The AFL Player Spectator Current AFL Threat Level

Millionaires with a Year Ten Education

Friday, September 16, 2005

The AFL Meat Market

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?

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:

What is the Least an AFL Player Earns?

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.


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

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  • It's worth noting that with the $780 million boon from the sale of the AFL broadcast rights, AFL players are already putting their hands up for more sweet, sweet cash.

    The AFLPA (AFL players' union) has made announcements and we're seeing figures like a 50% increase bandied about.

    Same number of players, "working" just as hard, same number of games etc. Just getting paid an extra hundred grand or so to do it. Nice.

    But we can't blame the footy players for asking for free money - it's the rest of us that are stupid enough to pay up that are at fault.

    On the plus side, once average AFL salaries top $300K then at least the AFL will finally be able to woo all that talent away from careers in stockbroking and back into footy.

    By Blogger Greg, at 12:29 pm, January 08, 2006  

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  • It's also worth noting that many AFL players who are playing the game today, do not have any other qualifications and one of the reasons that they get paid this amount of money is not for their own satisfaction, but to set them up for life after football. You must realise that the retirement age of a footballer is about 30, sometimes even younger, due to injuries or as we have been recently seeing, falling outs with respective clubs.

    Clubs require players to train at least 5 days a week plus game day, and many include both morning and afternoon sessions, which does not leave time for many of them to have an occupation outside of football. Where some may go on to do media, or own pubs or some such thing, many fall off the bandwagon, so to speak.

    Although clubs are now putting younger players through the likes of university courses, with the support of the AFL, or club duties such as public appearances, footy clinics etc., many players need this kind of salary, simply to continue life after football. Players won't be able to continue doing club duties after they retire, and doing footy clinics does not make a living.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:07 am, July 24, 2006  

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  • Thank you for a thoughtful and polite comment.

    While mostly correct, you've missed a key point: they only train for a few hours (and not five days a week, according to my sources). They have ample opportunity to set themselves up for a career after football, yet they squander this in a phenomenon known as "playstation syndrome" (more here).

    No doubt, their clubs, managers, agents etc should take on the "responsible adult" role for these kids and make them think about their future. It's to the shame of the AFL culture that these grownups selfishly exploit the players without, pumping them dry for short-run gain without regard to the other forty years of the players' working lives.

    By Blogger Greg, at 12:24 am, July 24, 2006  

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  • It is blatantly obvious before finishing the first page that someone is jealous or has had a run in with an afl player of some kind totally slanted and objectional. Look at other sports soccer nfl nba basketball and afl players get a pittance and then have to walk around with aching injuries for years and arthritis in their knees after putting their bodies on the line for a decade for the visual enjoyment for others this is absolute dribble stop whinging because you were not physically gifted enough to play yourself

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:14 pm, March 06, 2007  

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  • Ah, another of the "you're just jealous" attacks ... what is it about footy fans and the assumption of jealousy when they hear criticism of their beloved heroes?

    I mean, if I came out swinging against politicians, Muslim extremists or gangsters would people assume I was jealous that I wasn't a part of that group? Or that I must have had a bad experience with that group?

    No, of course not. People would understand that I just don't like those arseholes and believe that they are damaging our society.

    Sadly, your typical footy fan is just rushing out and projecting their own feelings of inadequacy and frustrated desire to play in the AFL onto me. I can only guess that it's some kind of ego defence mechanism when they see somone with a pyschologically healthy perspective.

    By Blogger Greg, at 12:03 am, March 07, 2007  

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  • Sounds like you are a hater. Many of players can be cut at the drop of a hat. I know some old school NFL players that didn't invest their money good and they are in sad situations. Their bodies are torn down to the point that they are in constant pain, and they cant do much. They didn't make the type of money that today's players make and now their time is gone. Let them boys make thier money while they can. You don't have to be too jealous a large percent of them are going to fail and you will be able to say that you are ahead of them financially at some point in their lives.

