In 2010 the Australian Football League commissioned a report into the state of women's football around the country. Along with findings concerning grassroots and junior football, the report recommended the AFL Commission begin working toward the establishment of a national women's league. While the option of new stand-alone clubs was considered, a model utilising the resources and branding of existing AFL clubs was to be the preferred model for the planned league.
The first on-field step towards the competition took place in 2013, when the AFL announced an exhibition match to be played between women's teams representing Melbourne and Western Bulldogs later that year.
On 15 May 2013, the first women's draft was held, establishing the playing lists for the two clubs in the forthcoming exhibition match. The match was played on 29 June 2013 and marked the first time two women's sides had competed under the banners of AFL clubs. The exhibition series was repeated with one game between the clubs in 2014 and two in 2015, the last of which, played on 16 August 2015, was broadcast on free-to-air television and attracted strong ratings.
The success of these series prompted the AFL to accelerate its plans for a nationwide women's competition, announcing a preferred start date of 2017. Prior to this, the league had announced only aspirational plans to have the women's competition established by the end of the 2010s. The already-planned 2016 exhibition series was expanded at this time, with a total of ten matches to be played in venues across the country and featuring a range of new temporary representative teams.
Details about the branding of the league were released in the second half of 2016. The AFL announced that the league would be named "AFL Women's" on 15 September 2016, with the logo being unveiled on 19 September 2016. The logo is a stylised rendition of an Australian rules football ground goal square and goal posts, drawn from a perspective which shows a "W". On 10 October 2016, the National Australia Bank was named as the league's naming rights sponsor.
AFL Women's operates on a single table system, with no divisions, conferences nor promotion and relegation from other leagues.
In 2016 the AFL opened a process for existing clubs to tender applications for the forthcoming inaugural AFL Women's season. The eighteen senior clubs in the Australian Football League had until 29 April 2016 to place a bid for a licence, with thirteen clubs making bids. The AFL's preferred distribution of clubs was four clubs from Victoria and one each from New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.
The inaugural teams were announced on 8 June 2016. As the only teams to bid in their respective states, Adelaide, Brisbane and Greater Western Sydney were granted licences to compete in 2017. Both Western Australian clubs made bids, with Fremantle's bid chosen ahead of West Coast's. Eight Victorian clubs made bids: Melbourne, Western Bulldogs, Carlton and Collingwood were successful, with Geelong, North Melbourne, Richmond, St Kilda unsuccessful. All five unsuccessful bidders were granted provisional licences, which will enable them to be considered if and when the league expands beyond eight clubs. The first expansion is unlikely to occur until at least 2019.
The competition's 8 teams are based across 5 states of Australia. The majority (4) are based in the Melbourne metropolitan area. The states of New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia have one team each. Tasmania, Australian Capital Territory, and Northern Territory are the only states or mainland territories not to have AFL Women's clubs.
Below are the venues that will be used during the 2017 AFL Women's season.
The club's playing lists were constructed from scratch through the later stages of 2016. All participants in the 2017 are required to be over the age of 17.
Initially, clubs were asked to nominate a list of desired players, with the AFL assigning two of these "marquee" players to each club. In addition, clubs were able to sign a number of players with existing connections to club or with arrangements for club sponsored work or study. This number varied for each club, in an attempt to equitably spread talent across the teams. In addition, clubs were required to recruit two "rookies" - people with no Australian rules football experience in the previous three-year period. The majority of players were later recruited through the 2016 AFL Women's draft. The balance of list spots was filled with free-agent signings in the week following the draft. In total clubs have a 27 active listed players in addition to injury replacements signed to take the spot of long-term injury affected players.
In 2017 the players salary is managed and paid in full by the AFL on behalf of the clubs. A pay deal struck between the league and the AFLPA in November 2016 sets the season payment structure as follows:
In addition players are provided with playing boots and runners, an interstate travel allowance, income insurance, out-of-pocket medical expense coverage and an allowance to pay for a carer for a child under 12 months of age when travelling interstate.
Total payments in 2017 total $2.275 million and in 2018 this will grow to $2.454 million.
Prior to the commencement of the home-and-away season teams are paired off to play an exhibition trial match. In 2017 these matches took place during varying weeks of January.
The AFL Women's home-and-away season last for seven rounds, starting in the first weekend of February and ending in late March. Teams receive four premiership points for a win and two premiership points for a draw. Ladder finishing positions are based on the number of premiership points won, and "percentage" (calculated as the ratio of points scored to points conceded throughout the season) is used as a tie-breaker when teams finish with equal premiership points.
The two highest place teams at the conclusion of the home-and-away season will qualify for the Grand Final match. The winner of this match is the competition's premier. In 2017 the grand final match will be played in the last Saturday in March, during Round 1 of the AFL season.
The following major individual awards and accolades are presented each season:Best & Fairest Trophy - to the fairest and best player in the league, voted by the umpires
Leading Goalkicker Award - to the player who kicks the most goals during the home-and-away season
All-Australian Team - a squad of 22 players deemed the best in their positions, voted by an AFL-appointed committee
Rising Star Award - to the fairest and best young player under the age of 21 as at the start of the calender year, voted by the AFL-appointed All-Australian committee
Grand Final Best on Ground Award - the best player on the ground in the Grand Final, voted by a committee of media members
In its inaugural season all matches will be televised live by affiliate partners the Seven Network and Fox Footy. As part of the initial broadcast deal the free-to-air carrier Seven will show one Saturday night game per week as standard in addition to the league's opening match and Grand Final. Meanwhile, pay TV network Fox Footy will televise all premiership season matches including simulcasts of the Seven-hosted matches other than the Grand Final. Under the current arrangement the two television networks will cover the costs of broadcasting these matches with no licensing fee to be paid to the league in exchange.
The official internet/mobile broadcast partner of the AFL is BigPond, part of Telstra. The company hosts the league website as well as those of each of the eight participation clubs. The AFL has retained digital broadcast rights to matches in the league's inaugural season and will stream all matches live and free on the league website and mobile app.
Outside Australia, the inaugural season is available on Watch AFL.
The National Australia Bank is the league's current and inaugural naming rights partner.
All playing and training equipment as well as all licensed apparel and hats for the league's eight clubs are manufactured by COAR, a division of Cotton On.
Other league sponsors include Wolfblass, Chemist Warehouse and Special K.
Official match day attire together with other club merchandise is sold through the AFL's stores and website as well through the clubs and through some retailers.
Prior to the creation of the league, the AFL ran four years of exhibition matches between sides representing Melbourne and Western Bulldogs. In 2016, the series was expanded to multiple teams from around the country.