AFL Women’s – What did we learn?

The 2017 NAB AFL Women’s Competition is underway. More than 50,000 people have passed through the gates over the opening weekend. The AFL are claiming this surprises them, but I am not sure that is really the truth. There was always going to be a large interest in a new AFL product, particularly because footy fans have been starved of the game since the opening week of October and it was free entertainment.

So media hype and the large build up aside, what did we learn?

Standard is not terrific
The biggest thing to take away from the weekend is that you have to start somewhere.

There is no point sugar-coating it, the standard of footy was not up to scratch. That is not a negative, it is just simply that way it is. The fact of the matter though is that these girls have been hurried together in the last quarter of 2016 and are training in addition to doing their everyday jobs. There is also currently limited talent, which was the worry in assembling the competition together so quickly. However, the AFL wanted to get into the market  immediately with this product, so that is going to be the way it is for the time being.

Like it or not, ultimately there has to be more goals scored in a game or people will lose interest relatively promptly. There is currently also very few talent pathways in order for girls to succeed from one level to the next. That will be introduced in coming years and will only have a positive impact on the game and women’s sport in general. Once that is in place and teams work out the sort of players they need, after seeing what other clubs are doing, the standard will rise dramatically. This though will probably take three, maybe four years, but give it enough time and absolutely anything is possible.

What should not get lost in the debate about the standard though is that there is some serious talent out there. There was passages of play that were absolutely brilliant and you would pay to go and see every week. There was no questioning the toughness of anybody out there, to the point that there will be no league if they play like that every week!

Free
Almost every game this season is free entry, which is again a clever move from the AFL. There are not too many sporting events that you can attend these days without having to part ways with your hard-earned coin. Until the standard picks up and the competition finds its feet, every game needs to continue to be free. This will ensure that it remains accessible and can be promoted as a fun family day out.

Grand Final
The AFLW Grand Final must be played at a ground that allows for a reasonable sized crowd, but does not take away from the atmosphere. As discussed in this week’s Summer Scoop, these must be the grounds in contention depending on which state gets hosting rights:

Adelaide – Adelaide Oval

Brisbane – The Gabba

Perth – Domain Stadium

Melbourne – Etihad Stadium (as double-header before St Kilda v Melbourne which would need to be pushed back in time)

Sydney – Spotless Stadium

Summer sport
It is anybody’s guess as to when this competition ends up being played permanently and whether it makes its way into the winter season. As long as it is in summer though, storm breaks such as the one was saw in the game between Melbourne and Brisbane will be a normal occurrence. As will aspects like heat rules and extended half time intervals.

Family affair
In a positive sense, I was taken aback by the amount of people going to the game with their daughters and granddaughters and being so emotional about the whole thing. If despite anything else, the competition encourages a young girl to get off the couch and play sport, whether that be footy or not, that has to be a good thing. Alternatively if it gets a young girl excited about Australia’s great game, there is such a good story in that too. After all, it is Australia’s game, young, old, girl, boy.

Other sports
The AFL have put a lot of effort into this venture, which is a lesson that can be taken away by organisations such as the WNBL and the W-League, who unless you were a die-hard fan, are competitions you would not actually know were on. There will be a talent drain on these competitions if these organisations do not get their acts together. It is a bit of a worry for women’s sport in general, but at the end of the day, it may be the wake up call these other sports need. We will see.

So the opening weekend was a success. A new form of AFL has landed on Australia’s doorsteps and the nation has shown through their attendance at the games and through their viewership on television that there is a market for it right now. AFLW is going to be a patient ride for fans who wish to see a higher skill standard and more talent on the park though. That patience may be rewarded with great things, both for the AFL and sport in general. Just keep watching this space.

Round 2 of the NAB AFL Women’s League kicks off Friday night when the Western Bulldogs host Adelaide.

Picture – Herald Sun

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