The history of AFL has seen many changes over the years when it comes to ownership of the AFL clubs and their internal structure.
As it stands, the clubs are owned by the members.
As a member, you essentially have a say on how your team is run. Of course, the final decision is down to the club board members.
So, how exactly are club board members selected?
History of AFL ownership
Before we take a look at how the AFL clubs are run today, it’s important to take a little jump through history.
Back in 1986, The Victorian Football League (VFL) had a number of teams that were struggling to stay afloat financially. In response, they chose to set up privately owned clubs in Perth and Brisbane in an attempt to save the club’s licences.
It seemed liked the best option at the time, although it didn’t exactly pan out as planned.
The Brisbane Bears went through a number of hands, and ended up in significant financial stress. The AFL had to then extend their finances to help them survive, also offering priority draft picks and special recruiting zones. The club was eventually handed back to the AFL.
Sydney Swans had a similar experience. Financial difficulty struck and they ended up losing some of their best players in the process. BY 1988, the license was handed back to the club for the price of just $10.
Today, the idea of private ownership is once again back on the cards thanks to COVID-19, with some predicting it could be a reality in the next three to five years.
The financial holes that were opened up thanks to the pandemic have put the issue in the spotlight once again. Who knows where clubs will be in the next decade, but for now, the ownership remains with the members, who play a key role when it comes to the selection of AFL club board members.
The running of the clubs
Each AFL club has been set up as a Limited Liability Company and is run by a board of directors. The size of the board is very dependent on the size of the club, and the structure of each one will also vary.
From these directors:
- One is elected as chairperson: this person is also known as the President of the club – the one who makes the decisions.
- Vice President
Ideally, when it comes to electing these people into their positions on the board, it helps to have a real mix of professional knowledge that can be put to use. From marketing and accounting through to legal and other areas, this knowledge is a huge advantage.
So, how are these members elected?
As it currently stands:
- 11 AFL clubs are owned by the members.
- 2 AFL clubs are owned by the West Australian Football Commission.
- 5 AFL clubs are owned by the AFL itself.
How board members are elected in member-run clubs
Here’s how it works with the member-owned clubs.
An annual general meeting is held where members get to have their say on how the team is run. Each club has a different constitution which will determine who exactly is eligible to votes in these key decisions.
For most AFL clubs, it’s anyone who is a member of the club and is over the age of 18.
For example, in order to vote for the Adelaide Crows you have to be a financial member who has access to not less than three Crows home or away matches in a given season or a Gold member. Most board members are then elected for a three-year term.
Here’s a couple of examples of how particular clubs operate when it comes to electing their board members.
- The members elect six people to the board.
- These six then elect three more to join them.
- Members elect seven people to the board.
How board members are elected for AFL owned clubs
There are a number of clubs that are owned directly by the AFL. This includes the Sydney Swans after their license was sold back to the AFL after their private ownership disaster.
The AFL now directly appoints seven of the nine board members. Sydney Swans members then have the opportunity to vote on the remaining two.
Privately owned clubs
There are two clubs that still fall under the private ownership banner: West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers. Both these Western Australian teams are owned by the West Australian Football Commission Inc.
While members had a say in the past when it comes to electing directors, the Commission now elects all eight directors.
Putting yourself forward as club president
Before each annual general meeting, club members have the chance to put themselves forward as the next club president. In some cases, you will need to be nominated, this all depends on your club’s rules.
Of course, it’s important to consider what exactly this entails first. Here are some of the key factors to consider:
- Demands on your time: the role is extremely demanding and requires a large commitment of your time.
- Are you prepared for the role: do you understand the ins and outs of AFL?
- Do you have the ability to lead?
It’s actually become quite rare these days to have two people running for president in an AFL club. Normally just one person is put forward as the best option.
Other important roles in the AFL club
There are a large number of roles to fill within an AFL club. The committee roles are:
- CEO: the CEO of an AFL club has less to do with the on-field issues (that’s for the chairman) and more to do with the flow of money and finances within the AFL club.
- Vice President: reports to the president and general committee, helping support the coaches, staff, and volunteers, along with other key stakeholders.
- Treasurer: The treasurer is responsible for the financial management of the club. This includes reporting on the club’s funds and making sure they are used in the most effective way.
- Secretary: This position is a critical one, providing the link between members, the club executive committee, and outsiders.
All these roles are elected depending on the club structure and ownership.
Who chooses the team coaches?
When it comes to picking the team coaches, a rigorous process is undertaken, which starts with putting forward a selection panel.
Once again, this process will depend on the committee structure of the AFL club.
Let’s take the example of the Brisbane Lions back in 2016.
A five-person panel was put together that was led by Brisbane Lions CEO Greg Swan. Each of these members had expertise in a range of key areas to help when determining a new head coach.
From here, the panel interviews a shortlist of candidates, and then they go through their own selection process.
Having a say in your club
With the majority of the AFL clubs being member-owned, it presents an opportunity for people to have a say in how their club is run.
The biggest thing you need to factor in is the costs of becoming a member – and this can vary greatly from team to team, and also depending on the type of membership you choose. It typically costs between $195 and $565 for a season, depending on the type of seating you’re after.
Here are the types of membership that are generally on offer within AFL clubs:
- General admission: access to team matches at the home stadium.
- Reserved membership: access to better seating, or a reserved seat at the home ground.
- Long distance: membership for those who live interstate or in the country.
It’s important to note that there’s a difference between AFL membership and AFL club membership.
- AFL membership: this isn’t based on a particular team. Instead, you can access a certain number of matches at the MCG or Marvel Stadium – no matter who is playing.
- Club membership: this is where you get access to the games your chosen club is playing in. For example, as a Sydney Swans club member, you can go to their home games and away matches.
It’s also important to note that as a member of the AFL, you don’t get voting rights when it comes to the 11 clubs that are owned by members. You aren’t directly a member of that club.
Choosing board members
When it comes to choosing board members, the process is very different from club to club.
Ownership is the key to determining the process involved and who has a say in the final decision. Most board members are chosen on their merit and what they can bring to the club.
At the end of the day, it’s a huge commitment of time, which is why there isn’t often a huge contest for the position. You need members who not only have the required skills but are also willing to put themselves forward for the position.