Why you might see AFL coaches on construction sites soon

In the coming weeks, it's quite conceivable that some assistant coaches who work for AFL clubs will find themselves donning overalls on a construction site, painting houses or in another industry that isn't shut down by government fiat.

The coach of Richmond's VFL team, Xavier Clarke, has offered to help find unskilled labour for coaching colleagues, via a national labour hire company, Corestaff Group, which partners with Clarke's own labor business, Goal Indigenous Services.

When the game was closed down six days ago, Clarke and another sponsor of the coaching fraternity, John Moncrieff answered the call from Mark Brayshaw, the AFL Coaches' Association chief executive, to assist the stood-down coaches – all assistants – in finding paid work.

St Kilda's assistant coach Brendon Lade – a trained cabinet maker – has been labouring with friends and, according to the Saints, will continue to do so until the game recommences.

Already, a number of assistant coaches have shown interest in the temporary financial lifeboat offered by Clarke and Moncrieff, though Clarke said he couldn't guarantee anything. "If anything can help (in finding work), we will,'' said the former St Kilda wingman, who acknowledged he was fortunate to have a business outside of footy.

In the new "brutopia" of the AFL post-COVID 19, coaches shape as one of the parties that will cop the heaviest shirtfront.

Aside from the players, coaches are the largest group and budget item within AFL clubs. In a shrunken game, the coaches – along with secondary recruiters, conditioning staff and possibly game analysts – will have both reduced job opportunities and pay, at least for the next few years and probably for longer.

To say that "coaches'' will be among the biggest losers from football's financial crisis really means assistant coaches. The 18 senior coaches will continue to be the highest paid football figures, outside of players and remain the face of their clubs, but, in a reversion to the past, they will be managing fewer lieutenants, as the coaching panels contract.

There's about 180 coaches in the AFL system, an average of 10 per club. As clubs have to lose about $3 million from their football budgets (the soft cap falling from $9.7m to about $6.7m in 2021), the prevailing view is that the 2021 coaching panels will be cut by about a third, depending on what assistants are paid and how many have contracts for next year.

The days of "senior assistant'' coaches or directors of coaching on salaries exceeding $350,000 are gone for a while. The "extra'' line coach responsible for, say, stoppages (not just the midfield) will either be upgraded, reployed or removed.

The surviving assistants will need to be multi-skilled and less specialised; few will be retained if they coach only backmen or forwards. "Coaches will have to play tall and small,'' said one AFL official.

If a coach is paid a million dollars, he will be consuming 15 per cent of a footy's department's non-player spend next year. So only the absolute alpha coaches, such as Alastair Clarkson, have any hope of getting $1m plus in the slimmed down AFL.

Conversely, there's a few senior coaches whose position is more secure, irrespective of results – assuming there are any this year – because their clubs cannot even contemplate a payout amid a depression.

Simon Goodwin, who is among the many coaches taking a huge reduction in pay during the shutdown, is contracted to the Demons until the end of 2022. It is inconceivable that, wherever Melbourne finishes, the club could move him on with two years to run.

Ken Hinkley, whose position hinges on a trigger clause (Port needs to make finals to earn him a 2021 contract), has sacrificed salary for his club's sake and one could argue that, like many others within the besieged industry, his sacrifice ought to be repaid with an extension – assuming there is a season.

As the man charged with protecting the coaching fraternity, Brayshaw doesn't accept that a third or so of the coaching workforce is about to be surplus to club requirements. "It's a bit confronting to suddenly hear that the bottom third of coaching cohort are apparently superfluous when, only a few weeks ago, they formed an important part of the bosom of every AFL football club.

"Players have never been better looked after, so I don't accept that position.''

Players also have been "looked after'' by the AFL after their negotiation over the level of pay cuts. That the players have secured about 70 per cent of their 2020 salary cap, at worst (depending on whether games resume), leaves fewer dollars and employment for everyone else.

