How to solve the AFLW fixturing problem

Nic Negrepontis - Fri, 3rd Aug 2018 - 0 Comments

It’s fair to say the AFL has either messed this up or knew what the backlash would be and braced themselves for the fire.

It was reported today by the Herald Sun that the AFL plans to keep the women’s footy season in its six-week block between February and March … despite two more teams being added.

Of course, the AFL hasn’t actually confirmed this yet, but let’s assume it’s happening.

Their decision essentially means some teams won’t play other teams at all, and the home-and-away season will, somehow, be shorter than it was in 2018.

Any decision that ends with the above results really should be scrunched up and thrown in the recycle bin.

Melbourne captain Daisy Pearce was equally unhappy with the decision and teed off on the AFL.

“I get there is a commercial reality that they want to keep this competition within the little free space, eight-week timeslot where there is no sport,” Pearce told SEN Breakfast.

“I thought when those two new teams came in, I was rubbing my hands together thinking, we are going to get a legitimate competition here, will play everyone once and head into a final series, you beauty. It seems not to be the case.

“(AFLW) has been lauded as that, finally there is an elite women’s competition, but with the AFL presenting it as that, it comes with a level of expectation that everyone within the sport, we wear that expectation that this is going to be a professional, elite competition. In reality, this is a gimmicky tournament.”

As per usual, Pearce hits the nail on the head.

Nothing that could be added here would sum up why players and fans should be upset better than her comments, so instead of piling on, let’s try and work out how they came to this decision and what the solution could be.

AFLW staying in its eight-week summer slot essentially means they (the AFL) don’t want it competing with anything – they want to give it clean air.

Cricket and the Australian Open own the sporting landscape over summer and AFLW lost a lot of its momentum last year when the JLT Series started.

It’s understandable they want to minimise the crossover, but, as Pearce said – this is a serious competition, it’s not an entertainment product.

As we’ve seen with the debate surrounding whether new rules should be trialled in AFL games, fans seem to value integrity above all else.

That integrity comes into question when you have 10 teams and a six-round season.

So what’s the solution? AFLW simply has to be a long-form winter competition in the exact same vein as its brother.

This does create issues. AFLW will lose spotlight, venues will be harder to get access to, state-level women’s competitions will need to be adjusted and television/radio coverage will get complicated.

Those are a lot of problems to solve – but the AFL has had since March to work them out for a competition that is still months away. Instead, they’ve sat on their hands.

Starting with the spotlight issue, if you start the women’s season in June (May as of next year with 14 teams), it comes in fresh and can wrap up in the pre-finals bye with the whole footy world watching.

A league of 14 teams means you’ll need a minimum of 13 rounds (because every team needs to play every other team) and likely three weeks of finals. This means roughly 16 weeks all up – a four-month competition.

The men’s season can accommodate by running its bye rounds as the women’s footy season starts, meaning the first three weeks get primetime slots.

They would then play their Grand Final in the pre-finals bye.

As far as television and radio coverage, get creative.

Fox Sports has a thousand channels and can easily fit AFLW in, while on free to air, pitch it to Channel 10 and give them the space to make it their own.

Thursday night and Sunday night can be your two standalone slots where AFLW is essentially in its own primetime.

The rest of the games will have to go up against men’s footy, but that isn’t exactly a bad thing.

At least they’re not playing in summer anymore, as a start.

People will watch what they want to watch and there’ll be more to choose from than ever.

The other issue is this would mean essentially 15 months between the conclusion of the 2018 season and the start of the 2019 season, but that’s a one-off issue and the cost of making the jump.

While this is all overly simplistic, and greater minds may find other issues, it’s certainly better than what is actually happening.

This all stems back to the AFL’s decision to expand so quickly, despite AFLW not being close to ready for it.

The competition needed consolidation and instead, it’s getting rapid expansion.

Now the ball is in the AFL’s court to put out the many fires this is already causing.

In October of 2017, I wrote about 10 issues expansion would cause and the AFL, to date, has answered one of the questions.

They may want to get cracking on the rest.

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