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The billion-dollar world of AFL clubs

The Eagles are one of the AFL's big-money clubs. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
14th March, 2018
116

Its that time of the year when all AFL clubs have lodged annual reports and we can finally get a handle on what they’ve been up to off the field for the last year or so.

Club revenues in 2017 narrowly missed the billion dollar mark, totalling $998.13 million, averaging $55.45 million per club.

That was a rise of $141 million (+17%), with AFL distributions up $46 million (+20%).

At the upper end of the scale you have Hawthorn and Collingwood, each passing $70 million, boosted by the pokies. Essendon, Richmond and West Coast round out the top five – each making more than 60 million, with West Coast not having any pokie revenue at all.

At the bottom end, Gold Coast and North Melbourne both made less than $40 million.

Four AFL clubs reported comprehensive losses totalling $5.87 million – Collingwood and Geelong taking multi-million dollar hits in depreciation and amortisation – while 14 clubs reported profits totalling $26.62 million, although several required assistance from the AFL’s ‘Future Fund’ to get over the line.

In an age where television revenue is considered the be all and end all, it’s worth noting clubs turned more than $240 million in revenue last season on memberships, reserved seating and gate receipts – this isn’t far short of the distributions handed out to the clubs from the TV deal.

This doesn’t factor in signage and pourage rights, or onsite merchandise sales, figures up five per cent (about $13 million) in 2017.

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Collingwood, Adelaide and West Coast lead the charge in memberships, each taking in more than $20 million, while there should be real concerns at the bottom, with Greater Western Sydney taking in $1.8 million – and that figure includes its merchandise sales.

Clubs also turned over more than $212 million in sponsorship, at an average of $11 million per club, up $8.3 million (4.1%) on the previous year.

Collingwood and Sydney sit at the top of the sponsorship table, with more than $18 million each. Even GWS tops $11 million in sponsorship, however the Suns sit at the bottom, with less than $6 million.

The AFL’s $418 million annual TV deal started last year, and the league appears to have distributed $277 million of it to the clubs in 2017, up $46 million on the previous year.

With GWS and Gold Coast at the top, with more than $24 million, Brisbane and St Kilda also come in for more than $20 million in AFL distributions.

It’s worth noting that the base distribution in 2017 was $10.6 million, and some clubs are entitled to money from central revenues pertaining to signage, pourage, promotion and game buyout rights.

Clubs spent more than $450 million on their football departments in 2017, with the average club spending in excess of $25 million, up 10 per cent on 2016. Collingwood lead the way with $28 million, including expenditure on women’s football and their VFL or VFLW sides. GWS and Sydney make up the top three with more than $26 million.

Clubs had more than half a billion dollars in assets, with West Coast ($77 million) and Hawthorn ($66 million) leading the way, and both clubs looking to build their own multi-million dollar facilities in the short term.

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At the other end of the scale, the Queensland clubs both languish at the bottom of the equity table, in the red – the Lions over $13 million in negative equity.

West Coast is probably the largest football club in the country – certainly so in the AFL in financial terms. Other clubs have more members and bigger attendances, but it’s hard to go past the raw cash the Eagles bring in each year, with tens of millions in the bank and in investments.

In the long term, of the established clubs, the Lions and Saints have issues to address.

St Kilda have a promising move back to its traditional home at Moorabin to look forward to, and an improved deal at Docklands that will make an extra million or two a year.

Brisbane are angling for a training facility at Springfield and for some funding there from the state and AFL to make that happen, but like most things in Queensland, the only real answer is getting back to the winners’ list more frequently.

The AFL annual report for 2017 is due out any day now and promises to make fascinating reading, with the league including its Docklands assets and revenues for the first time.