Feature Story

Fantasy AFLW: scoring big IRL

As the Australian Football League season reaches its climax with the conclusion of the Grand Final, a new competition has been captivating the hearts and minds of football fans around the nation—Australian Football League Women’s Fantasy. This unique form of fantasy sport has taken root and is thriving, offering fans a chance to immerse themselves in the world of AFLW in a new way.

What is fantasy football?

The premise behind AFLW Fantasy is quite simple. Much like the long-existing men’s competition, participants select real-life AFLW players to create their ‘dream team’ and compete against other fantasy coaches around the nation. Coaches use a mixture of passion and strategy to select a team of players within a salary cap, gaining and losing points according to their player’s real-life performances. Tackles, goals, kicks, marks, and every on-field action can potentially become a source of fantasy scoring.

The fantasy scoring system generally works like this.

Real Life Match Stat Fantasy Points
Kick+ 3 Points
Handball+ 2 Points
Goal+ 6 Points
Behind+ 1 Point
Tackle+ 4 Points
Mark+ 3 Points
Free Kick For+ 1 Point
Free Kick Against– 3 Points
Hitout+ 1 Point
The AFLW Fantasy scoring system. Graphic: Frederick Knickel.

At the end of each AFLW round, your total score is based on the individual scores of all the players you have selected on-field for that week. This overall score will decide if you win or lose your weekly matchup in a league and dictate your overall rank compared to all the other fantasy coaches playing around the country.

Player prices will go up and down throughout the year depending on how well they score each week. Fantasy coaches get three weekly trades to swap players in and out of their squads as a way to improve their team.

Some fantasy coaches play the game as a mere hobby and compete for bragging rights over friends, family, and colleagues. For others, fantasy sports are a big deal, with thousands of coaches around the nation competing for the prestigious top 100 rank and ultimately number one at the end of the season.

AFL and AFLW Fantasy are free to play games, but doing well can see participants walking away with prised memorabilia or a brand-new car.

AFLW Fantasy is gaining momentum. Graphic: Frederick Knickel.

Bringing eyes to the Women’s game

For many, AFLW is still a relatively new concept, with this year being the first time the league has had all 18 teams feature a female squad alongside their male counterparts. Combined with the added introduction of AFLW Fantasy, thousands of new eyes are being bought to the women’s game.

Richard Conroy is a client project manager for Hosch International by day, but by night, the 29-year-old is an avid AFL Fantasy player.

“I love it, I absolutely love it… most of my mates play, and we get pretty competitive with it in our leagues every year,” he says.

Like thousands of other fantasy coaches this year, Richard is giving AFLW Fantasy a go, despite having little prior knowledge of the women’s league.

“I have never really followed the women’s game before this year, I’d be able recognise the big-name players but other than that my knowledge was fairly limited until now,” he says.

“I 100 per cent consume way more footy games than I would ever before because of fantasy footy. You have a vested interest in a lot more teams and games around the league because you’ve got players from all over the place making up your fantasy squad.”

Richard has had previous success in the men’s equivalent fantasy competition, finishing in the top 50 teams nationwide in 2018.

“It felt pretty good at the end of the season when I received the official hat from the AFL with my ranking on the side,” he says.

“Hopefully it’s something I can repeat in AFLW Fantasy this year.”

Fremantle Dockers AFLW player Kiara Bowers is welcoming the fact that fantasy is bringing new eyes to the women’s game.

“If that be it by going to games, if that be by watching or if that be it by just, you know, having a fantasy team we’re all for any way of growing our game,” she says.

Kiara started the first official season of AFLW Fantasy as the most expensive player in the competition, coming in at a whopping $1.7 million after averaging 121 points per game the prior year. In comparison, Adelaide Crows midfielder Rory Laird was the most expensive male player this year, beginning the season with a $1.06 million price tag. Over 55 per cent of the registered teams began the season with the star player in their squad.

“I love people coming up to me and talking about it, I think it’s pretty awesome that I’m the most expensive, albeit hopefully, I don’t let anyone down. I think people know my stats better than I know any of my stats which is a pretty cool thing,” she says.

Kiara loves how fantasy enables people to gain a deeper understanding and knowledge about specific players in the women’s competition.

“The investment into just the people as players, not so much teams, everyone’s got a favourite team, hopefully it is freo for most people, but the investment in just players and how they play and as a defender, midfielder and forward, you know, the knowledge that you get out of that sort of player because you’re playing fantasy is very high.”

