AFLW players have struck an agreement with the AFL to play a 10-round regular season in 2023 as their push continues for an extended competition in future years.
The AFL confirmed on Monday the eighth season of its women’s competition will begin on September 1, with four weeks of finals culminating in a December grand final.
The agreement leaves the AFLW season shorter than premier women’s competitions in some rival codes, including soccer’s A-League Women, which is expanding to a 22-round home-and-away model, plus finals, next season.
AFLW players have been pushing for a regular season of at least 12 rounds and remain hopeful of eventual expansion to 17 rounds to allow all 18 teams to play each of their rivals once.
The most recently completed AFLW season was held between late August and the end of November in 2022 and was also played over 10 regular rounds and featured four weeks of finals.
Players are also seeking a move towards full-time contracts in ongoing negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the AFL.
But the women’s competition is facing a worrying dip in television ratings and attendances, and the league is only willing to commit to “sustainable growth” beyond this year.
“Our aim now is to make 2023 the best season yet, while we collaborate on the sustainable growth of the competition, both in number of games, attendances and overall engagement,” AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said in a statement.
“The AFL is incredibly proud of the growth in women’s football in the past seven years and remain committed to growing the competition in a sustainable way as we continue to invest heavily in driving attendance and viewership this season.”
Television ratings are reportedly down 70 per cent on the inaugural AFLW season in 2017, while attendances have also fallen 60 per cent since the competition’s expansion to 18 teams last year.
AFL Players Association boss Paul Marsh said the players’ agreement on a 10-round regular season formed part of the ongoing CBA negotiations with the AFL.
“(The agreement) comes with a commitment from the AFL for growth in AFLW games from 2024 and beyond,” Marsh said in a statement.
“Players believe the release of the fixture will provide fans and clubs with the certainty needed to deliver a successful and exciting 2023 season of AFLW.
“The CBA negotiations between the AFLPA and AFL remain ongoing. Progress has been made in recent weeks, however there is still much work to be done before a proposed deal can be considered by players.”
Reigning premiers Melbourne will open the eighth AFLW season when they take on Collingwood at Ikon Park on September 1.
The schedule has been confirmed for the first nine rounds of the competition, with round 10 left floating to allow flexibility leading into the finals.
(Australian Associated Press)