Expansion FAQ: Talent pool, Christmas break, what next?

THERE are big changes afoot for the NAB AFLW competition.

Expansion will see all teams enter by the END (yes, the end) of 2023, with the season starting date shifted to December to give the competition clean air.

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

Will there be a break over Christmas?

While the exact details are yet to be nutted out, there will be a break. In years past, there has been a week off for Christmas and New Year during the AFLW pre-season.

What about playing in summer?

Given the AFLW has previously been played in February and March, with practice matches in mid-January, the AFL already has provisions in place, including shorter quarters and extra water carriers, as well as an extreme heat policy.

Why move the season instead of having curtain-raisers?

Generally, players prefer to have a standalone match rather than curtain-raisers to the AFL games, as they feel it diminishes their own product. The scheduling issues of 16 AFL and AFLW games every weekend is an issue, particularly when it comes to broadcasting.

The first bounce of the 2021 NAB AFLW Grand Final between Adelaide and Brisbane at Adelaide Oval on April 17, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Is there a chance we could have all 18 clubs in for the 2022/23 season (season seven)?

If the four remaining clubs meet the criteria set out by the AFL Commission, then yes. Otherwise, clubs will have to reapply for a 2023/24 intake, where all remaining clubs will be included, with AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan saying, "we're confident we'll get them all in by season eight."

What do clubs have to do to be successful in their application, and when will they find out?

Clubs have until July 9 to put in an application, with the final decision to be made at August's AFL Commission meeting.

"Broadly, it's list build strategy, a whole-club look at how the program will be integrated into the club, the facilities are incredibly important, business model, corporate support, consumer support, the business case they're going to build out around it," McLachlan said.

Are there concerns about the depth of talent, especially in Victoria with up to 10 teams?

"The advice, as we manage all those things, is by season seven, is that we'll have another 150 young women coming through, which will enable us to expand up to all four clubs if they're ready. It's managing the needs and views, but it's also listening to the views of those on the ground, who say by season seven, there'll be enough talent," McLachlan said.

"I completely understand the coaches and those close to it who know if you expand, the talent pool is thinner, but when you look at the needs of the clubs and supporters who don't have an AFLW team, and the need for the competition to become whole – I hope people understand we're on a journey, we understand those issues … let's look 10 years, not just the next few."

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What will a season with 18 teams look like? 

Short answer is, we don't yet know. The CBA (set to expire in October, 2022), dictates the upcoming AFLW season will have 10 rounds and three weeks of finals. The next season structure will be finalised through the next CBA. The clubs, players and AFLPA will be consulted before the decision is made.

How does it affect the upcoming Sign and Trade Period?

Dates are expected to be released early next week, although most clubs have already publicly confirmed their initial delistings. Details about contract lengths (currently limited to a maximum of two seasons) will be worked out, especially if it would restrict player movement when teams are introduced.

What about a potential clash with tennis and cricket?

Reading between the lines, it looks as though the AFL is focused on a strong presence at the start and the end of the season, ceding some ground and media attention through the middle rounds to the other sports.

"The start will be really important for us, to make sure we do get off to a good start. We think the window we select will get us off to a good start. Then the finish, in terms of the Grand Final, will also be important with all eyes on us before the men's starts," AFL head of women's football Nicole Livingstone said.

AFLW EXPANSION Four new clubs, no more AFL overlap

Are the broadcasters on board?

The Seven Network and Fox Sports also hold the rights to the cricket, inclusive of the international schedule and the W/BBL.

"There have been discussions about that, and they're great supporters, our broadcasters," McLachlan said.

How will club staff working across both competitions handle the near year-long footy season?

"It's part of the reason (behind the season move). Season six, which we're going to now, a definitive move as to where AFLW stands, for clean air, for our supporters so they can get to games, men and women, for our broadcasters and for our clubs and their staff, our staff and others. It works on a number of levels," McLachlan said.

Brisbane fans celebrate the Lions' 2021 Grand Final win at Adelaide Oval. Picture: AFL Photos

What have the clubs said?

Essendon

"Importantly and holistically, our club is ready. Our people are ready. Strong foundations have been laid, and we are all aligned and united in our determination to live by our 'five teams, one club' mentality. Incorporating the AFL and soon-to-be AFLW, VFL and VFLW programs, as well as our wheelchair football team, we are ready to finally become a true, and complete, club.

"With these timelines now communicated by the AFL and AFL Commission, we are confident we will have the AFL Commission’s support to enter the AFL Women’s competition by season seven." - CEO Xavier Campbell

Hawthorn

"Hawthorn is disappointed that after months of discussion with the AFL today’s announcement still leaves the club unable to provide Hawthorn members and fans with the surety of a solid timeline for entry. However, today’s news will not diminish the club’s efforts in kicking down the door to securing entry to the AFLW competition in season seven which will commence in December 2022.   

"Hawthorn has long lobbied for an AFLW licence and despite the hurdles along the way, the club has stayed true to its commitment to furthering women’s participation and development of pathways in women’s football and is well prepared to field its own AFLW team." - Hawthorn press release

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Port Adelaide

"Today is an exciting day for Port Adelaide. We’ve made our ambition of fielding an AFLW team very clear for some time now. Today’s announcement provides clarity for the next steps to achieve this vision and add further cultural diversity to the Port Adelaide football club of the future.

"We have a clear vision and plans to provide elite training and playing facilities at Alberton Oval to provide our team with the best opportunity to be successful, whilst ensuring that Alberton also is one of the premier AFLW venues in the competition immediately." - CEO Matthew Richardson 

Sydney

"We absolutely welcome the AFL Commission’s decision to expand the AFLW competition and the clear message from the Sydney Swans is that we are preparing to join the competition in 2022.

"That is the loud and clear message from our board and echoed by our members, fans and corporate partners who are passionate to see the Sydney Swans as part of the AFLW competition." - CEO Tom Harley