The Essendon Football Club has thrown its hat into the AFLW ring, formally stating its intention to bid for a women’s team licence.
The announcement was made on Friday afternoon during the club’s Essendon Women’s Network annual luncheon at Federation Square.
The Bombers were one of only two Victorian teams to not submit a bid in 2016, a time when the club was still in the wake of in the infamous supplements saga.
With the three-year controversy in the club’s rear view mirror and on-field performances returning to the norm, Essendon is now in a position to host an AFLW side.
Essendon’s interest immediately makes the club an attractive candidate for a licence.
The Bombers boast one of the largest fan bases in the competition, placing only behind fellow licence bidders Hawthorn, West Coast and Richmond, as well as AFLW side Collingwood, on the membership tally.
The club is also well equipped to offer its women’s team elite facilities following the 2013 opening of the True Value Solar Centre.
Additionally, the Bombers maintain a lease at Windy Hill to use as a venue for its VFL team, which would also be apt for its AFLW side.
But realistically, Essendon is unlikely to be awarded a licence ahead of the queue.
The league stated it would remain faithful to the teams awarded provisional licences in 2016: Geelong, North Melbourne, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast.
The AFLW is only expected to be expanded by a maximum of four teams – likely two – as early as 2019, so the Bombers are near the back of the line.
However, Essendon’s marketability and strong membership places the team in the same category as Hawthorn: a club without a provisional licence, but with credentials that cannot be ignored.
The league would be aiming to make the AFLW profitable and self-sustainable, a task that requires the involvement of big clubs.
It’s a factor the AFL Commission is sure to discuss before it makes an announcement regarding the expansion teams in late July.
There are now only three AFL clubs that have not claimed interest in an AFLW licence.