The Australian Football League (AFL) is the pre-eminent and only fully professional men's competition of Australian rules football. Through the AFL Commission, the AFL also serves as the sport's governing body, and is responsible for controlling the laws of the game. Originally known as the Victorian Football League (VFL), it was founded in 1896 as a breakaway competition from the Victorian Football Association (VFA), with its inaugural season commencing the following year. The VFL, with the aim of becoming a national competition, began expanding beyond Victoria to other Australian states in the 1980s, and in 1990 changed its name to the AFL.
The league currently consists of 18 teams spread over five of Australia's six states (Tasmania being the exception). Matches have been played in all states and mainland territories of Australia, as well as in New Zealand and China to promote the sport abroad. The AFL season currently consists of a pre-season competition, followed by a 23-round regular (or "home-and-away") season, which runs during the Australian winter (March to September). The team with the best record after the home-and-away series is awarded the "minor premiership". The top eight teams then play off in a four-round finals series, culminating in the AFL Grand Final, which is held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground each year. The grand final winner is termed the "premiers", and is awarded the premiership cup. The current premiers are Richmond.
The Victorian Football Association (VFA) was established in 1877 and quickly went on to become Victoria's major Australian rules football competition. During the 1890s, an off-field power struggle occurred between the VFA's stronger and weaker clubs, the former seeking greater administrative control commensurate with their relative financial contribution to the game. This came to a head in 1896 when it was proposed that gate profits, which were always lower in matches involving the weaker clubs, be shared equally amongst all teams in the VFA. After it was intimated that the proposal would be put to a vote, six of the strongest clubs—Collingwood, Essendon, Fitzroy, Geelong, Melbourne and South Melbourne—seceded from the VFA, and later invited Carlton and St Kilda to join them in founding a new competition, the Victorian Football League (VFL). The remaining VFA clubs—Footscray, North Melbourne, Port Melbourne, Richmond and Williamstown—were given the opportunity to compete as a junior sides at a level beneath the VFL, but rejected the offer and remained for the 1897 VFA season.
The VFL's inaugural season occurred in 1897. It made several innovations early on to entice the public's interest, including an annual finals tournament, rather than awarding the premiership to the team with the best record through the season; and, the formal establishment of the modern scoring system, in which six points are awarded for a goal, and one point for a behind.
Although the VFL and the VFA continued to compete for spectator interest for many years, the VFL quickly established itself as the premier competition in Victoria. In 1908, the league expanded to ten teams, with Richmond crossing from the VFA and University Football Club from the Metropolitan Football Association. University, after three promising seasons, finished last each year from 1911 until 1914, including losing 51 matches in a row; this was in part caused by its players' focus on their studies rather than football, particularly during examinations, and it was partly because the club operated on an amateur basis at a time when player payments were becoming common. As a result, the club withdrew from the VFL at the end of 1914.
Beginning sporadically during the late 1890s and consistently from 1907 until World War I, the VFL premier and the premier of the South Australian Football League met in a playoff match for the Championship of Australia. South Australia's Port Adelaide was the most successful club of the competition winning three titles during the period along with an earlier victory.
In 1925, the VFL expanded from nine teams to twelve, with Footscray, Hawthorn and North Melbourne each crossing from the VFA. North Melbourne and Hawthorn remained very weak in the VFL for a very long period. Although North Melbourne would become the first of the 1925 expansion sides to reach a Grand Final in 1950, initially it was Footscray that adapted to the VFL with the most ease of the three clubs, and by 1928 were well off the bottom of the ladder.
Between the years of 1927 and 1930, Collingwood became the first, and only VFL team, to win four successive Premierships.
In 1952, the VFL hosted 'National Day', when all six matches were played outside Melbourne. Matches were played at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Brisbane Exhibition Ground, North Hobart Oval, Albury Sports Ground and Victorian country towns Yallourn and Euroa.
Footscray became the first of the 1925 expansion teams to win the premiership in 1954.
Melbourne became a powerhouse during the 1950s and early 1960s under coach Norm Smith and star player Ron Barassi. The club contested seven consecutive grand finals from 1954 to 1960, winning five premierships, including three in a row from 1955 to 1957.
Television coverage began in 1957, with direct telecasts of the final quarter permitted. At first, several channels competed through broadcasting different games. However, when the VFL found that television was reducing crowds, it decided that no coverage was to be allowed for 1960. In 1961, replays (in Melbourne) were introduced although direct telecasts were rarely permitted in Melbourne (other States and Territories, however, enjoyed live telecasts every Saturday afternoon).
In 1959, the VFL planned the first purpose built mega-stadium, VFL Park (later known as Waverley Park), to give it some independence from the Melbourne Cricket Club, which managed the Melbourne Cricket Ground. VFL Park was planned to hold 155,000 spectators, which would have made it one of the largest stadiums in the world – although it would ultimately be built with a capacity of 78,000. Land for the stadium was purchased at Mulgrave, then farmland but predicted to be near the demographic centre of Melbourne's population.
The VFL Premiership Trophy was first awarded in addition to a pennant flag in 1959; essentially the same trophy design has been in use since.
