AFL Clubs and the SANFL

Lately the issue of the Western Australian and South Australian AFL clubs and players not being able to be developed in ways the respective AFL clubs would like due to the needs and demands of state league clubs. When you consider that 4 of the last 5 premierships have been won by Geelong and Collingwood, its hardly a surprise that most clubs feel the need to emulate the reserves systems of those clubs.

Examples of this in the 2012 season include Salopek being taken by Port Adelaide (AFL) from Glenelg and being moved to Port Adelaide (SANFL) to get a decent game, and West Coast having to deal with Ashton Hamm not getting a game in the seniors because he was surplus to Claremonts needs in the WAFL.

The common theme to all WA and SA AFL clubs is that they believe they are disadvantaged under the current system, where the top Victorian clubs, as well as the Swans, have the distinct advantage of having all their players under the one coaching banner.

On August 14th, 2012 Sportsnewsfirst reported that the WA and SA clubs were likely to be invited to be part of a proposed new reserves competition being put forward by the big Victorian AFL Clubs. However costs estimated at 2 million a season including travel and accommodation are expected to be considerable stumbling blocks to any participation by WAFL and SANFL owned clubs. (QLD and NSW clubs are firmly entrenched in their NEAFL arrangements).

On August 30, The Age reported that SA and WA AFL clubs were looking for AFL assistance to set up their own breakaway reserves competition, with Freo not ruling out putting a team in the WA Amateur competitions and Adelaide implying it may join the VFL.

Aside from the thorny reserves issue, the AFL has apparently decided that its time to lose the state league dependency on its AFL clubs in WA and SA.

According to the AFLs official spokesman, Patrick Keane, “the league’s preferred position was that the licences eventually would return to the clubs“.

Port Adelaide, Adelaide and the SANFL

New Crows coach Brenton Sanderson proposed Adelaide have a reserves side in the SANFL in december 2011, with another proposal favouring the Eagles and Dockers “play state sides on their bye” plan (see below).

“For the development of our younger kids it’s imperative at some stage down the track we have a reserves side. We understand it’s a delicate issue but at the same time, from my point of view as senior coach, we would love to have it.”

Previous coach Neil Craig had been content to deal with the SANFL system as it stood, but Sanderson believed that it was important to keep track with developments at other clubs, namely Geelong and Collingwood.

In June 2012, the SANFL have flatly rejected any chance of reserves in the SANFL, with the Chairman of the SANFL, John Olsen, saying that Crows and Power reserves teams would not be part of the ongoing license discussions.

“Reserves teams in the SANFL for the two AFL clubs is not negotiable – that will not be part of our discussions on the licences, We will not compromise the SANFL competition (with AFL reserves teams).”

On July 28th, 2012, the Advertiser reported that the SANFL had put off all talks regarding licenses and reserves sides until November 2014, allowing it at least a season at Adelaide Oval to gauge the financial value of the move more clearly.

The same article estimates the costs of playing a SANFL reserves side at $750,000 a year, almost double the cost an AFL side pays to have a reserve side in the VFL.

On August 7th, the Advertiser reported with the money from Adelaide Oval, Adelaide would be able to afford a reserves team in the VFL in 2015. The article also said that an option to be considered would be placing reserves teams in the SANFL reserves competition. This can be quite easily accommodated by Adelaide, but Port would have no have an entirely separate reserves team to its Port Adelaide SANFL reserves team. This would have some financial repurcussions for Port which is already struggling.

The article assumes that an AFL takeover of Ports license is a fait accompli, while Adelaide neither wants nor needs separation from the SANFL.

On August 23rd, the Advertiser reported that the Adelaide and Port Adelaide licenses will almost certainly be returned to the AFL, that the biggest sticking point was the worth of the Adelaide license (estimated at 20 million) while the Port license would appear to have been written off.

The article states that there are three critical outstanding issues:

  • TIMING. Should the licences be transferred back to the AFL Commission immediately or after the Crows and Power are playing at Adelaide Oval in 2014?
  • GOVERNANCE. Does the AFL Commission set up “self-appointed” boards or leave any seat for a member-elected director
  • VALUE. The debt-hit SANFL expects a compensation package from the AFL. This is the major sticking point.

On September 25th, the Advertiser reported that the license issues had all come down to the final hurdle – money. The article reports that the SANFL will not keep the profitable Crows and offload the loss making Port, with Leigh Whicker stating that “both licenses are equal”. The Advertiser claims the SANFL want a resolution sooner rather than later.

