You can never be too rich

All AFL clubs are equal.  Some are just more equal than others.  Sydney seems the equal of none.  They are mocking the AFL’s equalisation policy which is designed to ensure every club has a chance to rebuild for a grand final inside five years.

The policy isn’t working.

Sydney is playing chequebook football because they can.  There can be no criticism of their methods.

Last year, Sydney won the premiership.  A few weeks later they picked up Kirk Tippett on a contract worth $900,000 a year. His cost of living allowance is about $90,000 each year.

Forget that $90,000 is more than most people earn.  Think about an explanation, because there is no reason anyone needs an extra $90,000 each year just to live in Sydney.

Millions of people live in Sydney on less than that.  The cost of living allowance is a rort.  It always has been.

When the Swans went for Tippett, issues with draft tampering ensured an investigation.  Adelaide was banned from the first two rounds of the 2013 draft.  Tippett was fined $50,000 and suspended for 11 matches.  Adelaide officials were stood down.

Of course, the AFL didn’t prevent Sydney from nabbing Tippett and issues with the salary cap meant no club other than Sydney could afford him.

Sydney would suggest the price they paid was worth it.

Two weeks ago, when I wrote the following paragraphs, I had no idea Sydney was about to sign Buddy Franklin on a nine year deal worth an estimated $10 million.  The Ramble was about Victorian bias, which wouldn’t be complete without a dig at the AFL and their generosity…

We shouldn’t forget Sydney and their cost of living allowance which their players need so desperately because milk is more expensive around the Harbour.  That cost of living allowance (9.8 percent extra) ensured the Swans have played in more finals than any club since 1996.

It went a long way to securing two premierships, in 2005 and 2012, and don’t forget about Kirk Tippett who desperately wanted to get home to Queensland but tripped over a bag full of money along the way.

Now Sydney has attracted Franklin with a bigger bag of money.  Under the cost of living allowance, Franklin is set to earn a million bucks in nine years, just because he lives in Sydney.

The allowance which was already fracturing relationships with the AFL has infuriated other clubs.  Their outrage contained an undignified sense of resignation.  Club presidents complained but couldn’t do anything about it.

The AFL has no option but to endorse Sydney’s deal with Franklin, because they set the rules that Sydney are exploiting.

Sydney understand the ramifications if Franklin gets injured or can’t run at 33.  It’s a risky investment.  The other clubs must begrudgingly admire Sydney’s diligence.  The other clubs would love to offer such a deal.

Those same clubs didn’t care about Sydney in the early nineties, when they were pathetic.  The Swans won three consecutive wooden spoons from 1992 to 1994.

They had no money and few members.  The AFL’s best players didn’t want to go to Sydney. Some kids cried when they were selected by the Swans in the draft.  Men like Anthony Rocca and Shannon Grant quickly made for home.

The crisis forced the AFL to get involved.  Ron Barassi was appointed coach in 1993.  By 1995, Tony Lockett was Sydney’s full forward.

Lockett went to Sydney for two reasons; he wanted to get out of Victoria and the AFL bankrolled his contract.  It must be remembered that Collingwood were also interested in Lockett, but they didn’t have AFL funding.

In 1996, the Swans lost the grand final to North Melbourne.  Since then they have missed the finals just three times, 2000, 2002 and 2009.  Their performance has been exceptional.  Their culture has been transformed.  They are a power club despite mediocre profits and fickle fans.

The AFL loves Sydney so much they put another club in the Western Suburbs.  Greater Western Sydney has the same deal the Swans do, but like Sydney in the early nineties, they can’t attract anyone.

To get drafted by GWS must be disappointing.  That’s what Franklin was thinking, and he is blameless.  He just took the best deal, which was available to two clubs, GWS and Sydney, because of the cost of living allowance.

This is a deal built on resources.  Not one Victorian club can match Sydney’s offer.  The other interstate clubs, GWS aside, wouldn’t dream of it.

Simply, no other club could afford him.  Franklin was always a cinch for New South Wales, all because of the extra money.

The AFL couldn’t care less, because too many people who live in Sydney are apathetic about sport.  Franklin’s presence will help increase memberships and bring more people to the game.  Even if he doesn’t receive ambassadorial money from the AFL, he will play that role, just like Lockett did eighteen years ago.

If the AFL is serious about equalisation, and an American find finding mission suggests they are, myriad policies must be changed.  It is clear free agency, which the players wanted, is benefiting the rich.  To combat the rich getting richer, all clubs must be able to pay 100 percent of the salary cap.

At the moment clubs like Melbourne, North Melbourne and Brisbane pay about 93 percent of the full cap.  It seems crazy in an era of equalisation that such a discrepancy exists.

Collingwood can spend 20 million annually on their football department while the Western Bulldogs spend about 15 million.

Despite the equalisation policy, the competition remains on different levels, and a club can never be too rich.

The cost of living allowance afforded to Sydney and GWS makes a mockery of equalisation measures.  The AFL isn’t a fair field, it hasn’t been for years.  There are favours for some clubs and restrictions for others.

Money is dictating success, as it did in the seventies and eighties, when Carlton and Hawthorn shared nine premierships in twelve years.

Back then, the richest clubs prospered.

Nothing has changed.

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…


  1. Peter Fuller says

    Well, we do have to understand that given Sydney’s impossible traffic, the Swans players have to live in the eastern suburbs, where property prices are eye-watering. It’s a far cry from the days when Sanford Wheeler used to ride a skateboard to training.
    Obviously, if it was anything other than a spurious leg-up for the Swans (GWS is a whole separate can of worms) it would be paid as a specific subsidy for rent or mortgage payments, rather than as a global figure which can be dished out as a salary bonus for the chosen. Even with the larger cap, it seems obvious that the fringe senior players get no subsidy, as the funds are blown on paying over the odds for marquee players, enticed from clubs with more restricted salary caps.

  2. daniel flesch says

    @Peter Fuller … yes , the COLA stinks. Your assertion ” it seems obvious that the fringe senior players get no subsidy” is however disputed by the Swans and their apologists. They say all players get the 10% on top. Though i wonder if they could contract the not -so- high profile players at 10% less than their real value ,then give it back to them with the COLA , thus achieving what you accuse them of.

  3. Peter Fuller says

    Thanks Daniel, happy to stand corrected, if that claim is correct. I sense that you are somewhat sceptical, as I am. I wonder if it’s possible to prove/disprove the claim. Do the Swans claim to the auditor that player #38 on the list is paid x + 50k dollars – the extra amount being claimed as COLA, while Buddy is allegedly on 850 + 150 COLA, Tippett 700 + 125? It could only be demonstrated beyond argument if the COLA element was directly paid to a mortgage provider or to an agent for a rental property.

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