Sun, Feb 04, 2018 - Page 11 News List

Opening night crowds a sign AFLW to stay

The Guardian

With just over a week to go before the start of the this year’s Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW) season, elite Brisbane Lions forward Jess Wuetschner took to social media to call for calm among some disgruntled AFLW fans.

“Although there has been little to no media or promoting of the AFLW season, just know that we all have faith that the incredible fans from last year and more will turn out in spades and support us in the 2018 season,” she wrote.

On Friday, with the specter of last year’s emotional, riotous debut looming large, all talk centered on the question of a lockout — to the extent that the game’s perceived success appeared to hinge on whether the lockout would repeat. By just after 5pm, with still a full half hour to go before gates opened, all signs were that a repeat would ensue.

Lines of hundreds snaked outside Princes Park in Carlton, Victoria, while still more stood in full sun to collect their Brianna Davey bobblehead. Girls took turns at the Hyundai handball bullseye, while a Chemist Warehouse BBQ sizzled nearby.

The clear message was: get in early or risk missing out.

As banners were held aloft as the clock ticked past 7:30pm, they too referenced a lockout.

“The Magpies are back/The crowd’s up and about/At half time they’ll be asking/If the Blues [Carlton Football Club] were locked out,” was the cocky effort from a Collingwood cheer squad fresh off a 35-point hiding from this time last year.

“The nation was watching/We filled every seat/(Let’s not forget the result)/& let history repeat,” was the Blues’ retort, on the contrary keen to keep the football result — so often secondary in accounts of that night — in mind.

However, as those banners were torn and Sherrins kicked into twilight air, it became apparent that the numbers of last year were not quite there.

Make no mistake — the fanatical fans of last year returned, but more did not necessarily return in spades. The final crowd figure, officially 19,852, was high enough to be a victory for women’s football, while at the same time falling just shy enough of 20,000 to be a disappointment for those most invested in the game.

However, the biggest mistake would be to take that as a failure of the women’s game. As Wuetschner made clear, the promotion of AFLW season two has fallen well short of public expectation.

In that sense it could not be more unlike season one, which, for all you could say about the AFL, was given more than its fair share of marketing, but, during two weeks in which The Seven Newtwork commanded almost unilateral attention during the Australian Open, the AFLW was all but ignored in favor of this year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea or other non-sport-related content.

Perhaps Seven had by then made the decision to leave most of the AFLW coverage to Foxtel, or its subsidiary channel in 7Mate.

Perhaps it was being dictated to by the AFL, itself deciding to introduce the notoriously unpopular AFLX (a seven-a-side variation of Australian rules football) into a section of the season it had supposedly reserved for women’s football (justifying its being played in mid-summer).

Whatever the reason, it and the AFL’s radio silence on the subject seemed to make little sense given how passionately the first season was received, and the clear grassroots momentum behind women’s sport that the AFL has unwittingly tapped into with the emergence of AFLW.

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