The Article also notes that the Crows prefer a similar constitution to that given to Gold Coast and GWS where the clubs appoint most directors, the members one or two directors and only the AFL has the right to veto appointments.

On September 28th, the Advertiser reported that compensation for money contributed to keeping Port Adelaide afloat is a major stumbling block in the license handovers from the SANFL to the AFL with the SANFL believing that the AFL should apparently take over the portion of its debt attributed to keeping Port afloat (estimated around 14.5 milion)

On October 3rd, The Advertiser reported that the SANFL presidents were urgently seeking information on the progression of talks with the AFL over the license changes to Port and Adelaide with clubs warning the SANFL required their vote to offsell SANFL assets.

The Advertiser also claimed that:

  • There will be no lump sum paid for the return of the Adelaide license (SANFL valued at $26 million)
  • There will be no repayment of debt incurred in keeping Port alive (SANFL valued at 15 million)
  • There will be no repayment of the $4 million license fees paid by the SANFL
  • The AFL is offering between $800,000 and $1 million a year in compensation
  • The SANFL wants this to be kept for 20 years.

On October 11th, the Adelaide Advertiser reported that the Crows were considering buying the debt laden SANFL club, Sturt, but were mindful of the 2.2 million club debt and other issues involved. The Advertiser went on to list a number of issues with this

  • SANFL recruited players having to play against their original clubs
  • Adelaide no longer being consider the team for all South Australians

The Advertiser further reported that Adelaide views the reserves team as essential with Crows football Operations manager Phil Harper quoted as saying

“We need our players wearing one jumper from the day they are drafted to the Adelaide Football Club. We currently have (Woodville-West Torrens draftee) Cam Ellis-Yolmen spending two years at our club now and he has never worn the Crows jumper”.

SANFL Clubs are disturbed by the comments from the Crows with a number of club presidents quoted in the article.

“The image is the AFL clubs don’t trust us to look after their players for two hours every weekend”  – Gary Metcalf (Glenelg president)

“We embrace the AFL players and in doing so upset the balance of what we are trying to achieve by developing our under-18s. Then we face not having AFL players during the finals because they either are having surgery or don’t want to play in the SANFL anymore. But do you hear us complaining?” – Joe Tripodi (Norwood president)

In response to changes to the Dockers and Eagles alignments, the Advertiser quoted Port Adelaide chief Keith Thomas expressing concerns that the Power were being left behind.

“The clock is ticking against us, and we can’t allow that to happen – we can’t be left behind while every other AFL club has a reserves team or a development squad” – Keith Thomas

The SANFL has responded by saying its not one of the top priorities right now, with Adelaide Oval and the license issues more pressing.

“No.1 is the move to Adelaide Oval in 2014. Then we have to resolve one way or the other if the (Crows and Power) licences are returned to the AFL. We’re shifting to a new oval and trying to find a new structure for SA football. We’re far more advanced than the West Australians on these issues” – John Olsen

The Advertiser reported on June 2nd, 2013 that the SANFL Commission would refer the matter of Crows/Power reserves to the SANFL board of directors – which come from the SANFL clubs.

“AFL (reserves) teams in the SA is a decision of the directors of the (SANFL) league clubs and not the commission, full stop. The commission has a responsibility to put all the information before the directors. And I’ll wait for the body of work — listing the opportunities, advantages, disadvantages – to be put all on the table.” – John Olsen

On June 5th Brenton Sanderson was quoted in The Advertiser

“If we didn’t get a reserves side up next year we would be, I think, the only team that doesn’t send its players to one club. It’s massive, it really is.

“I’ve seen the Geelong model and the Geelong program works so successfully with the development of young players getting drafted and coming through their own system.

“What’s important is that if we can get our own team we can actually try and fight that battle against Collingwood, Geelong, Essendon, those sorts of teams that have had their reserves teams up and running for a number of years, which really helps their development.

“I’m not sure where we’re at with the negotiation phase of it, getting it up and running, but we’ll almost certainly have our own team next year.”

On June 19th, the SANFL Directors meeting was expected to vote negatively on the matter of Crows and Power joining the SANFL next season. The Advertiser reported that North Adelaide are least one director said

“I will use every fibre in my body to demand a guarantee our league competition is not compromised or diluted. We have a vibrant competition and it must be respected. And I am still to believe the AFL clubs will do the right thing”

At least one proposal apparently values a SANFL license for the Crows and Power each at $1 million, but the Crows and Power are both opposed to paying license fees to join, as well as not collecting any dividends.