In the 1960s, television began to have a huge impact. Spectators hurried home from games to watch replays and many former players took up positions as commentators on pre-game preview programs and post-game review programs. There were also several attempts at variety programs featuring VFL players, who generally succeeded in demonstrating that their skills were limited to the football ground.
The VFL played the first of a series of exhibition matches in 1962 in an effort to lift the international profile of the league.
The 1970 season saw the opening of VFL Park, with the inaugural match being played between Geelong and Fitzroy, on 18 April 1970. Construction work was carried out at the stadium as the 1970s progressed, culminating in the building of the now heritage listed Sir Kenneth Luke stand. The Queen, Elizabeth II was a guest at the game and officially opened the stadium to the public. The 1970 Grand Final between traditional rivals Carlton and Collingwood, arguably the league's most famous game which saw Carlton recover from a 44-point deficit at half-time to win the game by ten points, featured a famous spectacular mark by Alex Jesaulenko, and was witnessed by a record crowd of 121,696.
In 1976, the National Football League, which was the national administrative body for Australian rules football at the time, established the NFL Night Series to succeed the Championship of Australia. Played concurrently with the premiership season, the Night Series was contested among twelve clubs from the VFL, SANFL and WANFL invited based on their finishing positions from the previous year. The event was mostly played on Tuesday nights, with night games at Norwood Oval in Adelaide, and all games were televised live in colour on Channel 9, which opened up unprecedented revenue streams from television rights and sponsorship opportunities for the sport. The NFL began plans to expand its Night Series to incorporate more teams from the VFL, SANFL and WAFL, as well as state representative teams from other states.
In November 1976, the VFL announced that it was withdrawing from the NFL's competition, having arranged more substantial television and sponsorship deals for its own Night Series for 1977 to be based in Melbourne and feature only the VFL clubs. Light towers were erected at VFL Park specifically for the event. The VFL established a proprietary limited company called Australian Football Championships Pty Ltd in 1978 to run the Night Series, and offered shareholdings to the other state leagues in an attempt to lure other states into the competition.
For the three years from 1977 until 1979, the NFL and AFC competitions were run separately as rival Night Series. In 1978, the Tasmanian representative team competed in both the NFL and AFC series, but all SANFL and WAFL clubs and the minor states teams remained in the NFL Night Series. In 1979, the WAFL clubs and the New South Wales and A.C.T. representative teams defected from the NFL Night Series and joined the AFC Night Series, leaving the NFL Night Series mostly composed of SANFL teams. The NFL Night Series was not revived in 1980, and the SANFL clubs joined the AFC Night Series. Although the NFL itself continued to exist as an administrative body into the early 1990s, the power gained by the VFL as a result of its Night Series take over was one of the first significant steps in its spread interstate and ultimately its take-over (as the Australian Football League) of administrative control of all football in Australia.
In 1980 and 1981, the first years after the NFL Night Series had ended, the AFC Night Series competition was at its largest, with all VFL, WAFL and SANFL clubs plus the four minor states teams (selected under residential qualification rather than state of origin qualification) competing for a total of 34 teams. The size of the competition was reduced from 1982, and thereafter only the top two or three teams from the SANFL and WAFL and the winner of the minor states' annual carnival were invited.
In 1987, the Night Series reverted to only the VFL teams. The competition was pushed earlier into the year, with the final played on 28 April. The following season, the competition did not overlap with the day premiership season at all, and became entirely a pre-season competition. The Night Series is generally considered to be of equivalent importance as the pre-season competition and the VFL Night Series (1956–1971), and records relating to the three competitions are often combined.
With the number of players recruited from country leagues increasing, the wealthier VFL clubs were gaining an advantage that metropolitan zoning and the Coulter law (salary cap) restricting player payments had prevented in the past. Country zoning was introduced in the late 1960s, and while it pushed Essendon and Geelong from the top of the ladder, it created severe inequality during the 1970s and 1980s. Between 1972 and 1987, only six of the league's twelve clubs – Carlton, Collingwood, Essendon, Hawthorn, North Melbourne and Richmond – played in Grand Finals.
The 1980s was a period of significant structural change in Australian football around the country. The VFL was the most popular and dominant of the state leagues around the country in terms of overall attendance, interest, and money, and began to look towards expanding its influence directly into other states. The VFL and its top clubs were asserting their financial power to recruit top players from interstate. As a result of this, rising cost pressures were driving some of Victoria's weaker clubs into dire financial situations. One of those clubs, the South Melbourne Swans, became the first VFL club to relocate interstate. The Swans moved their home games to Sydney in 1982, officially renaming themselves the Sydney Swans the following year. Under the private ownership of wealthy Dr Geoffrey Edelsten during the mid-1980s Sydney became a successful team on-field.
Throughout the 1980s approaches were made by SANFL and WAFL clubs to enter the VFL. Of particular note were approaches by the East Perth Royals in 1980, the Norwood Redlegs in 1986 and 1988, and an East-South Fremantle merger proposal in 1987. None of these attempts were successful despite Norwood trying again in 1990 and 1994.
