GEORGIE PARKER: AFL should follow A-League in scheduling men and women double headers to spotlight AFLW

Georgie Parker
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Double-headers for AFLW and AFL matches like the A-League does would boost crowd numbers for the female code.
Double-headers for AFLW and AFL matches like the A-League does would boost crowd numbers for the female code. Credit: Getty Images

The women of the AFLW have been fighting for a longer season for years.

When I played in 2018-19, the season was just seven games; last year, it was a whopping (sarcasm) 10, but, with a proper finals series at least.

An announcement this week says the AFL is excited to be bringing us an extra game this season. Eleven matches in the season (for an 18 team competition mind you), starting during the men’s pre-finals bye round, just like last year.

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An extra game! Sounds nice in theory, but there are are whole bunch of caveats around these games before the league will invest in a longer season again.

Before it will expand to 14 games in 2027, (still not long enough to play each other once mind you), it must meet “key audience metrics” for both broadcast and crowd numbers.

“Sure, seems fair enough! Does that mean we get prime time matches that are in stadiums and easily accessible for fans?” we all ask.

Crickets.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 24: Georgie Parker of the Magpies runs with the ball during the AFLW Rd 4 match between Collingwood and GWS at Morwell Recreation Reserve on February 24, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Georgie Parker playing for the Magpies in 2019. Credit: Michael Dodge/Getty Images/AFL Media

Well no, that would be too practical and easy. They can have 5pm matches in places like Frankston on a Friday during the men’s finals series or 11am matches on Grand Final day. That won’t get lost in the fanfare at all…

To put clear metrics yet make it hard for the casual fan is incredibly unfair, and is setting the league up for failure. To grow the game, the league needs to tap into the casual, or new, fans. The diehards will always turn up.

So we need to make it bloody easy for them. Mid-week games, or undesirable weekend time slots doesn’t exactly give those games the best chance of attracting a wider audience.

The AFLW is being asked to reach a broader audience, but by fighting with one hand tied behind its back.

Instead of helping the AFLW leverage off the AFL’s fan base, it’s making them fight for time with broadcasters, for media coverage, and for the fans themselves. If they’re going to make the men’s and women’s seasons overlap, then they need to leverage off each other and make it easy for all to coexist, much like the A-League has been doing - with great success.

The A-league women’s 2023-2024 season has been the highest attending women’s sporting code in Australia. Higher than AFLW, even though the marketing budget of the AFLW would be substantially bigger.

Part of this is obviously the Matildas’ effect from the highly successful Women’s World Cup last year, but part of it is the game day approach from the league, and they should be applauded for it.

GOSFORD, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 21: Kyah Simon of the Mariners heads the ball during the A-League Women Semi Final match between Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC at Industree Group Stadium, on April 21, 2024, in Gosford, Australia. (Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)
Kyah Simon of the Mariners heads the ball during the A-League Women semi-final between Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC in Gosford on Sunday, Credit: Jeremy Ng/Getty Images

Now, I’ve never been one for double headers if they can be avoided for a range of reasons. Often they aren’t marketed as double headers, but marketed as a curtain raiser (usually the women’s match), and then the “main event”, which is more often than not the men.

However, the A-League does it well, leaning in to the one-club mentality, playing the same teams in both the men’s and women’s matches, and a clear equal approach in how they’re viewed by the league, and therefore the fans.

We have such a parochial attachment to our sporting teams and the A-League is using the teams’ colours rather than the gender of the players as the selling point in these double headers.

You want to watch Perth Glory or Melbourne Victory? Well, you can often watch them twice at the same spot, how great is that!? If you’re a fan of the men’s team, you should also be a fan of the women’s team - it’s the same sport.

This means the women are getting proper grounds, in proper time slots. You just need to look to England and the growth of club football matches through thought out scheduling which results in bigger crowds.

The Arsenal Women’s team for example used to play their matches at a ground with a capacity of 4000 people. As a result of moving five of their eight home matches to a ground with a capacity of 60,000 people, the women’s side now averages more fans than more than half of the men’s Premier League clubs.

I’m not saying all the AFLW matches need to be played at the MCG or the SCG, but to hide the matches away where it’s hard to attend is doing the AFLW, and its fans, a disservice.

Alessia Russo of Arsenal celebrates with teammate Caitlin Foord after scoring her team's second goal during the Barclays Women's Super League match between Arsenal FC and Leicester City on Sunday.
Alessia Russo of Arsenal celebrates with teammate Caitlin Foord after scoring her team's second goal during the Barclays Women's Super League match between Arsenal FC and Leicester City on Sunday. Credit: Alex Burstow/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

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