While it's possible that the coaching profession's contraction will be temporary and that coaching panels, cut initially to half a dozen, will expand again once the game recovers from the virus, I suspect that coaching will no longer be a career that so many ex-AFL players drift into, without tertiary education.

Coaching has never been for the indolent, nor for the easily-stressed or wounded. In the coming austerity, only those who really, badly want to coach will take on the gig.

Logically, the superstar player will be scarcer in coaching ranks (a trend that's already underway), given that they will be reluctant to drop their pay from $900,000 to a low six figure sum at an AFL club, or even fewer dollars if they wish to cut their coaching teeth in the state leagues.

Seeing them tearing at strands of diminishing hair, or burying their head in hands in exasperation, we often pose the question of why anyone of sound mind would want to be a coach.

Today, a chunk of assistant coaches will be asking themselves that question, too.

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AFL players lack leadership as tough times hit

As 18 AFL senior coaches bade long, uncertain goodbyes to their players this week one coach asked the group of unemployed footballers sitting in front of him to suggest ways that they would cope with the empty weeks and potentially months that lay ahead.

"Practise gratitude," said one. "Others are worse off."

If only the sort of leadership demonstrated in that short comment had been demonstrated publicly by the players and their union during this past fortnight, while life has become increasingly shocking for everyone.

The comment was reflected in practice across the competition where a number of players performed decent private gestures. Notably, more than a handful of well-paid on-field leaders have called their clubs to offer to sacrifice future wages to save the jobs of off-field staff.

Nick and Jack Riewoldt have had different views on the AFL pay dispute.Credit:Justin McManus

And yet as the world as we know it quickly fell apart the sheltered, micromanaged existence that is the reality for so many professional Australian rules footballers was exposed as they came to terms with their part in the savage cost-cutting.

Perhaps it is more accurate to say the entire game has existed in a bubble of all of our making. But once the AFL's season was called off, the bubble well and truly burst and after close to 80 per cent of the game's workforce was sent home the narrative focused upon the players and their refusal to act quickly to make sacrifices to save the game.

From Gillon McLachlan down, the competition attempted to suggest the acrimony was exaggerated.
On Channel Nine on Wednesday night Collingwood's AFLPA delegate Mason Cox pointed his finger at the media and president Eddie McGuire backed him up, suggesting the reporting pack without games to talk about needed a story.

There was a good reason for all these denials. The last thing AFL bosses, club presidents and players need is for the financially brutalised football-loving public to fall out of love with the stars who put on the show.

At a time when clubs like Essendon writes to their members to inform them that for now their subscriptions will continue to be automatically deducted from their bank accounts, it was all the more galling to hear the players boss Paul Marsh say his members were being asked to stay in shape and that contracts were complex.

But fallen idolatry and loss of love was the impending danger as the week unfolded and the players' mistrust of head office and head office's disappointment with the players was stripped bare.
And not helped by Tom Rockliff's lament about his investment property, Patrick Dangerfield's urge for industrial clarity when everything else about our lives has become so clouded. Not to mention the queue of footballers ill-advisedly pointing to the funds they helped raise for bushfire relief in a bid to illustrate their unselfishness.

Both Rockliff and Dangerfield echoed Jack Riewoldt's unfortunate comments about the bushfire game and certainly Riewoldt would be horrified at being seen to use a good fundraising deed as a weapon in what essentially became an unsuccessful brand-saving exercise for the players this week.
But unfortunately that is how it came across.

The man the players' union named their highest individual award after, Leigh Matthews, last Saturday called for the 18 captains to show leadership and immediately volunteer pay cuts. Three days later Matthews, in a damning follow-up, said he had lost faith in the playing group.

That sentiment was reflected across a number of club chiefs who generally defend players and at a time the game has pledged unity divisions emerged.

Recently retired champion Nick Riewoldt's criticism of the players was at odds with his cousin and football bosses increasingly briefed against not their players but union boss Marsh. Some players said they wished Dangerfield had not appeared on SEN to represent their view.