In 1986, the West Australian Football League and Queensland Australian Football League were awarded licences to field expansion teams in the VFL, leading to the establishment of the West Coast Eagles and Brisbane Bears, who both joined the league in 1987. These expansion team licences were awarded on payment of multimillion-dollar fees which were not required of the existing VFL clubs. In 1989 financial troubles nearly forced Footscray and Fitzroy to merge, but a fundraising event from Footscray supporters stopped the proposed merger at the eleventh hour.
The 1980s first saw new regular timeslots for VFL matches. VFL matches had previously been played on Saturday afternoons but Sydney began playing its home matches on Sunday afternoons and North Melbourne pioneered playing matches on Friday night. These have since become regular timeslots for all teams.
The league was officially renamed the Australian Football League in 1990 to reflect its national composition.
In 1990 the AFLPA, the players union, signed its first Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the league which outlined wages and conditions in what was becoming a sole source of income for players who had previously had part-time or full-time jobs outside of football. Functionally, the AFL gave up control over its Victorian-based minor grades at the end of 1991 – clubs continued to field reserves teams in the independent Victorian State Football League.
Midway through 1990, the SANFL's most successful club, Port Adelaide, made a bid for an AFL licence. In response, the SANFL gained an injunction via Glenelg and Norwood against Port Adelaide, allowing it time to establish a composite South Australian team called the Adelaide Crows, which was awarded the licence and joined the league in 1991 as the fourth non Victorian club. The same year saw the West Coast Eagles become the first non Victorian club to reach the Grand Final, which was won by Hawthorn. The Eagles would then win the premiership in 1992 and 1994. In 1994, the Fremantle Football Club was formed in Western Australia, and joined the AFL in 1995, becoming the fifth non Victorian club.
The VFA took over the Victorian Football League name in 1996. In 1996 several Victorian clubs were in severe financial difficulties, most notably Fitzroy and Hawthorn. Hawthorn proposed to merge with Melbourne to form the Melbourne Hawks but the merger ultimately fell through and both teams continued as separate entities. Fitzroy, however, was too weak to continue by itself. The club nearly merged with North Melbourne to form the Fitzroy-North Melbourne Kangaroos but the other clubs voted against it. In 1994 Port Adelaide was awarded an AFL licence but could not enter until a Victorian team had folded or merged. At the end of 1996 Fitzroy played its last match and merged with Brisbane to form the Brisbane Lions. This allowed Port Adelaide to enter the AFL for the 1997 season as the sixth and only pre-existing non Victorian club.
Through the 1990s there was a significant trend of Melbourne-based teams abandoning the use of their small (20,000–30,000 capacity) suburban venues for home matches in favour of the larger MCG and Waverley Park. The 1990s saw the last matches played at Windy Hill (Essendon), Moorabbin Oval (St Kilda), Western Oval (Footscray) and Victoria Park (Collingwood) and saw Princes Park abandoned by its long-term co-tenant Hawthorn. The transition to the use of only two venues in Melbourne was ultimately completed in 2005 when Carlton abandoned the use of Princes Park. In 1999, the league sold Waverley Park stadium and used the funds in a joint venture to begin construction of a brand-new stadium situated at Melbourne's Docklands. Representative state football came to an end, with the last State of Origin match held in 1999.
In the late 2000s, the AFL looked to establish a permanent presence on the Gold Coast in the state of Queensland, which was fast-developing as a major population centre. North Melbourne, which was in financial difficulty and had played a few home games on the Gold Coast in previous years, was offered significant subsidies to relocate to the Gold Coast but declined. The AFL then began work to establish a club on the Gold Coast as a new expansion team.
Early in 2008, a meeting held by the AFL discussed having two new teams enter the AFL competition. In March 2008, the AFL won the support of the league's 16 club presidents to establish sides on the Gold Coast and in Western Sydney. The Gold Coast Suns were established and joined the AFL in 2011 as the 17th team. The Greater Western Sydney Giants, based in both Western Sydney and Canberra, were then established and entered the league as the 18th team in 2012.
On 25 April 2013 the Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand hosted the first ever Australian Football League game played for premiership points outside Australia. The night game between St Kilda and Sydney was played in front of a crowd of 22,183 on Anzac Day to honour the Anzac bond between the two countries.
A national women's league comprising a subset of AFL clubs began in 2017. Thirteen AFL clubs placed bids to participate in the women's competition. Eight clubs - Adelaide, Brisbane Lions, Carlton, Collingwood, Fremantle, Greater Western Sydney, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs - were granted licences to participate in the inaugural season. Six clubs will join the league in the coming years; Geelong and North Melbourne will enter the competition in 2019, while Gold Coast, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast will debut in 2020.
On the 14th of May 2017, Port Adelaide and the Gold Coast played the first ever AFL match for premiership points in Shanghai, China, attracting a crowd of 10,114 at Jiangwan Stadium. Port Adelaide won the game by 72 points.
The AFL operates on a single table system, with no divisions and conferences, nor promotion and relegation from other leagues.
The league was founded as the Victorian Football League (VFL) in 1897, comprising eight teams only based in the Australian state of Victoria. Over the next century, a series of expansions, a relocation, a merger and a club withdrawal saw the leagues teams expand to the 18 teams there are today.
