Should the AFL cap Football Department Spending?

The issue of inequity among AFL clubs continues to surface, and the most recent equalisation measure floated around AFL HQ is a cap on clubs’ football department expenditure.

North Melbourne’s football department expenditure has increased by nearly 15% under the current administration, spurned on by Dean Laidley’s public call for the club to ‘thrive, not just survive’. However, North are still well behind the likes of Collingwood and West Coast, the AFL’s biggest spenders when it comes to football. But as Eugene Arocca explained to Rev. Shinboner, the spending comparisons aren’t necessarily clear cut:

Rev. Shinboner: NMFC’s football expenditure has gone from $12.8m in 2008 to $13.5m in 2009. Is it expected to increase again next year (2010)?

Eugene Arocca: We will expect to continue adding, (but) I think the football department, from a staffing point of view, is probably at its high point. We’ve got two development people, a high performance academy person, (and) we’ve got the usual array of four assistant coaches, including an opposition analyst. As (Laidley) said earlier in the year, “I started with 5 full-timers, now I’ve got 23 full-timers plus an assortment of part-timers.” I think that any more spend on staff is probably overkill. It’s more now about the facilities, the sports science – the gizmos if you want to call it that.

But I think any increase from now on will basically be in our TPP (Total Player Payments). We’re sitting at 93% (of the salary cap), we expect to go to 95% (and) at some stage we’ll probably be closer to 97% over the next three years. So we think that’s where the increase will be, but I don’t envisage us putting on extra staff just for the sake of it.

And you’ve got to remember that some clubs spend $16m. For example, at the Lexus centre, I reckon they attribute part of their rent to the football department, and that’s probably $0.5 million. At North Melbourne we pay $50,000. So there are some aspects of football department expenditure that aren’t really football department (expenses). But are they any different to North Melbourne who’s paying a reduced rent? So there are some idiosyncrasies. Collingwood goes to Arizona, it costs them $250,000. Do we need to go to Arizona? Well, 14 other clubs don’t. So if you can have it and you can spend it, good luck to you.

But I think the key areas for us are recruiting, and we’ve got good facilities and good resources in recruiting and development. If I had to spend the last buck I had, it would be in recruiting and development, because they are really your research, development and capital.

I think that any coach coming to this club at any stage would feel that we are doing as much as we can, getting more bang for our buck. And we’re going to be in a state-of-the-art facility, which has probably been our only Achilles heal in the past.

RS: There’s been talk about a salary cap on football department spending. What’s your position on that?

EA: I think that the market is being set for staff by the higher spending clubs. In other words, we hear of some clubs interstate paying up to twice the amount we pay for assistant coaches in Victoria. I would think that if there was a ceiling on what they spend in the football department, it will have the effect of actually keeping the industry in check. There’s no other sport in Australia that competes with AFL for income for staff. I think our CEOs get paid more than other CEOs in soccer and other codes, our conditioning people get paid more, our assistant coaches get paid more, our (senior) coaches get paid more. So really, what is driving up our own market are the clubs within the market.

So, if you put a ceiling on football spend, I would think that that will go some way towards controlling how we’re going with respect to our own football departments. I certainly reckon there should be a floor – we should all adhere to a minimum – and I am comfortable about having an upper level so that clubs aren’t spending money just to drive the market up.

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