One of the greatest struggles for power in the history of the competition is about to begin next month, as the AFL attempts to buy back the licences off the SANFL and WAFL for the four South Australian and West Australian clubs.

The AFL will meet with both state competitions next month and will negotiate the prices to successfully buy back the licenses, allowing it to effectively own, control and appoint board members at its discretion.

As reported last week, this comes as a result of the on and off-field issues surrounding the Port Adelaide Football Club, which sees its license value essentially zero due to its large debt and reputation amongst sponsors and Corporate Australia. The Crows license, however, suggests being worth up to $20 million, due to its supporter base, successful sponsorship deals and membership numbers.

The debt-ridden SANFL, which owns the licenses, takes 80% of its overall profit from the two South Australian clubs. This arrangement has understandably come under fire for various glaring reasons:
– Neither Port or the Crows have any sort of representation in an organisation that has most of its profit generated from them.
– Port is prevented from selling home games interstate in any bid to generate profit, because the SANFL forbids it.
– The gross mismanagement and lack of interference in both clubs, which has seen the Crows fail to post two consecutive profits and allowed Port to fall into financial oblivion since 2004.

Regardless of the SANFL’s debt issues (which have resulted from propping up Port Adelaide) and failure to take an active stance in controlling spending and profit strategy, this move by putting the SA and WA clubs into the AFL’s hands is highly questionable and dangerous for those that fall out of favour.

Andrew Demetriou remarked in this Conversation article from last year:

“We are trying to control as much as we can control and not deal with as many third parties. That is where I see upside in the revenue.

It is very difficult for clubs to generate more revenue. The clubs have got a finite capacity. They will have incremental increases in memberships, in sponsorships, in the gate.”

This move is fraught with danger on numerous fronts.

The AFL buying control of West Coast, Fremantle, Adelaide and Port Adelaide will see the AFL have even more of a say in the direction of the competition, to push the agenda of profit being the only way a club would stay viable.

The AFL already control Sydney, GWS, Gold Coast and Brisbane, and with these acquisitions only needs to acquire the license of one Victorian club to have 50/50 control of the competition. Such a power grab would see many clubs in difficult times be shuffled against the will of their members to maximise profit.
As the so called ‘game of the people’, members should at least get the right to vote on the board members or at least get a minute say of how boards are formed.

Regardless of this being an approach to retain a balance of teams remaining in the competition, the AFL cannot be handed the absolute power. As the game continues to go the way of being run as a giant bureaucracy, the clubs and the general public must be wary of this push from the top.

The AFL and SANFL are not necessarily different at all when it comes to decision making, doing things to suit themselves even if it’s at the expense of football as a whole. The interests of the Crows and Power do intersect with the interests of the AFL, far more than they would intersect with those of the SANFL.

This is probably a good thing for the Crows and Power, being no longer burdened with carrying the SANFL, but the impact on football as a whole is unknown and most likely irrelevant to those making the decisions from above.