In 1990, the national nature of the competition resulted in the name change to the Australian Football League (AFL). Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Tasmania are the only states or territories not to have AFL clubs, although at least two games per year are played in each of these parts of the country. The current 18 teams are based across five states of Australia; the majority (ten) still remain in Victoria, nine of which are located in the Melbourne metropolitan area. The states of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia have two teams each.
Since the league commenced in 1897 as the VFL, only one club, University, has withdrawn from the competition. It last competed in 1914 and withdrew because, as an amateur club, it was unable to remain competitive in a time when player payments were becoming common; the club still competes to this day in the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA). Two other clubs, Fitzroy and the Brisbane Bears, merged in 1996 to form the Brisbane Lions. However, after coming out of financial administration in 1998, Fitzroy resumed its playing operations in 2009 and also competes in the VAFA.
Non-formal/junior competitionsVictorian Football Association (1877)Victorian Football League (1897, later renamed AFL)Australian Football League (1990, formerly VFL)South Australian National Football League (1877)
Throughout the history of the VFL/AFL, there have been a total of 45 different grounds used, with 17 used during the 2018 AFL season. The largest capacity ground in use is the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), which has a capacity of over 100,000 people, and hosts the Grand Final each year. The MCG is shared by four teams as a home ground, while the other grounds used as home venues by multiple teams are Docklands Stadium in Melbourne (five teams), Adelaide Oval in Adelaide (two teams), and Perth Stadium in Perth (two teams). The AFL has had exclusive ownership of Docklands Stadium (commercially known as Marvel Stadium) since late 2016.
Prior to the expansion of the competition, most grounds were located in suburban Melbourne, with Princes Park, Victoria Park, the Junction Oval, Waverley Park, and the Lake Oval each having hosted over 700 games. However, since the introduction of a national competition, each state and territory of Australia has hosted AFL games. On 25 April 2013 (Anzac Day), a match took place between St Kilda and Sydney at Wellington Regional Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand, being the first AFL match played outside Australia for official premiership points.
Below are the other venues to have hosted matches during the AFL era (1990–present), with official capacities at the time.
AFL players are drawn from a number of sources; however, most players enter the league through the AFL draft, held at the end of each season. A small number of players have converted from other sports, or been recruited internationally. Prior to the nationalisation of the competition, a zoning system was in place. At the end of the season, the best 22 players and coach from across the competition are selected in the All-Australian team.
The AFL has tight controls over the player lists of each club. Currently, apart from the recently added expansion clubs who have some additional players, each team can have a senior list of 38 to 40 players plus 4 to 6 rookie players, to a total of 44 players (following a reduction by two of the number of rookies in 2012) and up to three development rookies (international, alternate talent or New South Wales scholarship players). Changes to playing lists are permitted only in the off-season: clubs can trade players during a "trade period" which follows each season and recruit new players through the three AFL drafts, the national draft, the pre-season draft and the rookie draft, which take place after the trade period. A mid-year draft was conducted between 1990 and 1993. The national draft is the primary method of recruiting new players and has been used since 1986. The draft order is based on reverse-finishing position from the previous year, but selections can be traded. Free agency player movements have only been permitted since the 2012/13 offseason, having been rejected by the AFL commission previously.
A salary cap (known as the Total Player Payments or TPP) is also in place as part of the league's equalisation policy; this is $9,130,000 for the 2013 season with a salary floor of $8,673,500 except for the Gold Coast, whose salary cap will be $9,630,000 with a salary floor of $9,171,500, and Greater Western Sydney, whose salary cap is $9,987,000 with a floor of $9,530,500. As part of the AFL's enhanced equalisation policies, in 2014 the league announced an increase of the TPP for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. TPP increases an additional $150,000 per club in 2015 above previously contracted amounts, increasing from $9.92m to $10.07m in 2015 and $10.22m to $10.37m in 2016.
The salary cap was set at $1.25 million for 1987–1989 as per VFL agreement, with the salary floor set at 90% of the cap or $1.125 million; the salary floor was increased to 92.5% of the cap in 2001, and 95% of the cap for 2013 due to increased revenues. Both the salary cap and salary floor has increased substantially since the competition was rebranded as the AFL in 1990.
Salaries of draft selections are fixed for two years. Salaries for senior players are not normally released to the public, though the average AFL player salary at the conclusion of the 2012 season was $251,559 and the top few players can expect to earn up to and above $1,000,000 a year. Upon successfully trading to the Sydney Swans in 2013, marquee player Lance Franklin signed a 9-year contract with the club, reportedly worth over $10 million and resulting in subsequent payments of $1.8 million annually in consecutive seasons. The Total Player Earnings (TPE) – or total amount of revenue spent on reimbursement of AFL listed players – at the conclusion of the 2012 season was $173.7 million, up by 13 per cent from $153.7 million in 2011.
In June 2017, the AFL and AFL Players Association agreed to a new CBA deal which resulted in a 20% increase in players salary. The six-year deal, which begins in 2017 and ends in 2022 means that the average player wage rises from $309,000 to $371,000 and the player salary cap from $10.37m to $12.45m. In 2022, the final year of the agreement, the average player wage will be $389,000 with a salary cap of $13.54m.
