The description of AFL players as "Millionaires with a Year Ten Education" warrants further support. In an earlier article, I argued why professional footballers are (in general) so lacking in education, and the broader consequences for the rest of us. Here, I'll examine the first part of the claim - just how much are AFL players paid? Who are the most paid? Are they really millionaires? And what does this mean for society?What is the Least an AFL Player Earns?
Firstly, I'll point out that their contracts are somewhat secret, in contrast to most other athletes. Secondly, they operate under a salary cap (which limits the total amount a particular club can officially spend on its players) so from time to time a club will engage in unusual practices to bolster a player's benefits. Hence any guesstimates tend to be a bit wild, and probably on the low side. A final consideration is that footballers - especially high-profile ones - don't pay for stuff. Star-struck footy fans give them free booze, free meals, free clothes, free accommodation, free sex and - as we saw with the Gary Ablett profile - they also get free drugs. So, they probably retain more of their earnings than you might initially think, given their expensive lifestyles.
The most comprehensive write-up on AFL player earnings was provided by The Age. For your convenience, I've compiled a graph showing the breakdown of player earnings for last year:
According to an earlier piece on Carlton rookie Karl Norman
, he was "earning" $80K a year for his efforts. This seems to be a bit above the entry level wage for an AFL footballer, including match fees and other add-ons. The above graph indicates that 35 players (6%) are on less than $60K a year (how do they survive on such a pittance!). However, The Age
's figures assumes there were 542 AFL players last year (33 per club) - which sounds high to me. I suspect that the bottom 50 players are being tried out or played just a couple of games or in some other way are exceptional (and hence should be disregarded).
A report from Deakin University
suggests that in 2001 the base salary was $42,000 plus $2000 per match, yielding perhaps $70K a year for a newbie. Another piece from The Age
puts the base earner in the AFL at $1150 per week (=$60K per year).
So, in short, the least a full-time professional AFL player can expect to ever earn in their career is around $70K. Most likely, that's still more than you.What is the Average an AFL Player Earns?
According to The Age's figures for last year, there were 542 players earning a total of $93.75 million dollars, giving an average (mean) of $173,000 per player per year. Note that this includes a suspiciously large number of players on less than $60K, as discussed above. Also, the "mode" (or most common amount) was the $100-200K range. The "median" (or point at which half of players earn more, and half earn less) is close to $200K - if we exclude the <$60K group. Another set of figures from The Age
stated an average AFL player makes $4,050 per week ($210K per annum).
Based on this, it's fair to say that the average AFL player earns around $200,000 a year.What is the Most an AFL Player Earns?
Well, according to the above graph, only 20 players (4%) are in the half a million bucks a year category. The other figures from The Age
cite a top earner on $16,300 a week ($850K). Yet more analysis for 2004 comes from the scuttlebutt purveyors at Crikey
Anthony Koutoufides (Carlton) $900-000 to $1,000,000
Aaron Hamill (St Kilda) $800,000
Michel Voss (Brisbane) $700,000
James Hird (Essendon) $700,000
Nathan Buckley (Collingwood) $650,000
Shane Crawford (Hawthorn) $650,000
Chris Grant/Luke Darcy (Western Bulldogs) $550.000-600,000
Ben Cousins (West Coast) $550,000-$600.000
Matthew Richardson (Richmond) $550.000
David Neitz/Jeff White (Melbourne) $550,000
Glenn Archer/Anthony Stevens (Kangaroos) $550,000
Mark Ricciuto (Adelaide) $500,000-$550.000
Matthew Pavlich (Fremantle) $500,000
Ben Graham (Geelong) $500,000
Barry Hall (Sydney) $500,000
Warren Tredrea (Port Power) $450,000-$500,000
(Source: Patrick Fitzgerald, Crikey, 12/6/2004.)
(These figures are estimates and are claimed to be +/-$50,000. I strongly recommend reading this report to understand how the market for sports pros works.)
Overall, there seems to be a rough agreement that (salary cap short-circuits notwithstanding), the most an AFL player could expect to earn right now is about million dollars a year, with the next step being about $500,000.How Quickly are AFL Salaries Rising?
Pretty bloody fast. For example, this report for the Victorian Government
states that total AFL player earnings were $27 million in 1992, growing to $48 million in 1995. Now, The Age
puts the total at about $94 million. So, average AFL salaries have increased from $48K to $200K (four-fold) in less than 15 years. Over roughly the same period, average weekly earnings for all Australians rose about 50% (according to the ABS
), while AFL players' rose 300%. There's a lot of fat still in the system (players take about a quarter of the AFL's revenue
, not a half or more like in other leagues), so there's no reason this dramatic rise won't continue.
In other words, AFL players' wages are increasing six times faster than yours.So Are Most AFL Footballers Millionaires?
