• Ian Stacker

AFLW throws down the gauntlet

Hi everyone and welcome to 2017…yep I know it’s February, it’s taken a while to get back into the swing of things with school holidays to be had but it’s time to start blogging again. All the best for a great year no matter what your passion


This week’s story;

The AFLW burst onto the scene last weekend and set off quite a bomb in the field of women’s sports. There have been all sorts of commentary on the league, the standard of the players, the opportunity finally given to females to suddenly be able to pursue a career in Aussie Rules Football.

The spectacle of Carlton v Collingwood in the season opener was as good a presentation of an event as you could hope for. Plenty of media exposure and build up before the event, a full house, live TV coverage and excessive media exposure dissecting the game for days after the event.

So how did this happen? What impact on women’s basketball does this have? What does this mean for women’s sport?

There are plenty of topics that could be stimulated from the amazing opening weekend of women’s footy.

Let’s start with how great it is that footy has finally given women the chance to showcase the sport. It was surprising to hear so many of the girls reminiscing about how they played footy at primary school and that there was no pathway from there to continue in the sport. Not too sure whose fault that was, when I suggested to my wife that perhaps there was nothing stopping people interested in women’s AFL creating a pathway it didn’t end well…for me.

When I pointed out how lucky she was to have had a pathway into basketball from primary school all the way to the Olympic games (Kate played around 300 games in the WNBL) she pointed out that she still holds the Templestowe Heights Primary School record for the longest punt kick – male or female – in school history – she knows because she is now PE teacher at the same school. So perhaps a footy pathway back in those days may have seen her head in a different direction.

My next discussion point was on how great it was that basketball is an Olympic Sport and every girl can dream of playing in the Green and Gold one day. She highlighted that yes, it is great if you happen to be one of the 10-14 players who regularly make the National teams in a generation, whereas this year, in its first year, over 100 girls will have the chance to play AFL at the highest level possible in the whole World!! They will get the chance to build a profile in the Australian media, the only one that really matters to most Aussies, they will start to attract personal sponsors, get to be known with all sorts of corporate and business opportunities following. She makes a good point.

So how come the WNBL, in over 30 years of existence, hasn’t been able to come anywhere near the media exposure the AFLW could generate on one weekend?

It’s clear to me the reason for the overwhelming success of last weekend was the powerful support of the AFL. The girls league has always existed, it was played on local footy grounds for local clubs. Rebranded on the back of big name AFL clubs and suddenly it was a prime-time TV event drawing a National audience rather than the usual family and friends.

Its pays to advertise, there is no doubt about it.

Larry Kestelman has shown this formula works. Invest in something, invest in the people running the organisation and invest in advertising the product. If the product has any merit at all, then the people and the money will come.

So, is the best chance for the WNBL to step into the spot light to cuddle up to the NBL and hope they see merit and advantage in boosting the profile of the women’s game? I don’t think there is any doubt at all the short-term success for women’s AFL has certainly enhanced the AFL brand. Has anybody seen any negative stories about what has happened? It has put footy back into the media a few weeks earlier than usual. It certainly appears to have been a great move by the AFL.

I would think though that the NBL is still working on establishing its brand in the sports media and fan base. The re-emergence of the league this year has been amazing which further shows that with good investment and good minds involved things can quickly be turned around.

So, I’m not sure what is next for the WNBL.

On another point. Why is it so easy for athletes of different sports to slot in and play AFL without much experience in the sport? Watching the women’s game every second player appears to have come from another sport. Erin Phillips looks like a league star after having played very little footy in her lifetime compared to how much basketball she has played.

Footy is a pretty simple game from a skill perspective as there is so much margin for error given the huge amount of area they are playing on. You can kick the ball a couple of metres off target and the receiver can still make it look like an accurate kick given how long the ball is in the air and how much space you can cover during that time. If a pass in basketball was a couple of metres off target its either going out of bounds or is certainly going to be a turnover.

You can even shoot for goal and be a couple of metres off target and still get a goal, again relatively simple compared to shooting a basketball.

Anyway, my intent is not to bag footy, just point out that if you are athletic you can usually play the game.

Another positive thing for the women’s footy is that on TV it wasn’t that different to watch than the men’s game, the athleticism didn’t look that different. In basketball, where there is far more jumping involved and the court is so much smaller, the speed and the athleticism of the men appears quite clear. The WNBL is a much slower game than the NBL whereas the AFLW didn’t look all that different to the AFL, just missing the odd specky!

So, I thought the women’s AFL was great, I think it’s great that we live in a country where women j have the same opportunities as men. There is no doubt that our women enjoy more international success than our men do, in all sports. When discussing this point with a Brazilian soccer coach this week, he pointed out that in his country, when women start to get interested in sport they are told to get back into the kitchen! This is still the case in many countries and no doubt a factor in basketball where some of the European powers in men’s basketball don’t give females the same opportunities that women are given here.

Plenty of good news for women’s sport and plenty for the powers that be at WNBL HQ to think about.

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