And Geelong coach Chris Scott hinted Dangerfield was, in fact, taking a position on behalf of the AFLPA when it was not necessarily representative of his personal position.

As players have repeatedly stated this week, nobody likes their wage being cut. And what a political tool it has become for the game.

The game's highest-paid coach Alastair Clarkson was initially resistant to the concept last week when the coaches agreed via a series of text messages to volunteer a wage reduction. He wondered whether such a move was unnecessary grandstanding. But Clarkson came to the party after Nathan Buckley pointed out that showing leadership was important.

Even that move seems a lifetime ago in the context of the game – a time when the coaches still had working assistants and a 20 per cent pay cut looked like a fair offer.

Now the AFL Players Association is facing a much deeper issue. Clubs have been told to expect to operate next season with playing lists of 35 and down to 30 by season 2022. At least $3 million will be stripped from football departments and there is the very real prospect of no 2020 national draft.

The game's wage resolution with its players has come as it works to save itself. But once the AFL's existence is assured the rebuilding phase should question the very essence of how young men – when most of them are barely out of school – are recruited into league clubs.

If the draft age – and significantly fewer players will be drafted in the coming years – was raised to 19 or even 20 then then players would enter the game more mature, more resilient and boasting more skills to cope with life later.

The struggle with reality revealed by some in recent weeks might become less of an issue. And the significant resources poured into caring for their mental health could be adjusted accordingly.
Chris Scott, whose brother Brad has pushed for years to lift the draft age, acknowledged while defending Dangerfield on SEN this week that the players were losing the public relations battle but added "now's not a time for PR".

The fact that the AFL and every club has retained significant media communications resources while shedding the bulk of their workforce would suggest otherwise.

The players might have been presented with a stark new deal from the AFL. But they have some work to do in rebuilding their image. And demonstrating to their supporters and sponsors that they truly see themselves as understanding along with the rest of us that the rules have changed.

And it will take more than a high-scoring exhibition fund raiser to achieve that.

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AFL clubs hope to have membership options within a fortnight

AFL clubs hope to be able to give their members a range of options to consider in the next fortnight as they scramble to make suitable arrangements for supporters in an interrupted season.

Club CEOs including Carlton's Cain Liddle and Richmond's Brendon Gale have been working together to create a uniform position across the 18 clubs with the clubs agreeing early in the piece that it would be not help anyone if wealthier clubs used their financial position to make offers to members that other clubs couldn't match.

The working group is understood to be considering offering members options such as credits on future memberships, converting memberships into tax deductible donations, as well as offering refunds where needed although nothing has been finalised as yet.

With the game suspended until at least May 31 (although few expect it to return that early) and a new fixture to be developed if the season does get underway, significant uncertainty remains as to what lies ahead with AFL CEO Gill McLachlan saying he is prepared for the season to extend until the end of the year to ensure the remaining 144 games plus finals are played.

Geelong CEO Brian Cook told a KRock podcast that the Cats had been overwhelmed with support from members as the industry dealt with the myriad of decisions required after the game was cancelled due to government restrictions in place to control the spread of the coronavirus.

"We’ve been working towards a common strategy for all clubs, and it will involve, eventually, several options for their members to consider," Cook said.

AFL clubs hope to have an update on memberships within a fortnight. Credit:Getty Images

Cook expected club members would have about five options to consider once clubs and the AFL had approved the approach with the veteran CEO also anticipating it would need the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's tick of approval.

"I’m expecting [in] about a week or so, we’ll be able to go out to members and say, 'Look, here is our offer'," Cook said.

The AFL said at their season launch that one in 24 Australians are members of clubs. The range of membership options provided by clubs are enormous, ranging from three-game memberships to digital memberships, season ticket holders, reserve seats, season ticket holders and corporate packages or social club memberships.

Membership has been one of the game's biggest growth areas with club bosses describing members as the "lifeblood" of clubs before the coronavirus crisis.

