Statement: Commission endorses AFLW expansion, December start

- AFL Commission endorses further expansion of NAB AFLW Competition
- All 18 AFL clubs to have an AFLW team by 2023
- NAB AFLW Season Six to begin in December 2021 and have clear air throughout

The AFL is calling for submissions from Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and the Sydney Swans to join the NAB AFL Women's Competition after the AFL Commission this week gave the green light for further expansion of the competition.

The Commission has committed to all 18 AFL clubs having a NAB AFLW team by the beginning of Season Eight – 2023, with the ability for clubs, based on their submissions and readiness, to be admitted into the competition as early as Season Seven – 2022.

The decision to expand the competition again, after the AFLW was expanded from eight teams to 10 teams in 2019 and then to 14 teams in 2020, comes as the number of girls and women playing football had grown to more than 600,000.

The four clubs seeking an AFLW licence have been given until July 9, 2021 to provide a submission on their readiness to enter the national competition, including detailing their team build strategy, corporate support and facilities.

The AFL Commission expects to make a decision on the club submissions at its meeting in August this year.

We don't feel that the competition is whole without all 18 clubs and we know from the clubs that they don't feel whole now without an AFLW team

Gillon McLachlan

The AFL Commission has also endorsed a change in the timing of the NAB AFLW Competition to ensure the elite women's season has its own window from Round One through to the Grand Final, removing any overlap with the Toyota AFL Premiership Season.

This timing provides an ability to optimise the audience and coverage, particularly for the NAB AFLW Finals Series, as well as supporting other considerations such as maximising attendance and participation objectives.

Season Six, which will increase from nine rounds to 10 rounds plus three weeks of finals, will now begin in December 2021 with the NAB AFLW Grand Final to be held in mid-March ahead of the opening round of the Toyota AFL Premiership Season.

In the short term, the AFL will work with the existing 14 AFLW clubs to ensure that when an 18- team competition occurs they will be in the best position to continue to grow and be competitive, while also working with the expansion teams on talent pathways and list building to ensure they have access to experienced players and that the emerging player pathways are supported to drive the demand for new talent.

Expansion gets green light as AFLW takes 'important step'

01:40 May 13. 2021. 5:34 PM

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan and head of women's football Nicole Livingstone reveal the AFLW expansion plans

The AFL remains focused on converting the growth of the game at a junior level, providing

players with the best opportunity and pathways to enhance their skills and be ready to make an immediate impact across the extra 120 playing spots available once an 18-team competition eventuates.

Expansion to the remaining four clubs would immediately deliver a further two million-strong supporter base to follow an AFLW Club and also significantly increase the number of club corporate partners who could support the broader competition.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said the Commission's view was that in order to accelerate the growth of the NAB AFLW Competition and accelerate the need to deliver greater opportunities for AFLW players, it was important to engage all 18 AFL Clubs and their supporter bases.

Mr McLachlan said AFLW was driving massive growth among girls and women with more than 600,000 female participants and more than 67,000 women and girls playing the game each week – a jump of 100% on 2015 numbers.

"The NAB AFLW Competition has built a new audience base for the code with some 4.5m AFLW fans, 155,908 attendees, 6.1m viewers and an incredible 20 per cent of supporters who are new or first new time AFL attendees," Mr McLachlan said.

We have 420 women playing the game at the elite level and that will grow to 540 players by the time all four remaining AFL clubs join the competition

Nicole Livingstone

"But we don't feel that the competition is whole without all 18 clubs and we know from the clubs that they don't feel whole now without an AFLW team. AFLW is not just a competition that makes our game better but a culture that makes our whole industry better.

"We have seen the interest grow as we went from eight teams to 10 and then to 14 and we expect that growth to continue as we move to engage all 18 Clubs and their supporters. Clubs and their supporters want to be part of the AFLW, and we want another two million supporters to get behind their AFLW teams, Mr McLachlan said.

"AFLW has significant momentum and we want to keep that momentum and bring the power and the supporter base behind all 18 clubs before the end of 2024. The standard of play has continued to lift as we have expanded the competition and we are seeing more free-flowing and attacking football as more talent comes through the pathways.

AFL General Manager Women's Football Nicole Livingstone said AFLW already was the single biggest employer of professional sportswomen in the country.

"We have 420 women playing the game at the elite level and that will grow to 540 players by the time all four remaining AFL clubs join the competition," Ms Livingstone said.

"We have created a clear pathway for girls and women from Auskick to the elite competition and we are committed to continuing to work with the players, the AFLPA and the clubs over the coming years to ensure AFLW is not only the sport of choice for women but it is a sport that provides more women the opportunity to choose to make it the career of choice."