AFL season 2016: Debt down but losses mount for AFL clubs

The 10 Victorian-based AFL clubs managed to cut their debt levels but financial losses increased in 2015, and tougher trading conditions could impact their fiscal performances this year.

An analysis of the annual reports lodged by the 10 clubs showed them making a combined loss of just over $2 million last year from revenue of $501 million.

Simpkin (right) with Hawk skipper Luke Hodge after the 2013 grand final.
AFL clubs are seeking more money from the broadcast rights deal. Photo: Pat Scala

The revenue figure was flat compared to 2014, but large losses sustained by Carlton, Geelong and Essendon, pushed the overall result into negative territory, despite premier Hawthorn recording a $3.3 million net profit.

Better news was found in the balance sheets of the clubs, with combined debts falling to about $41.2 million last year, compared with $46.4 million in 2014.

Gaming revenue held steady at about $100 million, with North Melbourne the only club not to make considerable revenue from poker machine venues.

St Kilda chief executive Matt Finnis said his club was steadily moving towards the break-even mark, after it made a $850,000 loss in 2015.

State of the books - AFL clubs'' finances 2015

"We're about to hit 30,000 members [this] week and we're well ahead of last year, when we ended with 33,000. We've got good new sponsors, including Pepper Group, and we are in a growth phase now after a couple of years of stemming the decline," Finnis said.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said in an interview in December that the league had a responsibility to several parties when it came to dividing the record $2.508 billion broadcast rights deal.

"The key priorities are clearly our clubs, our players and our communities and all of our investment decisions will be made in parallel. We are looking at this as an investment approach rather than a distribution approach. That is partnering with our players, our clubs and our community," he said.

McLachlan said the new deal could set the 18 clubs on the path to all being financially sustainable. He said total club debts had fallen by a couple of million dollars from $50 million at the start of 2015 and total profits had increased, showing the game was headed in the right direction fiscally.

However, the league could lose about $20 million this year primarily due to the increased cost of supporting 18 clubs in the last year of the current broadcast deal.