The A-League Women will be expanded to full home and away across the next two seasons as the league attempts to attract and retain top talent and boost its quality.
The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) confirmed the league will expand to 11 teams, who will each play 18 games across 20 rounds, for 2022-23.
It will then reach full home and away status, with 12 teams playing a 22-game regular season, plus seven finals, the following season.
Western United will join the competition for the upcoming season, scheduled to commence on November 18, with Central Coast following in 2023-24.
It means by 2024, the ALW’s total available playing minutes (excluding finals) will rise to 1980, a figure in line with the NWSL, WSL and Division 1 Feminine.
“(We) did a huge amount of work trying to find the right balance to get more playing opportunities for young aspiring Australian female footballers but probably just as important, if not more important, more minutes and more matches,” APL chief executive officer Danny Townsend told reporters.
“We’ve found a good balance there. It’s something that we’ve been really thinking through.
“Being able to do it and announce it now with the Women’s World Cup right around the corner, the time is now for women’s football and we want to get out ahead of that.”
The exodus of Matildas to Europe, with many citing the need for more playing time at a high level, has harmed the ALW’s quality.
Townsend conceded it was inevitable top players would depart but wanted Australia to be an option over Europe’s lower leagues.
“We’ve got to make sure that we make it clear that moving to a second-tier league in Europe is not a better proposition than staying in the A-League Women, which I think is a bit of a misconception that exists at the moment,” he said.
“The number of matches is certainly going to be a positive reason for Australian players to stay.”
Townsend was optimistic the extended season would help develop more quality players to expand the Matildas’ talent pool long-term
The seasons, which will have international breaks, are significantly longer than the likes of the AFLW, NRLW and WBBL seasons.
“The way in which we’re going to roll this out, we think is going to set a benchmark for women’s sport in this country,” Townsend said.
In line with the current long-term collective bargaining agreement, signed ahead of last season, the league’s minimum salary will rise more than 50 per cent over two years.
“Thanks to the genuine partnership with the APL, the players have played a central role in helping to design a competition that delivers meaningful employment, a professional career path and a strong and sustainable league that will develop the next generation of Australian talent,” PFA co-chief executive Kate Gill said in a statement.