    By Blogger TruthBtold, at 11:30 pm, March 10, 2007  

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  • Over paid AFL Players? I would want more than $200,000 Aussie Dollars to get bashed around like that every week. An avarage play at Manchester United makes around $11 Million per year.

    Mark---New Jersey USA

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:30 pm, March 25, 2007  

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  • Many millions of Australians would gladly "get bashed around like that" for 20 weeks a year for much less than $200K.

    In fact, many thousands of Australians "get bashed around like that" - and pay for the privilege in amateur competition!

    The prices that footballers in other countries command have no bearing on Aussie Rules players since they're in different markets.

    Should a shopkeeper in New Delhi get paid the same as an shopkeeper in New Jersey? Different markets, different prices.

    By Blogger Greg, at 1:56 pm, March 25, 2007  

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  • Just stumbled over this page while researching afl pay packets some of the info is good however it seems to be slanted a little against afl players. One thing must be mentioned which i believe might clear things up. Afl players are like roman gladiatiors people pay to go and see the Alpha male bash and crash in to another alpha male as a form of entertainment. This is done with contact sports globally NFL NHL Soccer Rugby etc. These guys have no education because at the age of 18 they are usiing a genetic talent to make money much like the pianist the scholar and and the rocket scientist. Research that i have done shows a few players getting huge money just like the head engineer would in a construction firm. Another point is that 20 weeks a year of training is incorect they train up to 46 weeks a year and five days a week often 2 sessions a day. Yes some of the stardom goes to tsome of the guys heads but you have failed to mention the good charity work that is done in regard to sick kids and make a wish foundations. i recently watched a program where 3 well known afl footballers spent 1 night a week for the last two years feeding homeless people on the streets of melbourne. these guys were legitimate with their feelings and effort and wanted it kept quiet that they did it as to not recieve unessasary attention . Maybe some little more research could be done to show both sides of the story and a few less sterotypes and generalisations. I am from new south wales and don't follow the game that much but these guys are athletes and in training perfom ridicoulous feats. i heard one club in preseason would finish off a 2hour session with 100 100 metre sprints. These guys train hard and have been given a talent that they make a living from . If i was blessed with genetic abilities and talent and their was a "business" such as the AFL that wanted to pay me a heap for the use of it i would be happy and glad to be able to use my talent. Thanks for your time. Ryan

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:15 pm, May 09, 2007  

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  • You watched a program about 3 footballers who wanted to remain anonymous? Wouldn't being on the show somehow diminish that anonimity? Surely participating in a documentary is not the ideal way to keep soemthing quiet.

    Impressive stuff the old 100 X 100mtr sprints. That's 10km of sprinting, laughable really.

    I'm not really sure what you're trying to say with the genetics thing, don't know many people genetically pre-disposed to rocket science myself. Are you suggesting that AFL players are more likely to be criminals as a result of genetics?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:43 pm, May 14, 2007  

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  • If you read the comment it stated that the afl players had been helping to distribute food for two years and had kept it quiet for that period. I apologise, i guess until a television station namely the abc had heard about this happening they thought it would be a good idea to run a story on it.
    The other comment that was made about trainging and 100 100 metre sprints is true call any club and ask what their pre season trainng entails and you will find the players perform amazing things that fat lazy slobs like the rest of us are unable to perform. this is due to fitness being their full time job. The genetics line was that intelligent people have a higher percentage of breeding intelligent people and so on down the line it is basic darwinisim. I'm not sure about criminals as that is possibly more nurture than nature which is a tricky one. being a criminal would have more to do with your environment i would think but i don't have all the answers. Why would AFL players have a higher chance of being a criminal. Australia was founded as a penal colony for criminals i think we sit pretty well in comparison to the U.S which was founded by puritans. THanks RYAN

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:13 pm, May 16, 2007  

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  • The real question is: why is it newsworthy when AFL footballer volunteer for something?

    I know dozens of people who volunteer weekly doing very similar work. Never hear about them in the media.

