OPINION: AFL women’s league scheduled at the wrong time
The AFL’s move to create a women’s competition in 2017 can only be applauded.
For years we’ve known that women are just as passionate about the game as their male counterparts and the opportunity for women to play at the highest level is the next extension of female involvement in Australia’s most recognised game.
However, while the game is recognised, we have to be honest, that the players who will take field in the inaugural season of the women’s league, won’t be.
To most, the names Tayla Harris, Hannah Sexton and Jess Cameron mean little – for now.
And that’s because fan exposure to women’s football has been limited in recent years.
Yes, there are exhibition matches played around the country, but they’re not at regular enough intervals to allow fans to build a familiarity with the players.
Last year, the WBBL made in roads with fans beyond the expectations of Cricket Australia and its broadcast partners.
Such was the interest in the women’s game, Network Ten moved matches from its digital channel, ONE, to its primary channel to capitalise on viewer numbers.
The reason it worked was because the WBBL was played concurrently to the BBL.
Many WBBL matches were played as ‘curtain raisers’ to the BBL.
Double headers were held at the Gabba, MCG and SCG, with fans getting in early to watch the girls before the boys.
Fans, who may not have considered watching the WBBL, were exposed to it by default, many of whom subsequently came away from the game wanting more.
Now, the AFL has to do the same, and work off the Cricket Australia blueprint.
To get fans behind the women’s league, you must expose fans to it.
The AFL’s plan to hold the women’s season during February and March doesn’t achieve the desired objective of getting traditional AFL followers involved and behind this new concept.
First, it’s still summer ? Footy, is, was and always will be a winter game (and games that are played in February and early March, are rarely taken seriously).
Secondly, it’s still cricket season.
The success of the BBL and WBBL grows at an exponential rate, and a longer season is on the horizon
Why would you want to go head-to-head with what is already a juggernaut? As they say, you’ve got to pick your battles.
Thirdly, in February, families to head to the coast on weekends, not to suburban venues for a game of footy. Just the way it is.
Lastly, and most importantly, the women’s league is not yet well enough established to bring in sufficient crowd numbers by itself.
Yes, family and friends of players will turn up, but, that core football audience, which is pivotal to the league’s long term success, will be missing.
In order to get that audience, you have to give fans a regular taste of women’s football.
Week in, week out. Let fans see what it has to offer. Let them see how entertaining it is.
Let the fans see that the women are as skilful, as athletic and as tough (maybe even tougher) than their male equivalent.
And, there is the perfect timeslot to do that and that’s pre-game, as a curtain raiser to AFL Premiership season matches.
Fans have been calling out for the return of the curtain raiser, well, here’s the ideal product.
Yes, state leagues may be deprived of some of their best players. But, if you want the AFL Women’s League to be successful, and to become the juggernaut that the WBBL is quickly becoming, then the women’s AFL season must run parallel with the men’s.