The AFL shows no signs of wavering in its commitment to the fledgling AFLW competition, even as the league enters a period of long financial uncertainty.
Last week AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan emphasised the football community was still very much “in the fight of its life” amid a $500 million rescue loan from NAB and ANZ.
But the league maintains the women’s game will drive much-needed growth in the post-coronavirus landscape, as the AFL faces massive financial repayments over the next decade.
“Both our Chairman and CEO have been clear that we went into this crisis with 18 AFL clubs and 14 AFLW teams and that we will come out the other side with 18 clubs and 14 AFLW teams,” the AFL told The Herald Sun.
The league spent $16.4 million on the AFLW in 2019, and that figure was set to rise to $22.4 million in 2020. The women’s game is yet to generate any broadcast revenue or ticket sales from the competition.
Companies including BHP and Chemist Warehouse have invested in women’s football and its grassroots programs, and AFLW stars star in several advertising campaigns every year.
“The desire of women and girls to be part of our game at every level drives our growth,” AFL commission boss Richard Goyder said.
Individual clubs might still cull their VFLW sides, which cost up to $400,000 to operate. But Collingwood president Eddie McGuire, who has continually reiterated his belief in the women’s game, would appear to be one president standing his ground.
“It has absolutely made football so much money over the last three years. Seriously, you would not know how much money. It’s going to be an absolute revolution for our game. It’s the next stage,” he said last month.
“Women are not being carried along by the AFL. Quite the opposite. The are propelling this game to new heights. Memberships everywhere are up, Collingwood now is 50/50 memberships with women. You will never get a dollar of government money for any infrastructure build unless you have got female sports involved.”
The coronavirus pandemic continues to cast a dark financial cloud over the sports world, with the AFL just one of its many casualties.