A second article in the Advertiser on June 19, reports that the Crows and Power are unlikely to be able to afford the cost of operating a SANFL team in any case, estimating the cost at $500,000-$700,000 per season. (previous estimates have put operating a VFL side at $400,000 per season)

On June 25th, the SANFL clubs released a set of four guiding principles to members that would dictate how they voted on the reserves issue on July 4th.

  • ANY change in competition structure must maintain or enhance the integrity of the SANFL competition;
  • ANY change in competition structure must maintain or enhance the relevance of the SANFL competition as the best State League in Australia;
  • ANY change to the competition structure must improve the long term strength and sustainability of the SANFL and SANFL clubs
  • ANY change to the competition structure must enhance the development of the game at all levels across South Australia.

On June 27th, the Advertiser quoted former Port Adelaide skipper, Dominic Cassisi who said that a lack of a dedicated reserves side was holding back his club.

“For our club, with where we’re at, and I guess the Crows as well, with two young lists, to be able to develop the players and get them to AFL standard as quickly as possible they need to be playing together.”


A second article on the 27th quotes Norwood President Joe Tripodi as saying that the club will definitely vote against Port and Adelaide reserves in the SANFL.

“The SANFL has been interfered with enough by the AFL in the way they’ve treated us. Now, out of nowhere, they want to put a reserves team in our league. Hello, we are playing for premierships and grand finals. Why would we want an interruption to that? We’re sick of it.”

The Advertiser reported on August 8th that the Crows were prepared to wait for the SANFL directors before carrying out a threat to stage a reserves team in the SAAFL. The Advertiser said there were three camps.

  • YES “in principle” to AFL reserves teams in the SANFL league series are Glenelg, Sturt and Woodville-West Torrens.
  • NO to the financial model proposed by the commission is West Adelaide.
  • NO to the commission recommendations on how the AFL reserves teams are to be set up are Central District, North Adelaide, Norwood and South Adelaide.

On August 15th, the SANFL Directors voted to allow the Crows and Port to have reserves teams in the SANFL next year in a 6-2 decision. The article contains detailed terms of agreement, but to summarise – the terms of the Crows deal (Port must be offered the same terms) include:

  • The AFC will pay an annual licence fee of $400,000 ($50,000 per SANFL club) to be indexed;
  • The AFC support team will be branded the Adelaide Football Club, will wear an alternate Crows guernsey and will play all its games ‘away’;
  • The AFC to have the ability to attract sponsors for its SANFL team (no competing partners of the SANFL competition);
  • SANFL clubs can opt in/out of providing top up players to the AFC; and
  • The SANFL will conduct a 25-week season with 18 minor round matches, each club playing each other twice.

On August 16th, the Advertiser reported that Port Adelaide had 6 weeks to decide whether to accept Ports offer while the deal was being finalised by the SANFL directors. If there is no deal in that time, it was expected that Port would be forced by the SANFL to the same terms as struck with the Crows in 2015.

On September 10th, the Advertiser reported that the Power board had delayed the vote over the age of top up players, with the SANFL wanting players to be under 23, and the Power wanting no restrictions. The SANFL said the age restriction was removed on August 29th, but the SANFL clubs still want a restriction.

It was announced on September 11th that Port Adelaide had accepted the SANFL offer to have a reserves team in the SANFL. Port will use the Magpies for all players on its list not playing in the AFL.

  • POWER in the national league working to AFL rules and the AFL salary cap of $9 million.
  • MAGPIES in the SANFL league competition. This team will be made up of Power-listed players not chosen to play in the AFL. There will be 15 “top-up” players. They will be paid a maximum $400 a game and can be any age.
  • AN ACADEMY team in the SANFL reserves competition. These scholarship holders – who will include Magpies father-son picks, indigenous hopefuls from the NT and international recruits – will be aged 18-22. These players can earn no more than $100 a game.

On September 12th, It was revealed that the Crows will top up their reserves side from the SA Amateur competition.

On September 17th, The Advertiser reported that a rival AFL club had complained about Ports plan to run academies alongside its Power and Magpies sides. The Power strongly suspected Adelaide had lodged the complaint which had also attracted the intention of the AFL integrity office.

The Advertiser reported on December 9th that the Crows and Power have been independently valued at 10 million and 5 million respectively, and says it will take about ten years at 1 million a year to pay the SANFL off. Issues still remain over revenue from Adelaide Oval with the AFL apparently involved.

This is despite reports on December 7th, that the Crows and Power were in the top 20 sporting brands in the country – valued at 20.9 and 17 5 million each.

Media and references

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