Club officials have been heartened by the response of members with more people happy to leave their money with the club at this stage than wanting refunds. All clubs have had people buy memberships since the season cancelled too.

However they are also conscious there are many people, like clubs, who have suddenly been hit with significant financial troubles as jobs disappear so they are attempting to work out a suitable solution.

It's unclear at this stage what approach will be taken with AFL members.

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AFL pair apologise for organising party, breaking social distancing guidelines

North Melbourne players Nick Larkey and Cameron Zurhaar have apologised for organising a party and breaking social distancing guidelines.

The two young players are housemates and were the hosts of a gathering in Kensington on Sunday night, hours after playing in the Kangaroos’ win over St Kilda at Marvel Stadium.

Nick Larkey (pictured) and Cameron Zurhaar have apologised for holding a party and breaking social distancing guidelines.Credit:Getty Images

Neighbours complained of a disturbance late at night but police were not called.

The Kangaroos followed up on a complaint on Monday morning.

The incident comes after the AFL announced a shutdown of the competition until at least May 31 to help fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, former AFLW player Meg Hutchins has taken to social media to call out players who had planned 'Mad Monday' celebrations after the sudden cancellation of the women's competition.

Hutchins tweeted: "Take note any #AFLW player(s) planning any form of end of season Mad Monday type of gathering. I've already seen a few over social media in the last 24-hours … pull your heads in, stop being selfish, and be the role models you are privileged to be."

AAP

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AFL games could be cancelled for eight weeks, says medico

AFL games are likely to be cancelled for four to eight weeks when coronavirus forces more serious shutdowns in the community, sports medico Dr Peter Brukner said.

The veteran sports doctor said it was not unreasonable for the AFL to go either way with the vexing decision about whether to commence the season this week.

Dr Peter Brukner is consulting with Melbourne this season.Credit:Daniel Munoz

He admitted there were strong and reasonable arguments for both delaying this opening round and for playing it and playing football for as long as possible before the likely and seemingly inevitable forced shutdown of the league.

“Clearly at some stage in the near future we will have to cease all gatherings beyond a very small number of people and that will mean sport will have to stop, and that’s likely to last four to eight weeks,” said Brukner.

“It depends on how effective we are at slowing down the curve (of infection). We can either be Singapore or Italy.”

Brukner is involved consulting with Melbourne Football Club this year after working with a range of AFL sides and in the EPL and with the Australian cricket team.

“I don’t have a strong view on whether they should postpone the opening rounds or not, there are reasonable arguments for both positions. It’s a tough one,” Brukner said.

“It’s going to stop for an extended period and that is going to have an enormous impact on people's lives, so I understand the argument of playing games now before that happens.”

He said the idea that the game would shut down due to a positive test by a player or official for the coronavirus was almost redundant as only the extremely sick would now be tested in Melbourne.

Unlike as recently as last week, when several players including Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury suffered flu-like symptoms and underwent isolation and testing, the tests were now so sparingly used that people presenting with coughs and fevers would be sent to isolate but not tested.

He said the game itself offered a smaller risk of passing on the virus to another player than proximity in the change rooms and airports.

“There is probably not any danger in the actual game. It seems more like contact with surfaces is where you pick it up rather than droplets from another person, so if someone carries the virus into the game the chances of transmission in the game is low.

“Other people are working, kids are at schools, is there a greater risk of transmission from two teams in an empty stadium? Probably not.

“They are not prohibited from playing. The NRL is going ahead, the A-League is going ahead. I suspect they will go ahead.”

He said the social impact of playing when people are feeling stressed and socially isolated should not be underestimated.

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AFL players baulk at 20 per cent pay cuts

On the eve of a season that may or may not start this week, the AFL players have pushed back against a league request for a 20 per cent pay cut — an amount that Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett has called the "minimum" that the players should accept.

