With the next AFL season just around the corner, I was asked recently about when each season starts, how long the season goes for, and what about the pre-season competition. I thought I’d put this guide together to give you all the info on what counts as a season in AFL.
An AFL season is the home and away, and finals matches, that are played each year typically between March and September. Each season typically has 23 home and away rounds followed by 4 finals rounds with the winner being declared premiers. There is also an official pre-season competition held over 3 weeks commencing towards the end of February.
The official season is also referred to as the Premiership season, which is divided into two groups of rounds:
|Home and away |
Competition based on the fixture
|23 rounds||March – August|
Competition based on team positions at the end of the home and away rounds
In the home and away rounds, all teams compete against each other to determine the top 8 teams which progress to the finals. Teams know who they are playing against based on the season fixture, which is published before the start of the first match.
In the finals rounds, the top 8 teams from the home and away rounds compete against in each other in a knockout competition for the AFL Premiership. The two losers from the top 4 teams playing against each other get a second chance.
This guide looks at what the season fixture is, how many rounds are in an AFL season, and some of the differences between the Premiership season and the pre-season competitions.
What is the Season Fixture
In AFL, the season fixture is the list of all matches for a season, including which teams are playing, and the time and date of the match. The fixture is typically worked out towards the end of the year prior to a particular season.
The season fixture tells AFL fans the following:
- Which teams are playing playing against each other for every round;
- Which matches are classified as home and which matches are classified as away;
- Which stadium the match will be played at;
- When the bye round is.
Each footy team plays against every other team at least once. The AFL has a ‘weighted rule’ that helps determine which teams play against each other twice, and it’s based on their positions on the ladder from the previous season.
Home and away in AFL refers to matches played where one club hosts the home game at its stadium while the other club visits as the away team. A club’s home matches are typically the matches played at its home stadium. There should be 11 home games for each club in a season, however season membership with some clubs does not include all home games (check out my ultimate guide to club membership here). Each match has a home team and away team; the club not hosting the home game is the away team.
Every footy team has at least one stadium it can call home. Some teams have more than one. To help you out if you’re visiting a footy stadium, I’ve written a lot of guides to the various venues around the country, check them out here: https://anybodysfan.com/category/venues-clubs/
A bye round in AFL is a mid-season break provided for teams participating in the premiership season. Each team is typically scheduled for a bye round in rounds 12, 13, or 14. This is approximately half way through the season. Byes are indicated to the teams and fans using the AFL fixture.
How many rounds in an AFL season
Each AFL premiership season typically consists of the following number of rounds:
- 23 home and away rounds, including a bye round for each team
- 4 finals rounds, including the grand final
The 23 home and away rounds and the 4 finals rounds make up the AFL premiership season.
Each club typically plays 11 home matches and 11 away matches. A home match is where a club plays it its home stadium and its club members are invited to watch the game from the best seats available. The club playing against the home team is referred to as the away team.
I wrote a guide on how much it costs to get club membership, you can find it here. Some clubs include away games in their membership, and some clubs only offer 9 home matches (the other 2 would be played at a “home” stadium in a different location).
When does the AFL season start?
The AFL premiership season typically starts in March and usually runs until the last weekend in September. The home and away rounds are played over the 23 weeks starting in mid-March and the finals rounds are played over 4 weeks usually starting at the end of August or the first weekend in September.
There is also a pre-season competition which typically starts in February and ends before the premiership season commences.
What is the pre-season competition
The pre-season AFL competition is a series of round-robin matches played before the start of the AFL premiership season. It is usually held over 3 weeks commencing in the third week of February. The pre-season competition is usually referred to by a sponsor’s name (for example, the NAB cup, or the Marsh community series).
The AFL defines the pre-season competition as the competition organised by the AFL and played prior to the commencement of the Home and Away Matches each year. I had to dig through the old rule books to get this definition, but it’s the most up-to-date I found.
The differences between the pre-season competition and Premiership competition are demonstrated in the table below:
|Pre-Season Competition||Premiership Season|
|6 matches||18 matches|
|Played Feb-March||Played April-September|
|Round robin||Home and away round robin followed by knockout competition|
There can also be some changes to the rules of the game that apply only to the pre-season competition. This has included changes to the number of points awarded for a goal, and the use of video umpiring as examples. Some of these rules make their way into the Premiership season meaning the pre-season is a sort of testing ground for them.
I’ve found the pre-season to be intriguing given the rule changes, however I usually feel like teams aren’t giving it their all in the pre-season (I was told this is to reduce likelihood of injury and reduce how much of your season strategy you’re revealing before the season starts).
Find out more
Curious why AFL’s a winter sport? I did a lot of research to put together this explanation of why AFL is played during winter: https://anybodysfan.com/why-afl-winter-sport/
Did you know other countries play AFL? I recently compiled the list of places where AFL is played, and how big the sport is overseas. Check it out here: https://anybodysfan.com/where-footy-is-played-globally/
- The latest fixture can be found here: https://www.afl.com.au/fixture
- Official AFL rules (older edition where “pre-season” definition was included: https://s.afl.com.au/staticfile/AFL%20Tenant/AFL/Files/AFL-Rules-June-2017.PDF
- Example finals fixture (from 2020): https://www.afl.com.au/news/510203/week-one-fixture-released-for-2020-toyota-afl-finals-series
Chris grew up in the home of AFL (Melbourne). He likes to share here his footy experiences to help out anyone who has questions about the game