WAFL’s $10.2 million financial loss after being paid by the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers

The WAFL is at a critical juncture after four clubs posted losses. ELIZA REILLY reports on how league boss Michael Roberts plans to get out of the financial morass.

The West Australian Football Commission is calling on WAFL clubs to up their game or be left behind after four teams recorded a staggering combined loss of nearly $1million last year.

Subiaco (-$343,380) and East Fremantle (-$322,104) posted the biggest losses, while Peel Thunder (-$145,525) and East Perth (-$60,863) also ended the year in deficit, as revealed by CODE Sports in its WAFL Rich List.

Along with five clubs that had a string of wins, WAFL clubs lost an average of $46,389 over the past year.

WAFC Chief Executive Michael Roberts announced that the Commission is about to launch a new marketing campaign aimed at attracting new audiences to the WAFL. However, he warned that clubs would have to follow suit or risk becoming financially unviable.

The commission will meet with clubs that have recorded deficits in the coming weeks. Roberts challenges them to find new ways of self-promotion and alternative sources of income.

“There is no doubt that every year some clubs tweak a bit and repeat what they did the year before. We can probably all agree that it’s not going to work in the future,” Roberts told CODE.

“We have a real focus on the sustainability of clubs and competition. I think we’ve seen a plateau in membership and viewership across the competition.

“That’s why last year we started investing significantly in our brands and growth team from a commission perspective. We never really marketed the game. At the WAFL, we relied on the history of the game and the clubs.

“Hopefully with a full campaign everyone will believe that we are investing in marketing the competition. The clubs are now also saying: “We have to improve our game”.

“There are probably still a few rusty WAFL folks who might need a little more convincing. But when we see one, two or three clubs doing something really well, other clubs should jump on it.”

Roberts stressed the need to be competitors on the field but off it “supporting one another and learning from one another”.

“For those clubs that have suffered significant losses, we will sit down with their boards to discuss their strategy for improvement,” he said.

“Associations get in touch. The old traditional way of us (the WAFC) being the enemy is starting to break down.”

The WAFC released its financial results and posted a loss of $10.2 million last year after asking for the state government to withhold its funding until the new fiscal year.

Roberts said a $1.5 million surplus would have been recorded if the commission had received its $11.5 million funding before Oct. 30.

“What it showed is that every year we had that extra $11 million of cash in our bank,” he said.

“There’s obviously a lot of interest in our finances and people thinking we’re cashless doesn’t really reflect how our business works, so we’ve asked for it to be postponed.”

Royalties from the two AFL clubs also fell from $5.7 million in 2021 to $4,966,742 last year. Fremantle awarded $2.25 million and was able to contribute to the WAFC’s royalty reserve for the first time in their history, proving the gap between the two clubs is closing after Dockers returned to the finals.

West Coast’s contribution fell by $1 million after an on-field horror in 2022, but Roberts said the WAFC still received enough royalties to fund football at all levels.

“The way we’re set up, we can only use about $4 million from the two teams combined as operating expenses. Hopefully it never comes to that point, but anything below will affect our ability to deliver,” he said.

“It’s really important for WA football that our clubs perform well on and off the field. West Coast’s 2022 on the field was probably the only box unchecked.

“Hopefully we’re getting to a level where we’re less dependent on AFL club money.”

Eliza Reilly

Eliza Reilly is a Perth-based sportswriter for CODE, specializing in AFL, AFLW and netball. Born and raised in Perth, Eliza began her career as a sports cadet with the Gold Coast Bulletin and later became assistant sports editor. In 2020, she returned home to join The West Australian where she had the chance to cover a major AFL final in her home state. Eliza has also received recognition for her journalism, including winning a Clarion Award and multiple WA Football Media Guild Awards, including the Tracey Lewis Emerging Talent Award in her freshman year with The West.

https://www.codesports.com.au/afl/state-leagues/wafl-financials-league-ceo-michael-roberts-reflects-on-competitions-feasibility-revenue-woes/news-story/02ffaa0d2faaf1c93a553ff181f46618?nk=b2bd6a84edd262f91daa16208edc4f82-1677365345 WAFL’s $10.2 million financial loss after being paid by the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers

Ryan Sederquist

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