The AFL indicated late on Tuesday that it still could not say for certain whether the season would kick off with Richmond v Carlton on Thursday night and the rest of round one over the weekend.

A decision is expected on Wednesday, with some clubs testing players for the coronavirus — and the reality that a positive test would shut down the competition.

Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett, pictured, has voiced his support for AFL pay cuts amid the coronavirus pandemic. Credit:Wayne Ludbey

The 17-round season, should it begin this week, will do so with major uncertainties, such as when it will end, what money will be given to clubs to keep trading, and without agreement between players and the AFL about the extent of pay cuts that the players will accept.

But Kennett, who is part of the high-powered decision making group assisting AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan along with Eddie McGuire and Bulldogs president Peter Gordon, said the players, like "everyone" within the game — staff, coaches and chief executives — had to make sacrifices for the sake of the code and competition.

Kennett said 20 per cent was the minimum that the players should accept as a cut, and that if games were not played, close to 50 per cent would be closer to the right amount.

The players are willing to take pay cuts, but have baulked at the figure of 20 per cent and have expressed a wish that the season should remain at 22 games if possible, given that the AFL is willing to extend the season well beyond the last weekend in September.

The AFLPA says the season will start — if it begins this week — without a pay deal secured, which means that the normal contracts will apply.

Player sources said there was a willingness to take cuts even for a 22-game season, given the disruption and the prospect of crowd-less games and they've agreed to major changes in fixturing — even four-day breaks – to help get matches played before the coronavirus stops games for a period.

"Well there's no question about it," Kennett said about the need for a 20 per cent cut for players. "If we're not playing games or we're playing limited games, the players are part of the code and they like the staff and the coaches, and CEOs are all going to have to be part of this realignment for the future.

"The question is whether 20 per cent is enough. For instance, if we play games, it may be. If we don't play games, around the rest of the world clubs have stood down players who are not earning any money at all … if we don't play games, 50 per cent I think would be closer to the [mark]."

Kennett, whose Hawks have temporarily put off the development of their new base at Dingley to “preserve cash,” called the situation facing the clubs and the AFL "very, very serious stuff" that required unity, tough decisions, preserving cash and prompt action. He said the Hawks did not want to sack staff, hence the need for sacrifice from all parties.

He said he had never known such a period of transparency and co-operation between people within the game.

"It's all about cash flow. You need revenue and our expenses have been about $4.5 million a month, we can't sustain that if we're not getting income," he said. "We've got to do that substantially and we want to do that in recognition of the health and wellbeing of our staff and players. We want to do it in recognition of our staff in the sense that we don't want to sack anyone. We're all involved … we've got to cut our cloth to suit. And we've got to do it quickly."

Kennett said the season should go ahead, following the advice of government, but said this was ultimately "beyond our control".

His call for across-the-board sacrifice was backed by North Melbourne chairman Ben Buckley, who said everyone in football had to take a cut to deal with the massive impact the coronavirus would have on the game.

"We have to come out of this on the other side intact and we cannot do that if we do not attack costs," he said.

"Whatever form that is there is a shared burden across every part of the industry. Directors don't get paid but from administrators, CEOs to players to coaches and everyone involved has to share the burden."

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AFL fine Geelong over payment rule breaches

Geelong have been fined $40,000 for breaching the AFL Total Player Payment (TPP) lodgement rules through an "inadvertent administrative error" repeated across eight years.

AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon said the Cats had "voluntarily disclosed" their breach of the AFL Player Rules "as soon as it was discovered."



"We made an inadvertent administrative error in our TPP related reporting that has been repeated over eight years," Geelong's chief financial officer Simon Kelleher said.

"As soon as we discovered this error, we advised the AFL. The AFL investigated the matter and have passed down the sanction.

"We accept the penalty and have thoroughly reviewed our processes to ensure full compliance going forward."

AFL investigations manager Ken Wood found the Cats had breached the TPP lodgement rules but reiterated the Cats had voluntarily advised the AFL of the "required information", with the club's full co-operation taken into account when handing down the sanction.

