NORTH Melbourne and Geelong will join an expanded NAB AFL Women’s competition in 2019, increasing the number of teams to 10.
Four other clubs – Gold Coast, West Coast, Richmond and St Kilda – will join the competition in 2020.
Hawthorn and Essendon were unsuccessful in their applications, but they will be able to apply to enter the AFLW from 2021.
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan made the long-awaited announcement alongside AFL Commissioner Simone Wilkie on Wednesday at AFL House.
"As we know, eight clubs put in submissions for a licence, and it has been a challenging, and I believe a very thorough process to get to today's announcement," McLachlan said.
"The commission asked a lot of questions, we had to come back to them a couple of times, and we're confident with where we've landed.
"Every club has shown their commitment to AFLW. The decision and the obligation of the commission is to weigh up the needs and wants of the clubs with what is best for this new league."
The Kangaroos and the Cats won a hard-fought battle to join the league next season, fending off applications from six other clubs seeking licences to join the booming competition.
Eight clubs – Essendon, Geelong, Gold Coast, Hawthorn, North Melbourne, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast – applied in June, and presented their bids to an AFL sub-committee in July.
Sydney and Port Adelaide chose not to apply for a side, but have not ruled out joining the competition at a later date.
Each club presented its bid to an AFL sub-committee, covering areas such as talent sourcing, financial logistics, football operations and developing football in local areas.
Five clubs – the Cats, Kangaroos, Tigers, Saints and Eagles – held provisional licences after their applications to join the AFLW in its inaugural season were knocked back.
The provisional licences meant their applications for this round of expansion received greater weight, as they had now been invested in AFLW for some time.
The announcement of the 2019 expansion was initially slated for last month, but was delayed after the AFL Commission could not reach a decision and asked for further information from the AFL Executive.
McLachlan said there was still "a message of caution" to the successful clubs.
"The responsibility of every club issued a licence for 2019 and 2020 is that they work with the AFL to make sure participation turns into talent and passion turns into fans, memberships and partnerships.
"To this end, the AFL has established a set of financial, talent development and organisational requirements for every club with a licence to meet.
"The commission will monitor these requirements and the overall health of the NAB AFLW competition during this management process."
North Melbourne aligned its bid with Tasmania and the new AFLW team is set to host matches in that state. The Kangaroos are also aiming to include local players on their playing list.
The Roos have strong ties to VFL Women's side Melbourne University, with North Melbourne football operations manager Laura Kane also president of that club.
Geelong has been vocal in its wish for a team, entering a side in the VFLW competition this year in preparation for an AFLW entry.
"The AFL Commission are making this decision to balance the aspiration of making the best professional women's competition in Australia, with maximising engagement and opportunities through our clubs," McLachlan said.
"Expansion must be sustainable in AFLW. We are hoping to learn from other sports all over the world in ensuring we balance talent, organisational capability and finance.
"Essendon and Hawthorn put in very strong submissions. We look forward to working with them to create the foundations of talent and participation so they enter AFLW as soon as possible."
REACTION FROM THE CLUBS
"We're going to have four teams. The first club to have four teams [AFLW, VFLW, AFL, VFL]. To the girls who took a chance to play with us in the VFLW, hopefully that chance comes off in a few years' time."
– Geelong CEO Brian Cook
"Our submission focused on participation and player development at grassroots level and involved the state of Tasmania in a meaningful way, while also maintaining an equally strong connection to our home in North Melbourne."
– North Melbourne CEO Carl Dilena
"Discussions are underway to establish a presence in the state league competition in 2018. What that looks like is still to be finalised, but it needs to be an outcome that assists AFLW, the local clubs and allows Gold Coast and its players to get set for 2020."
– Gold Coast CEO Mark Evans
"We were disappointed that we were not part of the inaugural AFLW season but we have continued to work hard to promote female football and support participation pathways. While we would have preferred to be entering the competition in 2019, today's announcement is testament to that work."
– Richmond CEO Brendon Gale
"One in four female players in Victoria live and play in bayside Melbourne, making it arguably the single strongest region for women's football in Australia. In coming weeks, we will confirm our involvement in the VFL Women's 2018 season, which will provide the region's best female footballers with an opportunity to fast-track their development."
– St Kilda CEO Matt Finnis
"The West Coast Eagles are bitterly disappointed with the AFL's decision to postpone the club's entry into the AFLW competition until the 2020 season. [We] have channelled a great deal of energy into growing female pathways for women in the game, particularly in Western Australia, and we believe our submission clearly demonstrated our capacity to have a profound effect on the growth of AFLW from 2019."
– West Coast CEO Trevor Nisbett
"The club is extremely disappointed in the AFL’s decision not to award [us] an AFLW licence for the 2019 or 2020 seasons. We are also frustrated there is no clear line of sight on when the AFL will decide to expand the women’s competition beyond 2020."
- CEO Xavier Campbell
"Given the strength of our submission, it’s incredibly disappointing to be denied a licence for not only the 2019, but the 2020 competition. Equally as frustrating is the lack of a clear timeline regarding our admission into the AFLW competition."
- CEO Tracey Gaudry