Clubs plan for early AFLW entry

Two rounds into the third installment of AFL Women’s Competition, the Kangaroos loom as the competition’s most ominous force.

The Roos currently atop of the AFLW ladder… well, one of the ladders anyway. After this AFLW season has been run and won, after finals spots have been awarded to those who kicked the most goals and won the most games, or happened to be in a friendly conference, the AFLW faces another critical decision. Later this year, the AFLW will announce its expansion plans for the 2021 season with Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and Sydney jostling for positions, as Gold Coast, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast would have already entered the league in 2020.

The Mongrel Punt revealed last week that the AFL is seeking to have its women’s competition aligned to it’s men’s league by the beginning of the new broadcast rights deal that comes into effect in 2023. This means that the four remaining AFL clubs without an AFLW license are positioned to enter the competition at some point within the next four years. Therefore, the AFLW will be forced to undergo rather significant changes in order to cater for this unprecedented expansion such as a new and expanded fixture model, potentially the introduction of a cost for tickets and surely the abolishment of the disastrous conference system that is set to derail the current season.

However, the already limited timeline towards expansion to a “full” eighteen team AFLW competition looks to have been accelerated even further due to the demand of the clubs left waiting in the wings. The Mongrel Punt can confirm that Port Adelaide is planning on entering AFLW within the next three years, either in 2021 or at the latest 2022.

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The club has been preparing for its imminent entry into the AFLW through its participation in the upcoming SANFLW Super Series, designed to provide Port Adelaide with a strong base for entry into the big league. The Power’s incoming AFL Women’s team is also central to its $35 million upgrade of its club base, Alberton Oval, that includes new light towers to ensure AFLW night games can be played at the stadium. Both Greater Western Sydney and the Kangaroos can attest to the importance of functioning light towers for a night game as they learnt the hard way last Friday night at Drummoyne Oval.

Port Adelaide’s earmarked entry into the AFLW in either 2021 or 2022 has significant ramifications for the other three teams seeking a license date. The Power could not be included prior to both Essendon and Hawthorn joining the AFLW fold, due to the AFL’s stance that teams who have previously applied for a license receiving priority over the clubs that have not. This was why Essendon and Hawthorn were unsuccessful in receiving licenses in 2017 (for entry in 2019 or 2020), despite their “strong” and “compelling” proposals, as they did not bid for an original license in 2016 (for entry into the inaugural 2017 season). Both Essendon and Hawthorn also have women’s teams in the VFLW, the strongest women’s competition outside of the AFLW. Therefore, Essendon and Hawthorn are set to join the AFLW before or at the same time as Port Adelaide.

The Sydney Swans are also “absolutely committed” to an AFLW team, despite the fact that they, alongside Port Adelaide, have never applied for a license. The Swans say that an AFLW team isa key component in our future strategy to continue to grow our club and the game in the Sydney market.” Therefore, due to the AFL’s desire to avoid an odd number of teams, the AFLW is left with three options to fulfil its expansion goals.

A.       Essendon and Hawthorn to enter the league in 2021, and Port Adelaide and Sydney to join in 2022.

B.      Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and Sydney to all join the league in 2021.

C.       Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and Sydney to all join the league in 2022.

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All options see the AFLW expand to its optimal eighteen teams by 2022, a year prior to the earmarked 2023. The AFL will have to announce its expansion plans – at least for 2021 – at some point this year and thus, will not be able to gauge the effect of four teams entering the league in 2020 on the quality of the competition, prior to making the decision.

So far in season 2019, the introduction of Geelong and the Kangaroos has not had a detrimental impact on the competition’s standard, partly due to the strength of the two new teams. Therefore, the AFL may feel confident enough to expand the league for the third consecutive year in 2021 making option A or B potentially more likely.

Option A is the more conservative of the two as it avoids eight teams being added to the league in the space of two years in 2020 and 2021. This is likely to be considered unnecessary as an eighteen competition by 2021 is two years ahead of schedule.

The AFL Women’s Competition is Australian Football’s fastest train, so as the remaining clubs attempt to jump on board as quickly as possible, how fast is too fast?

 

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