AAP

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Suns take biggest AFL slice

The Gold Coast Suns last year received the biggest slice of the AFL distribution, with the expansion club earning $27 million from the league.

Fellow expansion club GWS are yet to declare how much they have received, but the Suns' slice of the total AFL distribution is expected to be biggest of all clubs.

Gold Coast received the most funding from the AFL last year.Credit:AAP

The Suns reported an overall operating profit of $244,000 after making $1.1 million the year before. The 2018 profit figure was in large part bloated by the Commonwealth Games and the requirement to sell games away from the Gold Coast.

The club finished bottom again last year and received an assistance package from the AFL at the end of the year that was largely structured around on-field help, but the club also receives the biggest distribution.

The clubs in expansion markets are always likely to receive the biggest distribution because the AFL equalisation formula recognises structural reasons why they are financially penalised or handicapped relative to other clubs.

"The AFL's investment is working. The growth in Queensland is bigger than WA or SA, traditional football states," Suns CEO Mark Evans said of the size of the distribution and ongoing AFL help to the club and the expansion markets.

"We have the second largest schools competition in the country, the second largest female participation in the country.

"We understand our responsibility still to manage the money wisely."

The Suns grew sponsorship income by $1.25 million to $7.7 million but membership income fell by $2 million.

The Giants announced an operating loss of $866,613 last year after posting a deficit of over $1.98 million in 2018.

CEO Dave Matthews told The Age injuries alone had cost the Giants as much as $1.5 million over the last two seasons.

The Age reported last month that St Kilda received a total AFL distribution of $20.6 million or about $4 million more than the next Victorian clubs.

In contrast, strong clubs West Coast, Richmond and Collingwood receive the minimum slice of the AFL distribution of $11.5 million.

The Suns received $23.7 million in AFL distributions in 2018 and $24.7 million in 2017.

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AFL well-placed for any coronavirus shock: McLachlan

The AFL has only "limited exposure" to the coronavirus and is well-placed to weather any economic shocks from the spread of the disease, according to AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan.

McLachlan suggested that, as a domestic game played within this country, the coronavirus posed fewer business risks for the AFL than sports that were more international.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan.Credit:AAP

His views follow fears that the Olympic Games in Tokyo – the quintessential international event – faces significant challenges, with a potential pandemic later this year, while the Australian stockmarket, like Wall Street, has taken a major hit in recent days.

But McLachlan said the AFL acted on the advice of the federal government to keep going about normal business.

While he did not address the possibility of games being affected, the AFL's understanding, based on government advice, is that there is only a very low risk of games being cancelled or planned without spectators, as has happened with soccer games in Italy’s north, where the virus has been more widespread.

"We take advice from the federal government, the relevant organisations," he told The Age. "At the moment, the advice is, as recently as yesterday from our prime minister, is to keep going about our business. You obviously look at what's going on.

"Right now, I can't wait to get to the football tonight," said McLachlan, who was speaking late on Friday before the bushfire appeal game. "And you know we can only deal with where we are at the moment. We take the advice of those in charge.

"Exposure for us is limited. Things may change. Because we're a domestic game and, at the moment, the coronavirus has implications for those with supply chain or international links and that's not where we're at.

"So as we sit here today, without looking too far into the future, our economic exposure is limited. We look to the federal government and the relevant interested bodies for advice and, you know, until that changes, that's where we're at."

The panic gripping much of the world about the virus did not deter more than 51,000 fans from attending the state of origin game between Victoria and the All-Stars team on Friday night. The AFL's major corporate partners – NAB, Toyota, Virgin, Coca-Cola, Telstra, Coles, Marsh and BHP – are secure on largely long-term deals, although there are some clubs with small sponsorship exposure to China.

The St Kilda-Port Adelaide game, scheduled to be played in Shanghai, China, in late May is under threat, however, and is most likely to be relocated back to Melbourne.

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