AFL Women's (AFLW) is Australia's national Australian rules football league for female players. The first season of the league began in February 2017 with eight teams. The league is run by the Australian Football League (AFL) and is contested by a subset of clubs from that competition. The reigning premiers are the Western Bulldogs.
In 2010 the Australian Football League commissioned a report into the state of women's football around the country. Along with findings concerning grassroots and junior football, the report recommended the AFL Commission begin working toward the establishment of a national women's league. While the option of new stand-alone clubs was considered, a model utilising the resources and branding of existing AFL clubs was to be the preferred model for the planned league.
The first on-field step towards the competition took place in 2013, when the AFL announced an exhibition match to be played between women's teams representing Melbourne and Western Bulldogs later that year.
On 15 May 2013, the first women's draft was held, establishing the playing lists for the two clubs in the forthcoming exhibition match. The match was played on 29 June 2013 and marked the first time two women's sides had competed under the banners of AFL clubs. The exhibition series was repeated with one game between the clubs in 2014 and two in 2015, the last of which, played on 16 August 2015, was broadcast on free-to-air television and attracted strong ratings.
The success of these series prompted the AFL to accelerate its plans for a nationwide women's competition, announcing a preferred start date of 2017. Prior to this, the league had announced only aspirational plans to have the women's competition established by the end of the 2010s. The already-planned 2016 exhibition series was expanded at this time, with a total of ten matches to be played in venues across the country and featuring a range of new temporary representative teams.
In 2016, the AFL opened a process for existing clubs to tender applications to join the new competition. The eighteen senior clubs in the Australian Football League had until 29 April 2016 to place a bid for a licence, with thirteen clubs making bids. The AFL's preferred distribution of clubs was four clubs from Victoria and one each from New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.
The inaugural teams were announced on 8 June 2016. As the only teams to bid in their respective states, Adelaide, Brisbane and Greater Western Sydney were granted licences to compete in 2017. Both Western Australian clubs made bids, with Fremantle's bid chosen ahead of West Coast's. Eight Victorian clubs made bids: Melbourne, Western Bulldogs, Carlton and Collingwood were successful, with Geelong, North Melbourne, Richmond and St Kilda unsuccessful. All five unsuccessful bidders were granted provisional licences.
The first premiership game was played on Friday, 3 February 2017, and the inaugural season concluded with the grand final on Saturday, 25 March. Adelaide were the league's first premiers.
Expansion of the competition is scheduled to first occur in 2019 and then again in 2020. By the end of 2020, the competition will grow by 6 teams, to include 14 teams in total. The ten AFL clubs not originally participating in the competition were invited to bid for inclusion, with priority given to the five clubs that unsuccessfully bid to participate in the inaugural season. The deadline to lodge submissions was 16 June 2017. The only clubs not to bid were Port Adelaide and Sydney. North Melbourne worked with AFL Tasmania to craft its bid, with the club aiming to play home matches in Melbourne, Hobart and Launceston, and has a target to select half of the playing list from Tasmania. A final decision on which clubs are admitted to the competition was expected by the end of July 2017 but was delayed several times to September 2017.
On 27 September 2017, the AFL announced that North Melbourne and Geelong had been selected to come into the competition in 2019. North Melbourne retained its commitment to playing matches in Tasmania. The league will then expand an additional four teams beginning in 2020, with the AFL selecting West Coast, Richmond, Gold Coast and St Kilda to join the competition.