The breaches of the salary cap and salary floor regulations outlined by the AFL are: exceeding the TPP; falling below the salary floor; not informing the AFL of payments; late or incorrect lodgement or loss of documents; or engaging in draft tampering. Penalties include fines of up to triple the amount involved ($10,000 for each document late or incorrect lodged or lost), forfeiture of draft picks and/or deduction of premiership points. The most significant breach of the salary cap was that of the Carlton Football Club in the early 2000s.
There were 801 players on AFL club senior, veteran, rookie and international lists in 2011, including players from every state and mainland territory of Australia. As of 2014, there are 68 players of Indigenous Australian descent on AFL club lists, comprising approximately 9% of the overall playing population.
There were 12 players recruited from outside Australia on AFL lists in 2011, including 10 from Ireland, all converts from Gaelic football drafted as part of the Irish Experiment, and one each from the United States and Canada. There were also another five overseas-born players who emigrated to Australia at an early age on AFL lists.
An international rookie list and international scholarship list were introduced in 2006. The international rookie list includes up to two players between the ages of 15 and 23 who are not Australian citizens. These players may remain on this list for up to three years before they must be transferred to the senior or rookie list. For the first year, payments made to international-rookie-listed players fall outside the salary cap. The international scholarship list gives AFL clubs the option of recruiting up to eight players from outside Australia (other than Ireland). Irish players are required to either be placed on clubs' senior or rookie lists. At the beginning of 2011 there were 14 international scholarship players.
From 1988 until 2013, the AFL ran a pre-season competition that finished prior to the commencement of the premiership season, which served as both warm-up matches for the season and as a stand-alone competition.
It was mostly contested as a four-week knock out tournament, but the format changed after the expansion of the league beyond sixteen clubs in 2011, and has frequently been used to trial rule changes.
In 2014, the competition format was abandoned, and practice matches are now played under the sponsored name JLT Community Series. This consists of all 18 clubs playing two matches each, which are played on some weekdays and weekends, throughout February and early March.
Also part of the pre-season since 2018 is AFLX, a variation of Australian rules football. The game is played on soccer-sized pitches and features seven players a side (and three interchange players), two ten-minute halves and other rules designed to speed up the game.
The AFL home-and-away season at present lasts for 23 rounds, starting in late March and ending in early September. As of the 2013 AFL season, each team plays 22 matches, with one bye. Teams receive four premiership points for a win and two premiership points for a draw. Ladder finishing positions are based on the number of premiership points won, and "percentage" (calculated as the ratio of points scored to points conceded throughout the season) is used as a tie-breaker when teams finish with equal premiership points. At the end of the home-and-away season, the McClelland Trophy is awarded to the minor premiers.
Some rounds of the season are named as themed rounds, such as Rivalry Round (in which traditional rivals are matched up against each other), Women's Round and Heritage Round (where teams play in old style guernseys). Some matches are also themed for special events. For example, each year Collingwood play Essendon in the annual Anzac Day clash at the MCG and the game will typically sell out regardless of the positions of the two teams on the ladder due to their strong rivalry and huge followings. Another annual match is the Queen's Birthday game between Melbourne and Collingwood. As of 2006, Richmond and Essendon play in the Dreamtime at the 'G match. There are separate trophies for the matches between several clubs and former rivalries such as the Lake Trophy between St Kilda and the Sydney Swans.
The top eight teams at the end of the AFL Premiership season compete in a four-week finals series throughout September, culminating in a grand final to determine the premiers. The finals series is played under the AFL final eight system, and the grand final is traditionally played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on the afternoon of the last Saturday in September.
The winning team receives a silver premiership cup, a navy blue premiership flag – a new one of each is manufactured each year – and is recorded on the perpetual E. L. Wilson Shield. The flag has been presented since the league began and is traditionally unfurled at the team's first home game of the following season. The Wilson Shield, named after Edwin Lionel Wilson, was first awarded after the 1929 premiership. The premiership cup was first introduced in 1959 and is manufactured annually by Cash's International at their metalworks in Frankston, Victoria. Additionally, each player in the grand final-winning team receives a premiership medallion.
The following major individual awards and accolades are presented each season:
- Brownlow Medal – to the fairest and best player in the league, voted by the umpires
- Coleman Medal – to the player who kicks the most goals during the home-and-away season
- All-Australian team – a squad of 22 players deemed the best in their positions, voted by an AFL-appointed committee
- Rising Star Award – to the fairest and best young player (under the age of 21 and with less than ten games' experience at the beginning of the year), voted by the All-Australian committee
- Norm Smith Medal – the best player on the ground in the Grand Final, voted by a committee
- Jock McHale Medal – the coach of the premiership-winning team
- Mark of the Year – to the player who takes the best or most spectacular mark during the season
- Goal of the Year – to the player who kicks the best or most spectacular goal during the season
- Leigh Matthews Trophy – to the best player in the league, voted by the players through the AFL Players' Association
Other independent best and fairest awards are presented by different football and media organisations.
To celebrate the 100th season of the VFL/AFL, the "AFL Team of the Century" was named in 1996.
