It is difficult to know who to support in the current
brouhaha brewing between the AFL and
the AFL Players’ Association regarding pay
rates. On one hand, it is easy to take the line that AFL
players are already overpaid (with even lesser-light players receiving upwards
of $200,000 per year). Therefore, it would not be unfair to argue that the
players are being at least a little greedy in seeking a 20% pay rise.
Especially when clubs like Carlton,
Western Bulldogs, Kangaroos and Melbourne are
struggling to pay the bills. It has been reported that Carlton is
set to receive a $1.5
million loan
from the AFL to
“survive an imminent debt crisis”. One would seriously doubt whether Carlton can
even afford to pay its players under the current deal, let alone a far more
generous salary cap.

On the flip side, the primary demand of the AFLPA is
based on the principle that players should receive a fixed
(being 25%) of AFL
revenue. Compared with other competitions, such as Premier League soccer of the
National Football League in the United
States, the 25% claim is fairly

That draws us to perhaps the key issue – if the
players’ demands are not unreasonable, yet several clubs still cannot afford to
meet those demands – what can be done? The answer seems fairly simple. In the
mid-1980s, the then VFL, led by Jack Hamilton and Alan Schwab (no relation to
author), introduced the salary cap for players (a concept borrowed from the United
States). The benefits of the cap are
significant: first, player costs are kept under control; and second, the cap
ensures a more even, interesting and fair competition.

Why then, is there no salary cap for clubs’ off-field
expenditure (which by implication amounts to the vast majority of club
expenditure)? Why not limit how much clubs pay
their coaches (several coaches could well take a leaf of the very modest Neil
Craig’s book
in that regard)? Or perhaps limit the number of assistant
coaches to one or two? What would members prefer – five assistant coaches or
one assistant coach and a viable football club? Placing a cap on off-field
expenditure would reduce costs for clubs, increase profitability, allow the
players to receive their rightful percentage of overall revenue and improve the
equality of the competition. If the salary cap
has worked so well for on-field employees, why not extend it off the field?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey