AFL clubs and broadcasting manager Travis Auld speaking to media in 2020. Picture: AFL Photos

The AFL has today forwarded its 2021 financial results to the Presidents and Chairs of the 18 clubs, in the lead-up to next month’s Annual General Meeting.

While the AFL recorded a cash surplus, the AFL’s underlying operating loss for 2021 was $43.0 million, compared to an underlying operating loss of $22.7 million in 2020. This result includes the AFL’s controlled state subsidiaries, Marvel Stadium and Champion Data.

In his review of the year, AFL Commission Chair Richard Goyder said the entire industry was collectively tested as it navigated through the on-going effects of the pandemic.
“If I could summarise our 2021 year in one word, that word would be resilience,” Mr Goyder said.
“As we navigated through the on-going 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. 
“It was another testing year financially, but I want to thank the boards and staff of the 18 clubs, our players, umpires and our own AFL Executive and team, led by Gillon McLachlan, for the work they did and the decisions they made to ensure football continued around the country.
“Most of all, I want to thank our members and supporters for their passion and commitment to their Clubs and everyone who watched the games and supported us collectively across both the NAB AFL Women’s Competition and the Toyota AFL Premiership Season.”
Total AFL Club membership reached an all-time record 1,113,441 members in 2021. 
In another season affected by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, including games with heavily-reduced capacities and at times no crowds at all, it is the first time in history the total club membership number has exceeded 1.1 million.
The 1,113,441 number surpasses the record of 1,057,572 that was set in 2019. In a Covid-affected 2020, Club membership reached 992,854. The 2021 total is 12 per cent growth on 2020.
One in 23 Australians is a member of an AFL club.
Mr Goyder also thanked the respective governments and health officials for the integral role they played in assisting the AFL deliver footy to all fans across the country.
“To the Federal and respective State and Territory Governments, along with the Chief Health Officers, your continued leadership and guidance played the most significant part in us being able to complete both our AFLW and AFL seasons and, on behalf of the entire football community, we are very grateful for that continued support and the tireless efforts of all front-line and essential workers.”
In yet another pandemic-affected year AFL revenue increased by $63.3 million, however this increase was offset by the costs associated with the return to the standard club funding model, distributions relating to obligations under the collective bargaining agreement and the additional costs to operate the season under the relevant covid restrictions. Despite the increase, 2021 revenue was $55.8 million less than 2019, reflecting the ongoing impact of covid restrictions nationally.
The AFL has spent an additional $76 million across 2020 and 2021 on Covid-related expenses to ensure the health and safety of everyone in the industry and the wider community. These expenses included extensive covid testing, additional travel and accommodation requirements and the setup of multiple high-performance centres to house travelling teams and families.
AFL Chief Financial Officer Travis Auld said the business had prepared for another challenging year, so the financial results and the overall operating loss were a best-case scenario result, considering the circumstances the business had to address throughout the year.
“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. 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,” Mr Auld said.
“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. 
“This result will support the targeted investments in re-engaging with our fans to return to the game and participate in our sport at the grassroots levels, including funding towards community football facilities and to support the launch of the 18 team AFLW competition later this year.  
“The focus remains on the rebuild and strengthening of the industry balance sheet that will enable future investment in the growth and development of our game from grassroots through to the elite platforms.
“We have survived the most challenging two years in the game’s history and while we know the next 12 months will continue to surprise and test us, our priority remains to keep our game as affordable and accessible as possible for all.
“Footy brings people together, it provides a sense of connection. The covid overlay hasn’t allowed this social connection to happen as much as we would like, so this year we are focusing our efforts to ensure this happens across all levels of our game.”
Key AFL financial summary:
The AFL’s revenue increased by $63.3 million to $738.1 million, due to increased broadcast revenue and improved commercial returns. This revenue assisted in covering the following costs:

  • $300.9 million to AFL clubs;
  • $29.5 million on the administration of the 2021 men’s and women’s season, including travel costs to relocate clubs impacted by state border restrictions and administer Covid-19 testing protocols;
  • $53.0 million to Game Development; an increase of $21.0 million in line with increased activity at Community level nationally through 2021;
  • $60.2 million to the AFLPA;
  • $18.5 million in running the NAB AFL Women’s competition;
  • $23.0 million to infrastructure comprising of elite and community facilities and contributions for stadia redevelopments; and
  • $0.9 million to corporate and social responsibility initiatives.

Operating expenditure decreased by $22.5 million. In 2020 and 2021, the AFL covered travel costs for teams impacted by state border restrictions. There were significantly less travel and accommodation costs in 2021 compared to 2020. The AFL reduced its operating cost base in 2020; these cost savings were maintained through 2021. 
Distributions increased $117.0 million through increases in club and AFL Players Association distributions; these were reduced in 2020 to offset lower revenue and increased costs of running the men’s Toyota Premiership season and returned toward pre-COVID levels in 2021.
The 2021 result includes a commitment to the AFLPA for a share of revenues captured over the 2017-2021 seasons. This is a combination of a commitment as set out in the current CBA agreement plus an allocation of overperformance of industry football-related revenue against the 2021 forecast – although AFL revenue for the year was still $55 million below 2019. A payment is due to be made to the players’ retirement fund in May 2022. 
The total payments to AFL Executives equated to $9.8 million, compared to $7.0 million in 2020, and $10.4 million in 2019.
After all revenue, operating expenditure and distributions, the AFL recorded an underlying operating loss of $43.0 million, compared to an underlying operating loss of $22.7 million in 2020.