Jack Elder was declared the Umpire of the Century to coincide with the Team of the Century. Since the naming of this side, most AFL clubs have nominated their own teams of the century. An Indigenous Team of the Century was also selected in 2005, featuring the best Aboriginal players of the previous 100 years from both the VFL/AFL and other state leagues.
VFL players first represented the Victoria representative team in 1897 regardless of their state of origin.
Being the dominant league drawing many of the country's best players, the Victoria Australian rules football team (nicknamed the "Big V" and composed mostly of VFL players) dominated interstate matches until the introduction of State of Origin selection criteria by the Australian Football Council in 1977, after which Victoria's results with the other main Australian football states became more even.
The AFL Commission assumed control of interstate football in 1993 and co-ordinated an annual State of Origin series typically held during a mid-season bye round.
However, after the 1999 series, the AFL declared the concept of interstate football "on hold", citing club unwillingness to release star players and a lack of public interest: the 1999 series, where Victoria defeated South Australia by 54 points, was played in wet conditions in front of a crowd of 26,063, whereas 10 years earlier, the same match with a plethora of star players attracted a crowd of 91,960.
The AFL shifted its focus of representative football to the International Rules Series where it draws a greater television revenue. A once-off representative match, known as the AFL Hall of Fame Tribute Match, was played in 2008 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the sport between a team of players of Victorian origin and a team of players of interstate origin (the "Dream Team"), which was won by Victoria.
While several proposals for interstate and/or all-star games have been made since, there have been no further representative matches as of 2018.
Some past AFL players participate and help promote the E. J. Whitten Legends Game, however this event is not affiliated with or promoted by the AFL.
Although no professional leagues or teams exist outside Australia, the AFL has stated that it wishes to showcase Australian rules football to other countries such as India, China and South Africa so as to create a global following thus creating more exposure for its sponsors in the increasing Asian and African markets. On 17 October 2010, AFL clubs Melbourne Demons and Brisbane Lions played an exhibition game in front of 7,000 people at the Jiangwan Sports Center in Shanghai. This was the first professional AFL game to be played in China.
Before the inaugural season of AFLX in 2018, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan anticipated this modified format would hold exhibitions around the world, starting almost certainly in Hong Kong during November 2019 with as many as 6 clubs involved. The league had interests coming from multiple clubs, promoters and international stadiums to play the game overseas from 2019.
The AFL has garnered increased interest in Ireland due to the introduction of the International Rules Series played between an AFL picked All Australian Team and Ireland international rules football team beginning from 1984. The series is organised under the auspices of the AFL and the Gaelic Athletic Association. The game itself is a hybrid sport, consisting of rules from both Australian football and Gaelic football. The series provides the only outlet for AFL players to represent their nation. This series encouraged young Irish footballers switching code to join AFL teams because of much higher salaries in the AFL than that of Gaelic Football. However, most Irish players fail to make the grade into 1st team football. This also paved the way for extended news coverage and increased broadcasting in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The AFL Commission is responsible for the administration of the AFL. It was established in December 1985, and then granted almost unilateral administrative control over the league in 1993, after the club parochialism and self-interest which came with the traditional club delegate based administrative structure threatened to undermine the competition.
In addition to administering the national competition, the AFL is heavily involved in promoting and developing the sport in Australia. It provides funds for local leagues and in conjunction with local clubs, administers the Auskick program for young boys and girls.
The AFL also plays a leading role in developing the game outside Australia, with projects to develop the game at junior level in other countries (e.g. South Africa) and by supporting affiliated competitions around the world (See Australian football around the world).
The players of the AFL are represented by the AFL Players Association, the coaches are represented by the AFL Coaches Association, the umpires are represented by the AFL Umpires Association, and the related media employees are represented by the Australian Football Media Association.
The AFL was the best-attended sporting league in Australia in 2012. According to market research, the AFL is the second-most-watched sporting event in Australia, behind cricket. Currently, broadcast rights for the AFL are shared between the Seven Network (free-to-air), Foxtel and Austar (pay TV), and Telstra (internet). In 2019, a record 1,057,572 people were members of an AFL club.
The following are the most recent season attendances:
1 Finals total and Finals average include Grand Final crowds. 2 Record. 3 Capacity reduced due to MCG refurbishment. 4 Crowd for the drawn Grand Final. 5 Crowd for the Grand Final Replay, played one week after the drawn Grand Final.
AFL matches are currently broadcast in Australia by the free-to-air Seven Network, subscription television provider Foxtel, and digital content provider Telstra. The six-year deal which was announced on August 2015 covers the inclusive 2017 - 2022 seasons.
The Seven Network usually broadcasts three matches from every round within the season, exceptions being the Easter (round 2) and Anzac (round 5) rounds in which five matches are aired on the free-to-air television channel. Channel Seven also airs the AFL Finals Series and the AFL Grand Final. Telstra provides live match access through the AFL Live app and official full match replays through the app and website via a purchasable AFL Live Pass, free for certain Telstra mobile customers. Foxtel also broadcasts every match through their Fox Footy channels, including simulcasts from the Seven Network except for the Grand Final, which is aired exclusively on Channel Seven. Foxtel also has the rights to air rounds on their internet protocol television platform titled Foxtel Now.