Put it this way: if you're averaging $200K a year for five years you'll earn
a million dollars (and pay half of it in tax). But, even with all the freebies, you'll probably spend most of what's left. Why? Because what 22 year old in his right mind would save and invest when getting that kind of money? Particularly when he's indestructible, the best thing since sliced bread and about to sign a huge multi-million dollar contract any day now.
So, to be a millionaire footballer (ie having at least a million dollars in cash and assets), I reckon you'd need to either be in the top 50% for a ten year career, or be in the top 5% for a five year career. So, that's what - the best 10% of AFL players? Maybe 20%?So Does This Mean Your Tagline Is Unfair?
Nah. The bulk of them might not be millionaires (and some may even have been to university!) but they still behave
like they are spoilt princelings from an oil-rich Gulf State. I think footballers are quite capable of being obnoxious, even dangerous, arseholes on a mere $200,000 per year, or just half a million in the bank.Are AFL Players Paid Too Much?
How would you decide if anyone is paid too much? Here's one approach. Ask yourself: what would they be doing if they weren't playing AFL? How much more are they getting paid than in their next best alternative
? I would argue that if you have lots of options close to your current salary, then you're probably not being overpaid.
For example, a stockbroker might make $150K a year. If that career wasn't possible for some reason, she might have been an accountant, making $130K a year. So, she's being paid about right. By contrast, if you're a crane-operator on the docks on $90K and the next best job is a crane-driver at a building site on $50K, then yes, I'd suggest you're being overpaid.
Can we apply this principle to AFL footballers?
Some AFL footballers have turned down lucrative careers in other sports, like cricket, soccer or tennis. A very small minority may have turned down careers in the professions where they could expect to make good money as well. (For example, James Hird
could have averaged $100K for 40 years if he'd stuck it out as a civil engineer.)
But, for the most part, there's no reason to think that AFL players (as a group) would earn any more or less than the public at large, if it weren't for footy. If anything, they would earn less
than the public, given their unusually poor education.
In Australia, the average salary is around $50K
, while footballers average $200K. If we all put our collective foot down and said "Look guys, you love to play the game, we love to watch. But you're only going to average $75K from now on," then they would still accept that and be grateful. Hell, they were happy with that about ten years ago!
So, yeah, for what it's worth, I reckon AFL players are overpaid by at least a hundred grand a year.
Still, that doesn't stop their union getting all sulky about wanting more money
- but can you blame the poor dears for asking? (These are people who don't hear "no" very often.)What Are the Implications for Society for Overpaying Footballers?
Well, for one thing, ticket prices are too high. Presumably lots of families miss out on going to see the game they love because it's just too damn dear. The AFL has to win a bigger pound of flesh fron the TV rights to pay for the footballers. End result: more ads during the match than are strictly necessary. But, these are fairly peripheral: whose to say what is the best price for tickets or the best number of ads anyway?
No, the real damage is done through the application of ruthless, free-market, commercial principles to what is, after all, a very high-stakes game. It's one thing for these price mechanisms to be brought to be bear on, say, commercial QCs - highly educated, intelligent, worldly professionals with twenty years of experience in such matters. It's another thing if it's a slightly dim 19 year-old who just wants to play footy.
Oddly enough, noted Celebrity Big Brother
piker Germaine Greer
explains it best:
All athletes live on a knife edge. All are only as good as their last performance. All are incessantly reminded there is only one way to go after reaching the top.
The footballers' situation is the most precarious of all. As the last in the pecking order, after club owners, directors and managers, players are denied adult status. They are "boys" to be bought and sold, transferred or dropped or left on the bench; as they are denied autonomy, we can't be surprised if they lack responsibility. (SMH, 23/3/2004)
So perhaps this is the price we all pay for treating AFL players like A grade choice cuts of meat to be bought, sold or traded on the open market. Society ends up with a large pool of spoilt brats, lacking the capacity for any other useful contribution and behaving like no one else matters, egging each other on to greater and greater excesses.
In other words, after one hundred years of supposed egalitarianism, we've gone ahead and created our own parasitic aristocracy. Way to go, Australia.References:Why a Free Market is Bad for Sports Fans
, (Crikey, 12/6/2004)The Business of Sport
, (Sport and Recreation Victoria, 1997)Sport Management Newsletter
, (Deakin University, 2001)Cap in Place to Stop Clubs Being Scalped
, (The Age, 21/4/2005)More Please
, (The Age, 15/3/2005)Yearbook Australia: Labour - Earnings and Benefits
, (The Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2005)Grubby Sex Has Just Become a Bit Noisier
, (Sydney Morning Herald, 23/3/2004)
Word Count: 1973
Labels: footy, payola, speccy, spoilt_rotten