THE AFL will increase the soft salary cap on football department spending by $750,000 across the next two years, with some medical and mental health spending to be exempt from the new limits.
The League announced the soft cap will increase by $500,000 in 2023 and $250,000 a year later, meaning it will kick in at $7.2 million in 2024.
Football department spending refers to staff such as coaches, list management, fitness and medical teams.
Several senior coaches, including Sydney's John Longmire, Geelong's Chris Scott, the Western Bulldogs' Luke Beveridge and Brisbane's Chris Fagan, have been vocal advocates for a boost in the soft cap, saying the off-field resources available to clubs were at unsustainable levels in the wake of the pandemic.
The AFL has introduced minimum spend levels on medical and mental health resources that can’t be shifted to other departments, but if clubs spend above those levels in areas such as club psychologists and Indigenous welfare officers, there are deductions available to reduce soft-cap impact.
The AFL noted spending on mental health and wellbeing resources has increased 28 per cent between 2019 and 2022, which they say is likely due to larger investment in psychologists, player development managers and Indigenous player development staff.
They also announced female and Indigenous staff members can have their salaries paid at least in part outside the soft cap, as the organisation again pushes to increase diversity in its ranks.
Clubs also now have an allowance to fund professional development for footy department staff.
However, an AFL Coaches Associaton proposal for a portion of each senior coach's salary to be exempt from the soft cap was not included.
AFLCA CEO Alistair Nicholson said the increase was "a welcome step in the right direction" and pushed for clubs to boost their coaching groups as a priority.
"AFL coaches have endured almost three years of cuts following the emergency reduction in the soft cap due to COVID-19 in 2020... which resulted in the loss of about one-third of all coaches and a significant workload increase for the remaining coaching group," he said.
"The AFL Coaches Association and its members have worked diligently with the AFL over many months on increasing the soft cap, and would urge clubs to ensure that their coaching group is the chief beneficiary of the increase announced today.
"While the soft cap increase is a positive move, it is disappointing that a proposal to exempt some or all of the senior coach’s salary from the soft cap has not been accepted at this stage."
AFL executive member Travis Auld said clubs would need to continue showing discipline in their spending to ensure the health, wellbeing and development of players and staff is looked after.
"The existing structure of the soft cap policy has enabled the AFL to expand and enhance the level of mental health and wellbeing resources in the clubs – both in quantum but also quality and consistency," he said.
"By putting rigour around the minimum requirements, we continue to prioritise the health and wellbeing of everyone, and should a club spend above the minimum amount in this space they can spend further on eligible resources and programs and this additional spend is fully deductible or excluded from the cap.
"These resources can and should be jointly accessed by the men’s and women’s programs. We also have equity of access requirements that mean clubs must demonstrate how the women’s program is receiving access to these resources on a fair and equitable basis."
The AFLW soft cap policy will be reviewed after the upcoming season, which begins in August.