    As to why footballers offend at a greater rate than the rest of society ... that's the main topic of this blog.

    I'd suggest it's a combination of low education, drugs, too much money and a warped values systems.

    By Blogger Greg, at 7:53 pm, May 16, 2007  

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  • i'm sorry ive tried but i don't think you get it. you keep asking more questions and not answering the ones i have asked of you. Its newsworthy because they are famous for something. why wouldn't they do a story on you for example? because your fucking boring and talentless. I stumbled over this site looking for a reliable source in regard to AFL player pay packets all i have encountered is a truck load of poorly researched and predjudiced material intertwined with sweeping generalisations about a sport and organisation you must know very little about. Where are your figures on AFL players offending more often than other males between their 20's to thirties. Do a bit more research Chris Judd is about to finish his degree in buiness adminastration. I hope that you could in the future provide a blog worth talking about it has been interesting talking to someone so predjudiced on the issue ive had a few laughs at your intelligence. seeing you for the last time and never returning to this site RYAN, you are a dead shit.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:47 pm, May 16, 2007  

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  • We did 100 x 100m sprints after a session a few times and that was in D Grade Amateurs. It was tough on us but FFS most AFL footballers would be able to do this on their ears.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:30 pm, May 17, 2007  

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  • You are vile.

    You are singling out and generalising about a group of young men, many of whom i have met, and not one has ever been anything but completly lovely.

    You are a prick.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:35 pm, May 27, 2007  

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  • haha just came across this. How stupid. The reason they earn that money is because we pay for the entertainment. We go through the gates.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:51 pm, September 14, 2007  

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  • While ticket prices contribute, a hell of a lot of the cash comes from fat mouth-breathers lolling on their couches swilling cans of pre-mixed alcoholic drinks and soaking up ads for giant televisions on their existing (slightly-smaller) TVs.

    Hey, some dumb chump spending $4 for a chocolate bar isn't going to cover the bill for all that cocaine. No, to get that kind of money flowing you need susceptible morons who haven't picked up a footy themselves in years to cough up.

    By Blogger Greg, at 5:40 pm, September 14, 2007  

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  • When you say afl are you talking bout the arena football leauge or the australian football leauge

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:46 am, February 01, 2008  

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  • No, it's the Australian Football League.

    I don't know about this Arena Football League, but if it's American, I expect you could add a zero or two to this figures.

    By Blogger Greg, at 12:01 pm, February 01, 2008  

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  • You make me laugh. Which is important, because you are very sad.
    Are there too many people making the effort to set up and constantly maintain websites on crucial, relevant issues for your liking? Why not investigate something truly frightening, if you're such a crusader?
    Airing creepy obsessions to another person should be therapeutic, not enabling.
    I, also, came here for roundabout stats on salaries and incentives. And I find you.
    And I laugh.
    Good luck with your mind.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:17 pm, July 15, 2008  

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  • Presumably that surreal passage was criticism. In which case, its effect was somewhat blunted by incoherence.

    I gather the substantive question was why don't I blog on "something truly frightening". The glib answer is that every blogger needs a niche. The more considered response is that AFL footballer misbehaviour is of some importance to the community yet with a glaring gap. I saw the need for a long-term, focused ("obsessive") archive with uncompromising, even jaundiced, comment.

    By Blogger Greg, at 11:52 pm, July 15, 2008  

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  • "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%. "

    Nice statistics except that the number of teams in 92 was not the number of teams at the time of writing.
    Try some research.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:02 pm, August 28, 2009  

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  • The change in the number of players doesn't affect the key point: that "average AFL salaries have increased from $48K to $200K (four-fold) in less than 15 years".

    This assertion relies on statistics provided earlier that are given as a per capita figure (from the Deakin and The Age analyses).

    By Blogger Greg, at 6:29 pm, September 05, 2009  

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  • 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.

    The link in there to the figures is broken. Hardly surprising.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:11 am, September 07, 2009  

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