An arms race has well and truly begun in the AFL, with football clubs across the country being allowed to burn money at an insane pace on spending within football departments.
In the last few days, the AFLPA have stepped into the debate, suggesting such a cap on spending should exist within the competition, concerned with the figures that were being thrown about for many reasons.
There is a disturbing trend occurring with not only results that are coming out of the football department total spending numbers, but the decisions being made by clubs internally with that money.
Naturally, clubs should be able to exercise what they do with their money, but such fiscally irresponsible and riskier moves are being made by the year, mainly in fitness departments.
Dean Robinson, or ‘The Weapon’, is known to be on a three-year deal with Essendon at an obscene price of nearly a million dollars for his services over that span. In the wake of the reshuffle into the weights room with Danny Corcoran taking over the high performance manager role, it’s an obscene amount of money being spent on a weights coach.
Port Adelaide is said to have offered former Liverpool fitness coach Darren Burgess a sum of $350,000 a year, $100,000 more than the average player wage.
In an even better illustration of the lengths clubs are going to, fitness and conditioning costs across the board have exploded by 13% in the last 12-month period alone, with a 7% increase in recruiting departments on top of that.
These numbers are raising the eyebrows of those down at AFL House, with one unnamed AFL official quoted as referring to the price tags as “absurd” and the roles of such people within football clubs as nothing but “glorified physical education teachers”.
The AFL have begun the attempts to buy back licenses of football clubs from interstate teams, with it looking more and more likely that the Victorian licenses are to be next on the agenda. This move is being done with the intent to curb the prevalence of debt within many clubs around the country, some of which the result of unregulated and poor football department spending.
If a cap existed on spending, would the AFL need to undertake such drastic measures like license ownership and board control if fiscal responsibility was forced upon clubs?
Those who are reckless enough to part with their money to a qualified person, who promises success, are being shown up in emphatic fashion by even bigger spenders. St Kilda’s fitness manager has been poached after only one season by Richmond, a larger fish in the football spending pond.
This leads to the even bigger issue of why some sort of regulation should exist on football department spending, as the threat of those with deeper pockets creating a two-tiered competition.
In 2011, Collingwood ($19.1 million), West Coast ($18.6 million), Geelong ($18.4 million), Carlton ($18.2 million) had four of the five highest-spending football departments and all finished within the top five on the ladder. Essendon had the biggest increase in one year, with $18.6 million up from $16.3 million in 2010, climbing from 14th to into the final 8.
When you factor in that only one of the four lowest-spending clubs in any of the last 15 years has won a flag (North Melbourne in 1999), a trend is slowly beginning to emerge.
For those who spend, success is more likely to occur. For those who don’t, it’s going to get a whole lot harder.