The initiatives set to drive the A-League Women forward in 2022/23
The 2022/23 A-League Women season kicks off this weekend as perhaps the most fascinating to date. An expanded format, big new signings from Australia and abroad, and the introduction of Western United have ensured interest is high ahead of the competition's 16th season.
But this time, there's a more vital need than ever for the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) to get it right. The Women's World Cup is less than 12 months away, and this season will be the key Segway into the tournament.
This season, the APL should not only aim to raise interest and engagement for this A-League Women campaign but also create a platform to grow exponentially following the 2023 Women's World Cup.
The growth potential has been seen in England following the success of the European Championships, aided further by the host nation's triumph.
The APL has also shown their intent in this regard. Several plans and initiatives have been launched to improve engagement in the competition and increase accessibility.
While some are overdue, others are undoubtedly fresh ideas that could prove beneficial. But all combined should leave fans excited and optimistic about the future of the A-League Women competition.
Free to Air Coverage
Alongside the restructuring of the Men's free-to-air deal with Channel 10, the APL announced that there would also be adjustments for the A-League Women. While the men now occupy both FTA slots on 10Bold, the A-League Women have been pushed to Ten’s free streaming service, 10Play.
Being taken off commercial TV is not ideal in helping bring in new fans to the competition. But now, through 10Play, the whole season will be live and free instead of only one game per week.
The A-League Women has been relegated to 10Play, but now ALL games will be shown on FTA. (The Women's Game)
The strength of its marketing on traditional platforms will impact its performance. But the league's growth in recent years is evidenced by how it wasn’t long ago that no outlets would broadcast some games.
To watch all games without the interference of a paywall is still pleasing for the competition. Despite how laborious it may be to log in to 10Play, find the game, and start watching it.
This season will show the impact of having no games available on traditional TV channels. However, this change is due to low viewership from the constant COVID-enforced rescheduling of fixtures. The world is moving on from the pandemic. In addition, with the further excitement surrounding women’s football leading into the World Cup, there is every chance viewership can increase to encourage a return to these platforms. But only time will tell in this regard.
Aside from ensuring free access to watch games from home, the APL has also made it easier for registered junior footballers to go to games.
The Liberty Pass allows registered footballers under the age of 16 to attend matches for free, further easing the access to games for young fans.
Driving match attendance will be a crucial goal for the APL this season and beyond the 2023 World Cup. In recent times, this initiative is one that fans have called strongly for, and it also shows that the APL is listening to the fan's needs.
Adelaide United captain Isabel Hodgson on the Liberty Pass. (Twitter: @ChristianM29)
Football is by far the sport in Australia with the highest participation rate. However, the A-Leagues' ability to convert this interest into bums on seats has not been a strong point.
So, saying this initiative has been a long time coming is an understatement. Incentivising young fans, particularly young girls, to go to games and see the country's best players live will help inspire the next generation. But it will also help improve the A-League Women matchday experience through the increased atmosphere with higher attendance.
One of the most interesting new aspects of this season will be the introduction of the Dubzone, a matchday show covering all three of the 3pm AEDT fixtures on Saturdays.
Coinciding with all games on free-to-air, the APL has introduced the show as a new way of getting fans invested in the competition as a whole. The show will allow for fan interaction via social media throughout and ensure fans don’t have to miss any of the action.
The simultaneous kick-offs ensure matches are played at family-friendly times to help boost attendance. The Dubzone is a creative solution to the potential issue of games needing to be played simultaneously.
Simultaneous kick-offs were a point of contention in the last A-League Men season, mainly as these occurred during the prime time slot. It meant that sets of fans often missed some of the league's best matches if their team was playing simultaneously.
It’s not a foregone conclusion that the Dubzone will be a success. But it is shaping up to be a unique initiative across Australian sports.
And with figures such as prominent social media personality Katarina Haddad involved, it won’t be short on entertainment.
Social media personality Kat Haddad, commonly known as Kicking Off With Kat, will be involved with the new Dubzone show. (Twitter: @kickingoffwkat)
The most exciting aspect of the future of the A-League Women is its plan to keep pace with the world's top leagues.
This season will see the first of a two-step process to bring the competition to a full-length home and away season.
It will also see the introduction of Western United, with the competition increasing to 20 rounds, with teams having two bye rounds each.
Then next season, off the back of the World Cup, the league will expand to 12 teams with the Central Coast Mariners and 22 rounds as every team plays each other twice.
Western United preparing for their maiden A-League Women season. (City of Ballarat)
Strong calls have been made for expansion and extension for several years now, as fans fear the competition is beginning to fall behind its European counterparts. There's still some way until the A-League Women fully professionalizes as a competition. But ensuring a full-length season for teams, players, and fans will help improve the competition by providing an equal playing field and increasing the opportunity for crucial top-level match minutes.
There may never be a more critical time in A-League Women history than this season, which could be a catalyst for strong growth in women's football in Australia.
The APL have shown their intent to capitalise on increasing interest in the league as we head into 2023 and a World Cup on home soil. All women's football fans will hope their efforts see increasing engagement throughout the season.
There is a lot to be excited about this new A-League Women season, which begins later today with three simultaneous kick-offs. Brisbane Roar, Canberra United, and Western United host Newcastle Jets, Perth Glory, and Melbourne Victory, respectively.
It will be an exciting 12 months for women's football in Australia. There's no better time to invest yourself in the A-League Women and Australian women's football than right now.
Click here to read our interview with Melbourne Victory star Maja Markovski ahead of the new A-League Women season.