AFLW – The next generation: Will it have its mother’s eyes?


So what new AFLW format and ‘business model’ will be born out of the AFL discussions occurring in the next few weeks and months ?  Is a dose of post-natal blues looming – or should I have faith that the wise elders will follow in the great traditions of their footy forebears, and not throw out the baby with the bath water ?


As Y Wroby and others have written, it’s a nervous time for many – pacing the corridors hoping for the announcement of a healthy child with ten strong fingers and a raking left foot.  And we envisage wistfully that people meeting her will be inspired to say, nodding quietly, ‘Ahh she’s been here before’.


The new being doesn’t have to look exactly like me, but should be of the same species at least, or it defeats the purpose of human evolution and our communal history – and I might not relate positively to the new creature if its ‘modified’ form is very weird.  Will I want to know this new version of one of my favourite things, and love it as my own, or will I reject it as a strange abomination ?  It will depend on whether the new creature is recognisable as having the social and personal history and purpose of the game at its core – and contain all the best things about the imperfect struggle and inheritance that is the game of footy.


Warnings abound about the commodification of the game of Aussie Rules, and its not news to say that most professional sports have moved inexorably toward a paradigm where maximising advertising dollars becomes the most significant reason for the game’s existence, and (if unchecked) can result in distortions of the sport itself, or the creation of new formats that are purely designed to be a more efficient platform to promote products.   Let’s be realistic, everyone wants to see lots of investment in the women’s game from sponsors, advertisers etc, and our desire to see the AFLW become a fully professional option for players and coaches means the commercial element of the game is critical – however we also need to retain the code itself and community base of the game as we know and love it; that which attracted and addicted us in the first place. If we don’t, we all lose – including the investors.  AFLX flexed this driver muscle clumsily and naively – a highly commercial product created anonymously to promote other products, with some small references to the sport that gave birth to it (cute AFLX – its got its father’s knees), but the affection and engagement from the newborn’s relations has been negligible.


The move to maximise advertising value has occurred in a range of sports (all to do with multi-platform broadcasting), including T20 whose format is conveniently centred around the hitting of beefy sixes, accompanied by advertising messages.*   Again, its not a case of grumbling about the greedy advertisers, they’re doing what they have done for millennia ( the third oldest profession?) – it’s acknowledging that advertising needs to be accommodated to bring money into the system for women footballers, but not at the expense of the game itself or its role in our communities.


Ironically, as we have seen with the men’s cricket team, when a core precept of the game is compromised, the advertisers and corporates are very quick to jump off the brandwagon; leaping over the hedge to chase the commercial goodwill elsewhere.  So beware risking the form, history, and spirit of the game in search of the short sharp dollar, as it’s the dollars that will jump ship when the game that people relate to is significantly compromised in form or fashion.


The Chinese, Spanish, and others have adopted a UNESCO-regulated concept called ‘intangible cultural heritage’, which protects, respects, and celebrates ideas or concepts, skills, and traditions that represent and encapsulate a region’s social history and culture. It’s a beautiful idea.  We are all stewards of the intangible heritage that is the game of Aussie Rules as it has been played by men and women for many decades, which has often been the sanctuary and glue of families and communities. Perhaps the code of Aussie Rules should be nominated for listing with UNESCO, so that it can’t be completely twisted out of shape to accommodate ephemeral commercial purposes, without due acknowledgment of the history and social purpose of the game.  (No Mr Hocking you are not starting with a blank piece of paper – a century of social and personal history has already been written on that village wall).


This doesn’t mean that things don’t change – they always have – but it means that any decisions to significantly change the format or rules of the women’s game (if indeed such decisions or review are even necessary… I’m not convinced) must be done according to a widely consulted set of criteria, where commercial value is not at the top of that list, but is an important element in the discussion.  With some longer term planning and not always blindly using the AFLM business model as the template, a way can be found that allows women to play (and coach) in a fully professional competition, allows advertisers to invest and get their two bob’s worth, and supports the continuation of the game in pretty much its existing format – which is the foundation of all of the above.


Resources could be found if the AFL puts less emphasis on geographic expansion, and more on demographic expansion – i.e. making sure that half the entire population who have been disenfranchised until very recently, can play the sport at a grass roots and elite level, with more than part-time and left-over resources.


I and many others are ‘invested’ in the enormous social and community benefits of footy to nearly half a million girls and women now playing the game, those who have battled against the odds to play in the past.  When the advertising element sits at the very top of the list of criteria, things go awry and strange sporting creatures are born that don’t resemble their parents at all. They are then in danger of being rejected by the very community which is needed to nurture and support them. The cuckoos are watching the nest.


*Don Bradman only hit 6 sixes in his entire test career ( 80 innings and nearly 7000 runs) – was his batting therefore lacking in entertainment value ?  He wouldn’t have been selected for our current ODI or T20 teams – too slow.  Funny though, people flocked in great numbers to watch him at his art – and the adulation and media coverage for decades was god-like.  Have we really changed that much as spectators ?  Has the human concentration span changed so dramatically in a couple of generations? Or are we just being served up different stuff, stuff based on us now being categorised as consumers rather than spectators ?





  1. MGLFerguson says

    Sometimes I wonder whether the commoditization and commercialization of sport is as much the problem as the hamfisted way that it is done. From the perspective of marketing, I believe that the principle that “more is better” is a rationalization, not a fact: As an example, last year, the NFL Atlanta Falcons reduced concession prices by 50% in response to a perception that it cost too much to take a family to a football game; they found that as a result, gross revenues actually increased by 16% as a result.

  2. Yvette Wroby says

    Hi Verity,
    again you write with such wisdom and sense. Let’s write to UNESCO and get this going. I want to keep footy as footy, and allow all to flourish rather than to sell our souls to China, New Zealand and the moon.

    To watch as millions get spent on these projects overseas while the women’s game this year has been battered and bruised from lack of positive attention…and Tassie and country footy in strife…it’s heartbreaking.

    With Tasmanian footy dying, and a review of AFLW happening, there are two immediate actions that need to be taken – proper pathways to get our women’s coaches/players kept in the system and all that entails and shift Gold Coast to Tasmania and make them the Tassie Devils. And support our country football clubs too. Read Paul Daffey’s great book “Behind the Goals”. Terrific work on history and current state of Victorian Country footy.

  3. Jarrod_L says

    I like your passion and would be a happy co-signatory to a UNESCO push, Yvette…but I have to say “Et tu Brute?” about the Suns bashing. I don’t think slaying any more teams, US-style is the answer, admirable as their goals may be. After we’ve had our (apologies for the overblown analogy) Hiroshima/Nagasaki moment with Fitzroy, why break the peace? Today Gold Coast to Tasmania, tomorrow St Kilda to New Zealand? North Melbourne to Ballarat? Be careful what you wish for.

    Edit: I almost forgot to add – Queensland has wonderful women’s and girls’ footy programs & there will be plenty of AFLW stars hailing from the Sunshine state for years to come. What good would cancelling the Suns’ licence do to women’s footy in a strong women’s footy area?

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