The 1957 VFL season was the first broadcast after the commencement of television in Australia (introduced in 1956 to coincide with the Melbourne Olympic Games). During the late 1950s and 1960s, all Melbourne stations (ABV2, HSV7, GTV9 and, after it commenced in 1965, ATV0/ATV10) broadcast some games. However, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the VFL was concerned that direct telecasts may affect attendances and stations were only permitted to telecast a delayed replay of the last quarter of games. In the 1980s, the Seven Network was given exclusive rights to VFL/AFL games. The only year Seven did not telecast games was 1987, when the rights were bought by Broadcom, which on-sold the rights to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). The exclusive rights were won back by Seven in 1988.
With the launch of subscription television in Australia, AFL match coverage commenced on cable television. Optus Vision bid for and won exclusive pay TV rights from 1996–2001, screening coverage on its own 24-hour AFL channel, branded Sports AFL in Brisbane Sydney and Melbourne (where available). The Sports AFL channel was later closed due to financial issues and relaunched in March 1999 as C7 Sport by the Seven Network with AFL match coverage also transferred to the new channel. C7 Sport became available in regional areas not in the Foxtel or Optus Vision licence area via Austar soon after the re-launch. The AFL coverage was not available through Foxtel at this time as the Seven Network and Foxtel disagreed on the cost of carrying the C7 channel. These issues regarding C7 and AFL broadcasting rights evolved into a court case between not just the Seven Network and News Limited, but Seven against the owners of the Nine Network and Network Ten in the years that followed.
On 25 January 2001, the Seven Network's main rivals, the Kerry Packer led Nine Network, Network Ten and pay-TV's Foxtel set up a consortium which bid $500 million for the right to broadcast the 2002–2006 seasons inclusive. Seven had purchased a guaranteed right to make the last bid in 1995, but decided not to outbid their rivals. The games were split between the networks, with Nine screening Friday Night Football, a live Sunday afternoon game in the east and, if needed, a doubleheader for WA and SA, Ten screened a Saturday afternoon and a Saturday night match, with the remaining four matches shown on Foxtel. Foxtel set up its own version of a dedicated AFL-only channel, the Fox Footy Channel, which showed every game on replay during the week as well as many news, talkback and general interest shows related to Australian rules football.
When the rights were offered again in January 2006 for the 2007 to 2011 seasons, Seven formed an alliance with Ten and used its guaranteed last bid rights to match Nine's offer of $780 million to win back the broadcast rights in what was the biggest sport telecasting deal in Australian history at the time. After lengthy negotiations, Foxtel agreed to be a broadcast partner and now showed four live matches each week, although no longer on a dedicated AFL channel. Seven took back the Friday night match and only one game on Sunday, while Ten retained showing two matches on Saturdays. Foxtel showed two games on Saturday and two on Sunday, including a late afternoon or twilight game.
The 2012-2017 rights were bought by Seven, Foxtel, and Telstra for $1.25 billion, the biggest sport telecasting deal in Australian history at the time. As part of the deal, Foxtel would show all home-and-away AFL matches live, as well as all Finals bar the Grand Final, via the resurrected Fox Footy. Telstra would broadcast all matches via mobile, and Seven would broadcast three live matches (Friday Night, Saturday Night, and Sunday Afternoon) and one delayed match (Saturday Afternoon). Seven also had the option to on-sell one game a week to either Nine or Ten; this did not happen.
The 2017-2022 rights were re-bought by Seven, Foxtel and Telstra for $2.5 billion, besting the previous deal to become the most lucrative in Australian history. Under the terms of the deal, Seven broadcasts at least three live matches per round as well as all Finals matches, whilst Foxtel broadcasts (or simulcasts Seven's feed) all nine matches per round, as well as all Finals bar the Grand Final, which is exclusively broadcast by Seven. Telstra continues to maintain exclusive mobile broadcast rights to all matches. There are some variations in broadcasting dependent on the relevant state or territory.
Historically AFL broadcasts in other countries have varied.
In the 1980s, VFL matches were shown in the United States on ESPN for some time. In the early 1990s, Prime Network, an American regional sports network unrelated to the Australian regional television network, aired Seven's weekly highlight show as well as the Grand Final. Some other English speaking countries have shown the game, however it has been since 2008 that channels in other countries began televising matches. From 1998 to 2006 games were broadcast in the United States by the Fox Sports World network.
In 2007, after the record domestic television rights deal, the AFL secured an additional bonus: greater international television rights and increase exposure to overseas markets, including a five-year deal with Setanta Sports and new deals with other overseas pay-TV networks. The deal ended early in 2009 when Setanta stopped broadcasting into Great Britain. ESPN again took up the contract.
