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  • Writer's pictureJohn Townsend

Football faces future funding fallout

Premier Mark McGowan doesn’t want to keep paying WA football more than $10 million a year.

We know that because he said it six years ago and his bean counters are now making similar noises in the early days of negotiations to extend the annual WA Football Commission payment into its second decade.

The tensions over that deal are rising as West Coast’s on-field plight – and its off-field ramifications – opens a second front on the financial battlefield where the sport now finds itself.

West Coast paid the WAFC a royalty of just $2.7 million last year – down $1.1 million from a year earlier – with their catastrophic 2023 season and dire short-term prospects likely to slice that figure even further as their members and sponsors vote with their bank accounts in the coming months and seasons.

And forget sacking beleaguered coach Adam Simpson in a bid to rejuvenate the Eagles – chairman Paul Fitzpatrick confirmed last Friday that Simpson was contracted to the end of 2025 – because a pay-out would likely attract the AFL’s football department luxury tax of 200 percent of that figure.

Any footy fans out there with $6 million to spare?

The deal to pay the WAFC $10.3 million a year (indexed) was struck in late 2017 when the football body was persuaded to surrender its 72-year lease at Subiaco Oval in return for AFL matches being moved to the new Perth Stadium.

McGowan wasn’t a fan of the deal at the time and despite his government last week reporting its sixth consecutive surplus – $4.1 billion this time with $3.3 billion forecast for next year – he still wants to squeeze a few more drops of blood out of football’s fragile form.

“I think the offer put on the table by the former government was more than generous,” McGowan said in 2017.

“That offer was $10.3 million a year, over 10 years. (The sticking point) is the amount and longevity of the payments.

“The WAFC wants 50 years of indexed payments of more than $10 million. I’m not happy about that.”

Not surprisingly, football couldn’t talk the government into its preferred half-century time scale and minimum half-billion dollar commitment but neither did it expect to have its first contract extension cut by what some football people describe as a “substantial amount” and others estimate to be up to $5 million a year.

Funnily enough, that is about the annual amount that Optus pays for naming rights to the stadium in a contract that expires at the same time as the WAFC one.

Given that the AFL chips in about $5 million to the WAFC – including funding plenty of WAFC positions – and the royalties paid by West Coast and Fremantle combine for a similar amount, it is clear how reliant WA football is on a healthy AFL presence.

That partly explains WAFC chairman Wayne Martin’s categorical rebuttal to suggestions that a third AFL team should be introduced here to even up the competition. Martin knows that West Coast are teetering and that cashed-up McGowan wants to deprive the sport of its life blood.

And that has numerous impacts on the game, not least for the WAFL clubs that are also dependent on WAFC hand-outs to stay afloat.

The government’s most recent indexed payment of $12.4 million was made last December but that figure is expected to grow beyond $13 million a year by the time the deal expires in 2027.

If that gets cut to, say, $8 million and West Coast can only pony up a handful of loose change, the consequences for the game could be catastrophic.

COVID might have provided WA football’s biggest challenge this century but the funding difficulties of the coming months and years could overshadow that sideshow if they are not managed well.

Let’s hope the WAFC has the vision, steel and negotiating prowess to guarantee football’s future.

IMAGE: Getty Images


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