For a long time, we have watched women compete in sport, yet male athletes still dominate the sport pages and Web sites. Cricket, soccer, Australian rules football, basketball, golf, tennis, hockey — the women’s games have been widely treated as secondary to the men’s.

That all changed in 2017 when AFL Women’s (AFLW) was born.

At Herald Sun, we are dedicating an unprecedented level of coverage to women’s competition in a coordinated, structured, passionate manner. 

“Women’s footy is the new frontier and the Herald Sun footy team is enormously excited about the new competition,” wrote Mark Robinson, Herald Sun chief football writer, in our banner 16-page AFLW launch liftout. “It’s no longer the blokes’ world, and I can’t wait to witness the unearthing of the new female Juddy, Bazza, or Bontempelli.”

A dedicated approach to covering women's football attracted new audiences, partners, and advertisers — and also let Herald Sun do its part in promoting gender equality.
A dedicated approach to covering women's football attracted new audiences, partners, and advertisers — and also let Herald Sun do its part in promoting gender equality.

The inaugural AFLW competition was a watershed moment for women’s sport in Australia. We put our full weight behind the fledgling competition with a commemorative, informative print liftout at a time when tighter newspaper revenue and intense focus on costs meant every column-centimetre was scrutinised — and any additional pages would not exist without commercial support.

Our objectives were to:

  • Drive incremental advertising revenue into our sports section across print and digital.
  • Commit 16 pages of newsprint to a commemorative liftout that would also serve as an indispensable season guide.
  • Form partnerships with influential clients in Victoria.
  • Promote AFLW to Victorians.
  • Help drive awareness and memberships for AFLW clubs.
  • Help drive greater awareness of gender equality in Victoria.

We held calls and meetings, drafted proposals and presentations. It took all hands on deck, from editorial to product specialists to sales to our print site, to get it off the ground. And we did it. We produced innovative, award-winning coverage, as recognised by News Media Works. We secured several high-profile partners. And we helped drive huge amounts of interest and engagement for the sport. 

The liftout profiled all 200 players in the new league, gave the lowdown of each of the eight clubs across the country, and named the stars who would soon become household names. We delivered more than 400 stories during pre-season and throughout the eight-week duration of the competition. We took stunning pictures, shot great videos, and recorded superb podcasts.

We raised more than A$400,000 in advertising revenue.

The AFL recognised the Herald Sun’s support and conveyed its sincere gratitude for the commitment to covering every aspect of AFLW as a genuine, elite competition. AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan sent a personal note thanking the Herald Sun, in particular praising the liftout that launched the AFLW season. It read: “A quick note to thank and congratulate you guys on a fabulous liftout for the start of the AFLW today. It’s terrific, and the work of a real partner. Appreciate it.” 

Significant partnerships won across the AFLW season included:

  • Victoria Police co-sponsored the 16-page AFLW launch liftout. An integrated approach also saw the Herald Sun profile two police members who played AFLW for the Western Bulldogs. 
  • VicHealth Gender Equality wanted to promote gender equality. The initial brief was digital only. The client ended up booking a comprehensive print and digital campaign. Digital resulted in a 0.79% click-through rate on desktop and 0.96% on mobile. They also booked 10 press ads aligned to AFLW content.
  • Priceline sponsored the AFLW season launch liftout and a double-page Bulldogs team poster. The client was so pleased with the results that they sponsored an additional special eight-page souvenir liftout that ran in Herald Sun sport that chronicled the eight-week inaugural season.
  • iSelect leveraged its existing sponsorship of the Melbourne Football Club women’s team by aligning itself with a team poster in the Herald Sun. 
  • Collingwood Football Club drove membership awareness to help build their fan base by sponsoring the team poster in the Herald Sun. 
  • Porter Davis sponsored the grand final winners poster to market their “Respect” campaign. 

It was a true honour to help drive the rise of AFLW in Australia. With gender equality a touchstone issue and International Women’s Day having just passed, this is a nice reminder that we are truly the people’s newspaper — man and woman alike.