Winners and losers: The 2023 AFL club funding ladder revealed

North Melbourne will overtake St Kilda as the AFL’s most heavily funded Victorian club this year in the AFL’s latest distribution of variable funding to the 18 clubs.

And the same four power clubs – Collingwood, Richmond, West Coast and Hawthorn – again will not receive any additional dollars this year, besides the base distribution of between $10.5 million to $11m.

The Saints and North are the two Victorian clubs who will receive the most funding from the AFL.Credit:AFL Photos

Expansion teams Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney will remain well ahead of the 16 other clubs on the funding ladder, receiving around $25m each in 2023, or more than $14m in extra funding.

As the AFL finalises the variable funding for 2023 – most, if not all, clubs have been told what they will receive this year – The Age can also reveal the following details about the 18 clubs from senior competition sources:

  • The Brisbane Lions, who have the competition’s largest debt, will retain a similar level of funding to 2022, a total of more than $18m and will rank third on the funding table, narrowly ahead of North Melbourne, which has had variable funding increased this year to more than $18m after several years in which the Kangaroos were well behind both St Kilda and even the Western Bulldogs.
  • St Kilda also will exceed $18m, a figure that has been reduced from more than $20m in 2017, 2018 and 2019, when they were easily the most-funded Victorian club. The Saints were challenged by AFL boss Gillon McLachlan to improve their financial performance nearly five years ago, and the extent of their extra funding has incensed some rival clubs, particularly in comparison to the smaller teams Kangaroos, Bulldogs and Melbourne. St Kilda have paid off a major chunk of a debt that peaked at nearly $14m a few years ago during COVID-19, but have more than halved it to a little more than $6m. As The Age revealed last year, the Saints had received about $17m more than the next Victorian club, the Western Bulldogs, in the decade from 2012 until the end of 2021.
  • Essendon will be the fifth least-funded club, gaining less than $1m in additional funding, while their great rival Carlton is expected to receive $1m to $2m extra, but the Blues are viewed by the AFL as a club that will not need additional support for much longer given their vast support and on-field improvement.
  • Melbourne will receive fractionally more in variable funding than the Western Bulldogs, both clubs having greatly improved their financial position over recent years and now falling into the same funding bracket as Port Adelaide and the Sydney Swans of close to an additional $5m.
  • 2022 premiers and regional powerhouse Geelong will receive between $1m and $2m in addition to the base funding, placing the Cats in the same funding group as Adelaide, Fremantle and Carlton, but ahead of Hawthorn, Collingwood and Richmond on the funding table.
  • Hawthorn remains in the gang of four clubs – as it has been since 2020 – that gain no additional funding, despite a lean period on the field and long-term rebuild with a very young list and the prospect of losing their millions from a second base in Tasmania if/when a Tassie team gains entry to the AFL (from 2027 most likely). The Hawks have an outstanding balance sheet, however, having sold their pokies assets for more than $40m, with freeholds at Waverley and their next home at Dingley.

All told, nine clubs, or half of the competition, have been granted comparatively little extra funding this year and are viewed as being financially robust. They are, unsurprisingly, the six strongest Victorian clubs (Collingwood, Richmond, Hawthorn, Essendon, Carlton and Geelong) plus two the two Perth clubs and the Adelaide Crows.

While the amounts shift each year, according to the position of the clubs, the AFL has been careful to not slash the funding of clubs with significant debt, notably the Lions and Saints. The Brisbane Lions still owe more than $13m to either the AFL or their bank, but made a sizeable profit last year and have recovered strongly from the COVID-19 pandemic period.

The variable funding total shared between the clubs will be about $100m, of which the expansion teams share more than $28m. The clubs have regained the $2m that was removed from their base funding due to COVID-19 cuts.

The AFL has not yet finalised the salary cap amount for 2023, as negotiations continue with the players’ union (the AFL Players’ Association), which is why the base funding amount is estimated in a range between $10.5m and $11m. The clubs have been told to budget for a salary cap increase of 5 per cent and this will be funded in the base amount for all clubs.

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