Yesterday, former AFL player Leigh Matthews tweeted: “Using income from men’s sport to fund women’s sport is opening up a real can of worms for administrators, should you spend what you don't earn?”
Matthews, here’s a lesson in economics: as always when a business is starting out, it needs to be supported before it can get on its own two feet. You need to spend money to make money, and it’s rare for a business to be able to survive without external investment within the first three years. AFL Women’s is no different.
And there’s no evidence to show that investing money in AFLW won’t reap returns. The thirst for women’s AFL, and women’s sport in general, is there. At least 27 percent of the AFL participation base is now female. Thanks to the establishment of AFLW, little girls who start playing AFL Auskick in 2017 will never not have role models to look up to in the women’s league. And now that they have pathways to professional careers, there’s no reason that the women’s game won’t become as strong and popular as the men’s.
More than one million viewers tuned into the Women’s All-Stars exhibition match this September, making it the largest overall audience in AFL-obsessed Melbourne of any previous AFL game during the 2016 home and away season. That night, #AFLWomensGame peaked as Twitter's seventh top trend worldwide.
NAB, the naming sponsor for AFLW, obviously believes in this thirst for the women’s league, and understands that this is an investment in the future. “[AFL Women’s] gives footy fans, especially young girls and boys, inspirational role models to help nurture their passion for the game,” said NAB CEO Andrew Thorburn when they were announced as naming sponsor. “We don’t just sponsor football, we grow it, and we want to make it a better game for all Australians.”
And that’s what Aussie Rules has always been about – inclusion, diversity, community-building, teaching the value of teamwork. Giving a helping hand to young, talented, up-and-coming players who need a bit of support to get going is just a continuation of the ‘Aussie rules’ that AFL has been teaching us and our kids for generations.
More than one million viewers tuned into the Women’s All-Stars exhibition match this September
But I’d like to point out that this is not just about AFL. Just as the establishment of the Women's National Basketball Association in the US helped increase the popularity of basketball, generally, over there, the establishment of the Women’s Big Bash cricket here is creating new audiences for cricket. The same thing is likely to happen with the launch of AFLW. The launch of the league represents a pivotal time for women’s sport, and from my experience at Women’s Health’s and marie claire our audiences couldn’t be more excited as are the footy clubs who are well engaged with the womens game. So get with it! We’ll definitely be tuning in.