Sport AFL AFL Women’s: How the competition became so popular, so quickly

AFL Women’s: How the competition became so popular, so quickly

Ikon Park was packed for last week's match between Carlton and Collingwood. Photo: Getty
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A lockout for their first game, more than 50,000 fans at the first round and a national TV audience of close to 900,000 for one match – it is fair to say the AFL Women’s competition has hit the ground running.

For the second week in a row, the league has had to move a match due to crowd demands – something established women’s competitions such as the WNBL and the W-League, which have been running for years, couldn’t even dream about.

So why has the AFLW taken off – and how has it happened so quickly?

Dr Alan Pomering, an expert in sports marketing from the University of Wollongong’s Faculty of Business, said that curiosity, access and timing has combined for the perfect formula.

“There are many reasons for the initial success of AFLW,” Pomering told The New Daily.

“There’s an appetite for AFL, there’s a novelty value in seeing something new, there’s a curiosity factor.

“Free-to-air television [provided through the Seven Network] is important for making it easier to access the sport and to build awareness of the leagues and teams.

“And a lot of people are just ready to see football again,” he says, adding that the AFL chose their ‘window’ wisely.

“You don’t want too much head-to-head competition, especially when you’re launching a new product.”

Pomering suggests that there are probably also broader societal factors at play.

“It represents a bit of a move toward more gender equality,” he said.

“It’s part of a bigger social trend that people are ready and eager to see women moving into more traditional male roles.”

Jess Cameron is one of many players to have swapped codes to play in the inaugural AFLW season.

Jess Cameron playing for the Melbourne Stars. Photo: Getty

Cameron, who has represented Australia in cricket and played in the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) for the Melbourne Stars, is playing for Collingwood.

She believes there’s never been a better time to be a female playing sport – and feels the huge interest in AFLW will only benefit other sports.

“As it becomes more professional and it’s all sports competing with each other, every other sport is pushing a bit harder as well,” she told The New Daily.

“There’s also a lot more people getting behind women’s sport. Now there’s more opportunity for girls.”

Cameron said the example of the WBBL should mean the AFLW only grows over time.

“I can see it changing in two years,” she said of the AFLW.

“Look at the WBBL. The amount of interest has increased significantly from one year to the next.”

So can other women’s competitions hope to compete against this potential juggernaut?

The W-League can learn a thing or two from AFLW, says Lou Sticca. Photo: AAP

Long-time soccer promoter Lou Sticca believes the W-League should learn some lessons from the fledgling AFLW.

In a particularly intriguing LinkedIn post, he suggested more attention be paid to the timing of the competition and that admission fees be dropped.

Sticca, founder and CEO of Carlton Soccer Club in the former National Soccer League and now Managing Director of Tribal Sports Group, puts the AFLW’s initial success down to history, media coverage and clever marketing.

“You have clubs that are 100+ years old … (so) you have a pretty large and passionate supporter base to draw on,” he said.

“(You have) the immense buying power and influence the AFL has in media across the country.

“Other great feel factors like using suburban grounds that still hold so much romance with AFL fans and that fans who flocked to the AFLW were not charged with admission fees, it was a pretty enticing opportunity for people to have got on board.

“The AFL planned this perfectly, executed it professionally and will throw more resources at the AFLW to ensure it maintains an upward trend.”

And it is hard to argue with that.

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