AFLX could well be the worst thing that the AFL has ever done for the sport of Australian rules football. In the third year of the AFLW, the rate of female participation has apparently skyrocketed. A recent spike of almost 15% last year meant that almost a third of Aussie rules participation was completed by women around the world. This is obviously fantastic. Whilst the participation numbers continue to rise, glaring problems remain behind closed doors.
Poor television numbers
The simple fact of the matter is AFLW games are not getting the same television traction that the men’s competition receives. Channel 7 recently announced that they would be dropping AFLW games from the scheduling on their primary channel for the rest of the third season. This is simply because of low viewership.
The opening round of 2019 had an average of approximately 189 000 viewers. The first round of the AFLW’s inaugural season, back in 2017, drew approximately 896 000 viewers. The numbers aren’t great. In fact, they’re pretty terrible. But there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the decline in the AFLW can in fact be attributed to the company that established the league in the first place: the AFL. And this is where the horrendous AFLX format comes in.
The serious problem with AFLX
The AFLX format has been controversial to say the least. Geelong midfielder and Brownlow medallist, Patrick Dangerfield, defended the AFLX format, suggesting that the criticism the competition had received was “extraordinary.”
However, the 2016 Brownlow Medallist is failing to recognise what complainants are actually annoyed about. The quirky format is one point of criticism; however, it’s not the primary reason. It’s all well and good to promote the AFLW as a revolutionary league, however, when the AFL schedules the AFLX at the same time as AFLW, there’s a serious whiff of hypocrisy.
It is clear that the women’s game is underperforming in terms of coverage and public appeal. It is sad to think that growing participation numbers may not even be able to save the women’s league.