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Clubs hurting as AFL raises costs

We'll leave it there for today, folks. Thanks for all your questions and comments, some interesting issues raised again. Round four shapes as a ripper, at least four games worthy of headline billing, and across all three days, too. Enjoy, and we'll see you back here at midday next week.

AFL clubs are struggling to absorb a hefty and unexpected increase in costs imposed on them from league headquarters shortly before the season began.

The costs cover a range of items, such as iPhone apps, talent development and talent pathway fees, vision of games from behind the goals, grand final and Brownlow Medal ticket allocations and match-ball sponsorships.

The combined costs have forced clubs to find more than an extra $100,000 to cover expenses, and in the case of Collingwood and Geelong, who field stand-alone VFL sides and have been forced to find an extra $55,000 this year to fund them, more than $150,000.

Some estimates put the total amount to be recouped by the AFL from the clubs at more than $3 million.

But there is as much anger about the timing of the increases, which were only tabled in February.


Most clubs had signed off on their budgets for 2012 by October.

Their disquiet has forced the AFL's finance department to review the price rises, which have forced some of the less wealthy clubs to go to extremes to find the extra dollars.

"Everyone's been saying how ridiculous this is," said one chief executive, who wished to remain anonymous. ''It's come out of budget time, and out of nowhere with no warning, nothing.

''They're actually reviewing it now, trying to placate us before World War III happens."

Clubs were said to be stunned when, at their last meeting, the league executive briefed them on the resources being poured into the AFL's expanding media department, then announced they would be slugged $20,000 each for the iPhone app.

One source said when club chiefs questioned that cost, the response was, effectively, to "suck it up".

The timing of the increases has created problems even for the well-to-do. Collingwood chief executive Gary Pert, while welcoming measures such as the reduction of grand final corporate packages to enable more tickets to be distributed among competing clubs, said yesterday the timing had made life difficult for all clubs.

"It's complicated, the financial management of the clubs, and I would say in many cases, where clubs are either forecasting losses or very small profits, it's going to have a much bigger impact, and that needed to be given more consideration," Pert said yesterday.

"We certainly don't want to be seen as crying poor, but quite a few clubs have mentioned to me it was a real shock to them, and a big problem, which I fully understand. The AFL may say there's been discussions with the clubs about these things, but the point is that until the AFL advises you officially on it, you can't change your budgets."

Another club chief said an even bigger issue was various AFL departments virtually competing with clubs for the same revenue.

"The bloke who's running [AFL] events says he can make more money out of the Brownlow by whacking that up by $3000, then the talent pathway programs needs to find more money, and that sort of pressure from within is actually getting transferred onto the clubs," he said.

''Everyone's in the same boat on this with the timing," said another club chief, who said even those angriest about the charges were reluctant to speak publicly for fear of retribution.

"The poor clubs that are really haemorrhaging, struggling to find sponsors and with membership down, and all the ones on AFL handouts, can you imagine if they come out [publicly] on this stuff? They'd get belted mercilessly."

Clubs are angry about the "buyback" scheme for grand final tickets, where a club such as Hawthorn is offered $800 per ticket, but other, less financial clubs offered as little as $600.

Match-ball sponsorship is another bone of contention. Last year, clubs who had a ball sponsor paid $40,000. In 2012, they will pay $50,000.

The single biggest increase concerns the talent pathway fee, which takes in centralised video coverage, a TAC Cup levy, and the AFL draft combine.


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