With the Adelaide Crows crowned champions for the inaugural season of the AFL Women’s competition over the weekend, B&T sat down with the brains behind it all, Jemma Wong (pictured below), to reflect on the trials and tribulations she’s faced in building the brand.
The AFL Women’s competition has had great success in getting bums on seats for its inaugural season. Do you see this continuing next season, or will the ‘bliss period’ be over once the initial hype’s died down?
It’s been an incredible first season. Naturally, there is a lot of energy and emotion wrapped around year one and every milestone to date has been history-making, but AFL Women’s is more than just novelty. This ‘movement’ has been 100 years in the making, built by the pioneers of the game who never gave up and created from the demand of 350,000 girls and women playing the game at a grassroots level.
We know the interest will build from here because of the product itself. It packs power. It’s footy at its best – it’s compelling, entertaining and unpredictable live sport that has captured the imagination of fans all across the country. While it’s certainly early days, the appetite and passion from fans has proven that AFLW can hold its own ground.
There’s already been a surge of interest in female participation off the back of our first season. The Victorian Amateur League will play its inaugural women’s competition this year with 40 teams, which is an extraordinary result. Our next phase will be sustaining the interest we’ve ignited over the last eight weeks throughout the off-season and managing the expectations as we kick off for the 2018 season.
How easy/hard has it been to attract sponsors to the AFLW?
In approaching brands to partner with AFLW, we found that we couldn’t sell based off traditional sponsorship metrics given there was no historic broadcast or attendance data. Our position in market was to align with like-minded brands who wanted to tell a story about equality. What was fantastic was that we were able to partner with a mix of existing AFL Partners such as NAB (the premier naming rights partner of AFLW) and also new brands that had previously not been involved with the code – Chemist Warehouse and Kellogg’s. Our partners have been extremely supportive and understanding of the challenges we face building a competition and brand from scratch, and like us, they see the mass potential of AFLW to grow the game.
Is the onus on female brands to support the competition through sponsorship?
This is about normalising and demystifying women in sport as much as it is about successfully growing AFL. For that to happen, we need a range of brands from a diverse mix of categories to help us drive the agenda.
When you reflect on the fact that women are the most influential consumer audience carrying the majority purchasing power in Australian households, it becomes more important to work with brands that tap into and respond to that insight, rather than searching for interest from ‘female brands’.
Do you think some female-skewed brands are put off by sponsoring contact sports such as AFL?
This really depends on the brand’s values and who their customers are. I do think it’s limiting to assume that female-driven brands or female customers wouldn’t see benefit in associating with an elite contact sport, particularly when it promotes values such as empowerment, confidence and women conquering their limits.
We celebrate the physicality, athleticism and the energy of AFLW. These qualities are part of our DNA and part of the reason why so many girls want to pick up a footy and play. I’d invite all brands, whether they are female-skewed or male-skewed, to be curious about the motivators and barriers for playing the game, and to think about the type of role models and heroes their audiences need to start seeing.
How are you trying convince more girls to go out and kick a footy? How hard is it trying to change the perceptions around women playing contact sports like AFL?
We want AFLW to be a gateway for participation. This comes down to visibility and opportunity – young girls need to see their potential pathway to the top on TV screens, on the back of footy jumpers, in headlines and on social feeds. They need to feel empowered and inspired by their place in the game, alongside having the right local or state program on offer.
We’ve spent the last six months telling stories of our AFLW players and working with different types of content creators to show the power of football and belonging in an empowering and real way. This is all part of breaking the stigma and stereotypes surrounding women in sport. Cultural shifts take time, but if we look at the number of young boys and girls wearing AFLW player jumpers over the weekend, we know it’s moving in the right direction.
What’s the biggest challenge that the competition faces going forward?
From a marketing perspective, we need to ensure we continue to tell insightful and compelling stories about AFLW that stretch across 365 days of the year – not just during the competition. We need to focus on brand building in community footy to drive interest in the next generation of talent, and to focus on the total experience of all audiences across broadcast, content, digital platforms. We need to keep our edge by continuing to be brave in how we make decisions for the sustainable growth of AFLW and not simply mirroring the men’s competition.