THE AFL has revealed to its clubs that it was forced to spend $76 million on COVID-19-related expenses in the past two seasons.

The figure took in industry-wide health and safety measures, including testing for COVID-19, the establishment of multiple hubs to house teams and families, and additional travel and accommodation requirements.

On its 2021 financial records, the AFL's revenue was $738.1 million, an increase of $63.3 million on 2020 due largely to improved broadcast returns (there was a return to a 22-game home-and-away season in 2021, following a 17-game season in 2020) and maintenance of a reduced operating cost model from 2020.


The AFL told the clubs it recorded a cash surplus in 2021 but had an underlying operating loss of $43 million on the year. It had an underlying loss of $22.7 million in 2020. A return to standard club funding, distribution obligations relating to the collective bargaining agreement with the AFL Players Association, and the COVID-19-induced costs impacted the bottom line.

The $738.1 million revenue for 2021 was nearly $56 million short of 2019 figures. Operating expenditure was down $22.5 million year on year.

Melbourne players celebrate their 2021 Grand Final win over the Western Bulldogs at Optus Stadium. Picture: AFL Photos

After agreements in 2020 to slash distributions as a way to wade through the initial onslaught of COVID-19, payments to clubs and the AFLPA increased by $117 million in 2021.

In 2021, $300.9 million went to the 18 clubs, $29.5 million on administration costs of running the AFL and AFLW seasons, $53 million to game development and $60.2 million to the AFLPA.

A total of $9.8 million was paid to AFL executives in 2021, up from $7 million in 2020 and down from $10.4 million in 2019.

If I could summarise our 2021 year in one word, that word would be resilience

- Richard Goyder

AFL chief financial officer Travis Auld said the 2021 financial result was a "best case scenario result".

"Critical decisions were made in 2020 to underpin the financial strength of the industry with the introduction of debt facilities to the value of $660 million," Auld said.

"These facilities were extinguished in 2021 following the continued focus on managing the overall cost base and driving revenue growth, while delivering the season safely in a pandemic environment. 

“As the 2021 year played out, our operating expenditure continued to increase due to the costs of accommodating our clubs throughout the season, some who were on the road for months on end. This also included the additional precautions taken during travel and interstate stays to safeguard the players, clubs, and the community. 

“Our balance sheet remains strong, and despite the significant cash cost required to deliver the AFL and AFLW seasons, the co-ordinated effort to reduce the industry cost base and protect revenues means the AFL was able to report a cash surplus for the financial year."

Broadcast boss Travis Auld talks to media about the 2022 Toyota AFL home and away fixture. Picture: AFL Digital

AFL Commission chair Richard Goyder said the entire industry was collectively tested as it continued to deal with the pandemic.

"If I could summarise our 2021 year in one word, that word would be resilience,” Goyder said.

"As we navigated through the ongoing effects of the pandemic, it continued to test the resolve and, at times our patience, as we collectively worked through the week to week, and sometimes day to day uncertainty that the pandemic presented.

"The game's collective unity and determination enabled us to withstand what some would say was an even bigger test than the year prior. Our football community, from our players, coaches and officials and our committed broadcast and corporate partners, all made the relevant sacrifices to ensure the health of the community was put first and we still delivered matches for the fans." 

Total AFL club membership reached an all-time record of 1,113,441 members in 2021.

AFL Commission chairman Richard Goyder speaks at the 2021 Brownlow Medal count. Picture: AFL Photos