A SINGLE ladder will be used for the nine-round NAB AFLW 2021 season, instead of two separate conference ladders.
All games will be ticketed for the first time, while the season itself will start a week earlier (Thursday, January 28) than its customary position of the first weekend in February.
Conferences have been in place for the past two AFLW seasons. The AFL's rationale behind that decision was it would allow teams to only be measured against the sides they played, given not every team played each other.
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Competitive equality between the two pools was a serious issue in 2019 but seemed to be less pronounced in 2020 before the season was ultimately called off due to COVID-19.
The AFL's head of women's football Nicole Livingstone said the single ladder and earlier start had been brought in to ensure the best chance of completing the season in the case of a COVID-19 flare-up.
"The absolute commitment from the AFL remains to complete the season and award an AFLW premier in 2021," Livingstone said.
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"We have been working hard behind the scenes to not only ensure the season commences, but also to allow for us to remain as adaptable as possible as the season progresses in a constantly changing environment.
"While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the community, the health and welfare of everyone remains the priority and the AFL will deliver a full season in a safe manner anchored in the advice of public health officials and medical experts.
"The use of high-performance centres (hubs) and the option of compressing the season were strongly considered and, while a more traditional model is in place for the upcoming season, we know we have the ability to pivot if the circumstances require us to do so and it becomes necessary to complete the season.
"Throughout the planning process we listened to and worked closely with the players, their clubs and the AFLPA to ensure the best possible outcome for everyone in the game.
"We openly acknowledge there are unique challenges and recognise the non-football commitments of both AFLW players and staff, and through this open dialogue, we know the AFLW community is absolutely determined to work through them to achieve a full season."
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With the fixture to be announced on Friday, Livingstone said teams had been placed together in a single 2020 ladder and then broken up into brackets to attempt evenness in a 14-team, nine-round 2021 season.
"In terms of the machinations of that, we've combined the 2020 ladder and then the fixturing team is working through the top four, middle six, bottom four," she said.
"A number of games will then be played with each of those teams within those four-six-four (groups)."
Previously, only select games have been ticketed, usually double-headers with AFL games or to assist with public transport benefits in Perth.
Entry will be $10 each for adults, with those under 18 allowed into matches for free. The introduction of ticketing will allow crowds to attend in a COVID-safe environment.
"We are proud the 2021 season will see all matches ticketed, we have listened to supporters of women’s football who continue to indicate a willingness to pay to attend AFLW matches and support the growth of the competition," Livingstone said.
A limit may be placed on crowd capacity, depending on the locations and the COVID restrictions at the time.
"We're really excited that AFLW, from a crowd point of view – given that Victorians are football-starved – that we'll be the first ones to go to market," she said.
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"We'll obviously continue to work with the governments in term of the size of crowds which are allowed to make sure we're not only protecting our players and our clubs, but we're also doing the right thing by our community.
"We're going to be able to have as many people as the government determines are allowed to watch footy."
The nine-round home and away season and three weeks of finals was previously decided upon in the 2019 Collective Bargaining Agreement.
A full fixture will be released on Friday, and pre-season matches are currently slated for mid-January.