The following countries are ranked by the approximate extent of their current television coverage (and whether it is free to air):
The first broadcast of a VFL game was by 3AR in 1923, the year that broadcasting officially commenced in Australia. The first commentator was Wallace (Jumbo) Shallard, a former Geelong player who went on to have a long and respected career in print and broadcast media. The VFL/AFL has been broadcast every year since then by the ABC and (since 1927) by various commercial stations. The saturation period was the early 1960s when seven of the eight extant radio stations (3AR, 3UZ, 3DB, 3KZ, 3AW, 3XY and 3AK) broadcast VFL games each week, as well as broadcasts of Geelong games by local station 3GL. (At this time, the only alternative that radio listeners had to listening to the football on a Saturday afternoon were the classical music and fine arts programs that were broadcast by 3LO).
Currently, the official radio broadcast partners of the AFL are:
- Triple M Melbourne
- 1116 SEN Melbourne
- 3AW Melbourne
- K-Rock Geelong
- FIVEaa Adelaide
- 6PR Perth
- 98.9FM Brisbane
- Triple M Sydney (broadcasts only Sydney and Greater Western Sydney matches)
- Triple M Brisbane (broadcasts only Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast matches)
- Triple M Adelaide
- ABC Grandstand (broadcasts matches across Australia to selected major cities in NSW/QLD/ACT)
The official internet/mobile broadcast partner of the AFL is BigPond, part of Telstra. The AFL also provides exclusive broadband content including streaming video for international fans via its website. Bigpond also hosts the official websites of all the 18 AFL clubs.
The service is also provided to international subscribers. Delayed video is available 12 hours or more after the game.
The following are the official naming sponsors of the VFL/AFL competition:
- Carlton & United Breweries (1980–81, 86, 89–94, 2001–03)
- Holden (1982–83)
- Nissan (1984–85)
- Sportsplay (1987)
- Elder's IXL (1988)
- Coca-Cola (1995–2001)
- Toyota (2004–present)
¹Note: In 2001 CUB and Coca-Cola were joint sponsors
The AFL sells memberships that entitle subscribers to reserve seats for matches at Docklands Stadium and Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne. AFL members also receive priority access to finals. Two levels of memberships are now offered, silver and full, with the main difference being that only full members have guaranteed access to Preliminary and Grand Final matches.
The AFL runs a chain of stores that sell merchandise from all clubs. Merchandise is also available from other retailers.
A modern museum called the Hall of Fame and Sensation opened in Melbourne in 2003 to celebrate the culture of the AFL and to provide a venue for the Australian Football Hall of Fame. The museum, a licensed offshoot of the AFL, was originally touted for the MCG, but the Hall of Fame failed to get support from the Melbourne Cricket Club. The new QV shopping centre on Swanston Street was then chosen as the location. However, controversy followed the appointment of an administrator as the museum began running at a loss. Many blamed high entry prices, which were subsequently reduced, and the museum remains open to the public. In early 2006 the name was changed to AFL World. It features various honour boards and memorabilia as well as a range of innovative interactive displays designed to immerse visitors in the experience of elite Aussie Rules. It was closed down in 2008.
The following is a list of all the video games from the AFL video game series:
- Aussie Rules Footy (1991) NES
- AFL Finals Fever (1996) Microsoft Windows
- AFL 98 (1997) Microsoft Windows
- AFL 99 (1998) PlayStation, Microsoft Windows
- Kevin Sheedy's: AFL Coach 2002 (2001) Microsoft Windows
- AFL Live 2003 (2002) Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox
- AFL Live 2004 (2003) Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox
- AFL Live Premiership Edition (2004) Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox
- AFL Premiership 2005 (2005) Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox
- AFL Premiership 2006 (2006) PlayStation 2
- AFL Premiership 2007 (2007) PlayStation 2
- AFL Mascot Manor (2009) Nintendo DS
- AFL Challenge (2009) PlayStation Portable
- AFL Live (2011, 2012) PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
- AFL (2011, 2012) Wii
- AFL Live 2 (2013, 2014, 2015) PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, iOS, Android
- AFL Evolution (2017) Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
The AFL is the subject of footy tipping and betting competitions around Australia run by individuals, syndicates, workplaces and professional bookmakers. In recent years national website based tipping competitions have started to replace the traditional, but more labour-intensive, office or pub run competitions.
Fantasy football competitions based on actual player statistics (number of kicks, marks, goals etc.) are also very popular on websites and in newspapers.
AFL and LGBTI policy
AFL is a supporter of the LGBTI community. In September 2017 in conjunction with the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, the AFL modified its 'AFL' logo coming out strongly in support of same-sex marriage. However they reverted to the original logo 24 hours later.
- AFL footballers
- AFL salary cap
- Australian rules football in Australia
- Drugs in the Australian Football League
- History of Australian rules football in Victoria (1859–1900)
- Sports attendances
- Victorian Football League
- AFL Women's
- Australian rules football attendance records
- Rivalries in the Australian Football League
- List of VFL/AFL premiers
- List of VFL/AFL minor premiers
- List of VFL/AFL pre-season and night series premiers
- List of VFL/AFL and AFL Women's players of Indigenous Australian descent
- List of VFL/AFL players born outside Australia
- List of VFL/AFL players by ethnicity
- List of current Australian Football League coaches
- List of Australian Football League grounds
- List of sports venues in Australia
- List of VFL/AFL presidents
- List of VFL/AFL records
- List of individual match awards in the Australian Football League