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Exclusive Comments As AFL Clubs Brace For Impact

T
he AFL, and its clubs are not immune from the financial impacts of COVID-19, with the league cutting 20% of staff and several clubs letting go assistant coaches and operating on ‘skeleton staff’.

Gold Coast, Fremantle, North Melbourne, and Hawthorn have confirmed they have dismissed several members of their staff in response to the AFL reducing the soft cap by $3.5 million in 2021.

Most notably, the Suns announced they had let go of five assistant coaches, marked by the loss of highly respected assistant coach, Dean Solomon, who was under contract with the club for two more seasons.

AFL Coaches’ Association CEO, Mark Brayshaw, told Ministry of Sport the cuts to club staff create a risk some players may not develop properly, and may not be able to cope with their first few years in the league.

“One risk many of the senior coaches were at pains to point out, related to a reduction in development coaches,” Brayshaw told Ministry of Sport.

“They made it clear to the AFL that the development coaches (and development staff, per se) play a crucial role in helping nearly every player get established in years one-three.

“Without enough of these ‘development’ resources, the senior coaches fear that some players may not make it because of an inability to cope with the unique challenges associated with the first few years of an AFL footballer’s career.

“[The AFL will have] fewer specialists and more generalist coaches who can multi-skill.

“Also, clubs – and especially players – may notice a diminution of services as a consequence of a reduced head count,” he said.

When asked how many more cuts can be expected across the AFL, Brayshaw said “lots”.

“The fallout of COVID-19 is profound, especially in Victoria where the government’s quarantine mismanagement has devastated so many businesses that may not be in a position to sponsor an AFL club for the near term,” Brayshaw said.

“Similarly, supporters may not be able to afford AFL club memberships if they are unemployed.

“Remember, 10 of the clubs are in Victoria so this is likely to be a real challenge for the industry.

“By the way, cuts have not been limited to coaches, staff throughout football departments and across the board at clubs have been let go.

“Financial imperatives are the number one priority for clubs as a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Doubtless, the majority of coaches who have been terminated on contracts that extended beyond the 2020 season will have signed an employment agreement containing a termination clause enabling the club to end the agreement early and without paying the full term.

“Nonetheless, as far as I know, all the clubs remain under serious financial stress in the short-term at least,” he said.

Discussing how the wellbeing of coaches around the AFL will be impacted by the looming threat of further cuts, Brayshaw said he is still hopeful the game will retain the experience of the majority of the coaches.

“For those coaches who remain, we are hearing that workloads have increased significantly,” Brayshaw said.

“And for those unfortunate coaches who have been terminated, their wellbeing is likely to be correlated to their employment.

“Hopefully, the majority of these coaches will remain in the system at State League or in the pathway programs, which will assist with their personal wellbeing but also help the game as a whole, by retaining their experience,” he said.

The AFL is also working with the AFL Players’ Association on potentially revising the collective bargaining agreement, looking at a reduction to 35, through to no change, to the average club list of 45.

The reported starting position in the negotiations is to reduce the clubs list size to 40, despite AFL Players’ Association chief executive, Paul Marsh, saying the AFL would need to make a “compelling” case for there to be any list cuts.

The clubs reportedly believe if there are list cuts, the AFL should reduce the requirement of making a minimum of three selections at the NAB AFL Draft, as the 40 list size proposal likely is a 38-plus-two model, with a primary list of 38 and two rookies.