorian Football Association, and originally comprised of sides exclusively from Victoria. Following expansions throughout the 1980s, the competition’s name was changed to the Australian Football League (AFL).
Only one side, Melbourne University Football Club, has exited the competition since its inception as the VFL. However in 1996, the Fitzroy Football Club and the Brisbane Bears merged to form the Brisbane Lions.
During the 1980s there was a concerted effort to merge the VFL, the South Australian National Football League and the West Australian Football League, following the growing success and profitability of the Victorian competition.
South Melbourne became the first VFL club to relocate interstate, moving to Sydney to become the Sydney Swans in 1982. In 1986 the WAFL and Queensland Australian Football League were awarded licences to join the VFL, leading to the foundation of the West Coast Eagles and Brisbane Bears in 1987.
In the 1987 a salary cap was introduced as a neutralisation policy to inhibit the dominance of the competition’s wealthier franchises.
Essendon and Carlton are the most successful teams in the history of the league having each won the premiership on 16 occasions, though neither has done so since 2000.
Collingwood have won 15 premierships and appeared in 41 grand finals, the most of any club, while Hawthorn have won 15 premierships since 1961 and are widely acknowledge as the most successful team of the past 50 years.