Locker Room Books Blog

AFL Womens league arrives with a bang.

No matter what you thought of women playing footy before Friday 3 February 2017, there is no doubt after it that Women's AFL is here in a big way.

A lock out crowd, a hotly contested game of football and terrific rating numbers show this is an idea whose time has come.

Of course some of that crowd size and the ratings are no doubt in part down to being the new thing in town. However to think that is the only reason, or even that big a part, would to undersell a major moment in female sport in this country.

Going in the AFL thought there might be a crowd around 12,000. That had prompted them to move the game from its original, and to be honest rather dumb, venue of Gosch’s paddock to Ikon Park.

To have a crowd in excess of 24,000 turn up and being forced to lock the gates is simply a mind blowing moment for the sport and women's sport in general in Australia.

Now we have to acknowledge that the AFL is not leading the way here. There are national Basketball, Soccer and Netball women's just to name a few. THe Big Bash also has its won stand alone female competition, that has produced very solid numbers for network ten.

However the difference here is the crowd size and impressive main channel free to air ratings. It suggests there is huge pent up demand for the product and it is not seen as a gimmick by the sporting public.

Full credit needs to be given to the AFL who have built up to this nicely over the last few years.

Exhibition games have been held, bring the best of the best together in curtain raisers to AFL games. An all star game was held in the pre finals bye week last year and carried on the main seven network channel.

This has ensured the fans have been given a taste of the game, gotten to know the better players and importantly decide it is a legitimate form of the game.

So the roll out of the new competition is showing the benefit of all that ground work. Some might say it could have been done quicker but I would say the timing has been just about spot on.

Of course that is not to say everything is perfect. There has been a row over pay and the girls are a long way from them all being able to be full time footballers.

Still whilst it seems arguable that they could be paid more, I think most accept this will take time. Growing the game and its commercial partners is a key for the moment. Hopefully the pay day, so to speak, is not to far down their road for the players.

Player depth is another issue. As originally planned the AFL intended there to be only six teams.

When they got ten applications from the AFL clubs they decided to issue eight licenses. I think that is maybe too many and six was the right number.

The game will take a few more years to develop real depth and the talent pool confined to fewer teams would lead to a better product.

We saw last night, even allowing from some nerves given the crowd, that at the bottom end of each team skills dropped away.

Still many would argue that giving more players a taste, more a chance to make a list is a reasonable price to pay for some scruffy skills.

Those skills though do lead to a lot of missed targets, contested ball and therefore congestion.

Congestion is an issue that even the league conceded was a concern in the practice matches, which saw some quite low scores. There has been some talk of zones, or even the U18 density rule.

However I think the league is right for now to see how it develops over the next few weeks and games. Last night certainly saw the game open up as the fatigue set in.

As problems go though I concede it is not a huge one. This is because the take up of football by junior girls is booming and no doubt the system will quickly produce enough talent not just for these eight teams but the extra two planned in a few years.

I look at my 18 month old daughter and think how great is it she will grow up thinking it is natural for girls to play footy. She will know no different thanks the AFL’s women league and even if she doesn’t play it herself, that is great step forward.

In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the next eight weeks of football. Not as something to fill the hole until the AFL proper starts, but as a worthy competition in its own right and Go Lions!