Job cuts to take toll on AFL
FOOTBALL departments will be slashed to a skeleton staff of just 25 for the remainder of the 2020 season.
Clubs fear the cuts will be permanent but the league insisted on Tuesday the move was aimed at reducing the risk of coronavirus transmission.
In a memo to all 18 teams the AFL said football department expenditure would be capped at 70 per cent of pre-virus levels when the season resumes next month - equating to cuts of more than $2 million per club.
It will be up to clubs to nominate the two-dozen staff that are given football department access, but the league said a doctor, player development manager and a psychologist were compulsory.
A 25th person will be a club-nominated coronavirus "compliance officer".
"As part of our strict protocols to protect the health and safety of the players, officials and the wider community and to minimise the risk of infection, there is a limit on the number of staff who will have access to the club's football department," a league spokesman said.
"Clubs are able to determine their football department structure within the spend limits in place (including having more than 25 team members in their football programs if they choose)."
All players are set to be tested for COVID-19 by Friday before training begins on Monday, while all AFL-listed players will be prohibited from playing in second-tier competitions.
Prior to the crisis, power clubs Richmond, Collingwood, Hawthorn and West Coast had as many as 40 people employed in their football departments.
Extra officials could be added to the permitted 24 on match days, including water carriers and medical staff.
But clubs are concerned by the extent of the cash cull, with one official questioning whether "half the spend will result in half the product" and that player development would be all but lost.
Richmond, which has claimed two of the last three premierships, is one club that has expressed its concerns at the cuts to the league, chief executive Brendon Gale confirmed this week.
Clubs have reduced football department spending (including wages and operational expenses) to about $200,000 a month since the March shutdown, which will increase to about $400,000 when training resumes and $500,000 when the season restarts.
The soft cap for all 18 clubs could fall as low as $5.7 million in 2021, depending on the game's losses this year, but will be no higher than $6.7 million.
TV rights cash accounts for about 65 per cent of the game's total revenues but it remains unclear how much Channel 7 and Foxtel will pay the league this season with games reduced in number and length.
AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon said in a memo sent to clubs: "We must take a prudent approach to football department expenditure which recognises that a significant level of industry revenue has already been lost and there is further material risk to our financial position both this season and in future years."
The AFL has 80 per cent of its staff on standdown, and the remaining staff are on reduced wages ranging from 20 to 60 per cent.
Staffing numbers at AFL House in Docklands had soared beyond 400 before the crisis.
Total AFL staff wages topped $115.6 million during the last financial year.
Gillon McLachlan's salary is now a closely-guarded secret but was last publicly disclosed at $1.74 million three years ago. He has vowed to match the salary sacrifices made by the players this year.
The league's digital business employed more than 120 people at its peak but could be wound back as part of negotiations over the TV rights.
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North Melbourne premiership player David King believes the quality of AFL football will undoubtedly suffer as a result of cuts to club football department spending.
The AFL has told clubs they must cut football departments to just 25 staff and that costs had to be cut by more than $2 million as part of moves to secure the game's future amid the coronavirus crisis.
King said the product would suffer in coming years as a result of the cuts.
"There's a reason why they had the staff levels that they had and that was to produce the best person and the best footballer," King said.
"Something's got to give. If you don't have the same man hours put into that same product, you're not going to achieve the same results.
"The AFL might say, 'We're quite comfortable with the results 25 staff will achieve' and that's a different discussion. But clearly it can't be at its best or at the levels that it was at."
King said he felt for club staff who had been in limbo for too long, unsure of their futures.
"We've got so start letting these people know," he said.
"There's so many people swinging in the breeze - do they have a job, don't they have a job? I recognise the game's got to go forward and we're going to have to cut some coin out of the footy departments but we've had some people on hold for two or three months now and it's about time we let them know if they're coming back or not."