AFLW Fantasy hit the ground in its inaugural year with over 32,000 coaches registering to play around the nation. In comparison, the men’s AFL Fantasy competition had just over 160,000 registrations this year, a competition that has been running for nearly two decades.

Kiara says the high number of registrations in the first year has been noticed by the female athletes.

“Yeah, it’s kind of a bit surreal, obviously we want to build the game as much as we can and get as many fans in it as possible,” she says.

Fantasy experts

For non-fantasy players, it may be hard to grasp the idea that a virtual game online can help boost AFLW viewership, but worldwide the impact and reach of fantasy sports is undeniable.

Richard Conroy’s top 100 hat and fantasy team. Photo: Frederick Knickel.

According to research conducted by the Fantasy Sports and Gaming Association over 62.5 million people took part in some form of fantasy sport in the United States and Canada last year. This number has almost doubled in size since 2010, showing consistent growth for the industry.

The rise of smartphones, high-speed internet, data analytics and content creation has turned fantasy sports into a global spectacle that shows no signs of slowing down.

A pioneer and well-known figure in the fantasy football land is Adam ‘Warnie’ Child. The Tasmanian high school teacher started making fantasy-related content with mates Roy and Calvin in 2007 and are now a pillar stone when it comes to expert advice on fantasy sports in Australia. The group runs their own fantasy website, DT Talk, and officially were recruited by the AFL’s media team in 2014.

This year Adam has teamed up with AFLW expert and journalist Gemma Bastiani to bring AFLW Fantasy-related content to audiences nationwide.

“It has exceeded expectations,” he says.

Adam believes AFLW Fantasy offers a whole new experience for new and existing fantasy players alike.

“What has been fun is it really feels like a different and new game with the way it has gone. It’s something we’ve gone into not knowing how to play, so for the mechanics of it, it’s been a real cookie-cutter kind of thing where we’ve had to do research and learn a lot which I think is the most exciting part of it,” he says.

Adam has already noticed since the introduction of AFLW Fantasy this year engagement online of AFLW content has increased.

“The engagement on social media, that’s where I’m seeing a lot, via Twitter especially with people getting engaged with the game,” he says.

Ultimately, he hopes this results in more people at women’s games in the future.

The Hesitation

Historically women’s sport has been overshadowed by their male counterparts facing disparities in pay, media coverage, and opportunity.  Despite a clear positive shift in attitude towards AFLW over the past few years, some say there is still a long way to go. University of Western Australia sports science student Stella Wilkinson says, “many female footballers still have to have second jobs to support themselves on top of training and playing,” she says.

“It’s assumed they aren’t as good as the men because they are women, but a big part of that is because they aren’t able to fully dedicate their lives to football like the men can,” she says.

During the 2017 start-up season of the AFLW competition, female athletes were paid for just nine hours of training each week in a home and away season that was just seven games long. In comparison, their male counterpart’s season ran for 23 rounds. Hard to compare the two when one is a full-time job and the other requires female athletes to have second jobs just to stay afloat financially.

While writing this article a historic deal was reached by the AFL Player’s Association and AFL upper house over a Collective Bargaining Agreement. The deal covers numerous topics, including a pay increase for the men’s and women’s codes until 2027.

“The average AFLW Player pay will immediately increase from $46,000 to $60,000 in 2023, then up to $82,000 by 2027,” according to a statement released by the AFL in September.

This deal begins to bridge some of the inequality gaps between the AFL and AFLW players. As time goes on with these changes, the overall standard of the female competition will continue to improve for players and spectators.

Fremantle Dockers AFLW team. Photo: Frederick Knickel.

The future of AFLW and fantasy

The allure of fantasy sports is not limited to seasoned sports enthusiasts. Many newcomers to the sports scene are finding an accessible entry point through fantasy leagues, and female sports like the AFLW are reaping the benefits. These beginners discover the excitement of watching and following female athletes, and they become more likely to tune into live games as a result. Adam says getting children involved with AFLW Fantasy will be vital in growing the female league as it creates “generational interest” for the game.

Estimates from Allied Market Research says fantasy sports worldwide will be worth more than $48 billion by 2027. As the popularity of fantasy sports continues to rise, the AFLW and their athletes are finding themselves on an exciting upward trajectory. A virtual world of sports enthusiasm is helping to level the playing field, increase viewership, and provide female athletes with the recognition and support they deserve.