After months of drawn-out negotiations, the AFL and players association both declared the pay deal a win-win.
“The players have had a win and got what they want… that is fair and ties them in a partnership sense to the success of our game,” AFL chief Gillon McLachlan told reporters in Adelaide yesterday.
“And we have got we what we want, which is industry protection and flexibility, and ensures that our game goes ahead over the next 100 years.”
For the first time, AFL players’ wages will be tied to industry revenue – a model Cricket Australia is rejecting with the cricketers’ union.
But the measure was welcomed by AFL Players’ Association president Matthew Pavlich.
“It’s a fantastic outcome and something that we were steadfast on achieving,” Pavlich told reporters.
A key feature of the $1.84 billion collective bargaining agreement is this year’s whopping 20 per cent pay increase.
It means that excluding rookies, the average AFL player wage jumps from $309,000 last year to $371,000.
The salary cap increases from $10.37 million per club to $12.4 million.
That means players coming out of contract this year are set for big pay increases and clubs will have much deeper war chests for recruiting drives.
Top players are certain to secure million-dollar deals.
Several Victorian clubs are trying to entice emerging GWS midfielder Josh Kelly back to his home state with massive offers.
Adelaide pair Mitch McGovern and Jake Lever, Gold Coast co-captain Steven May, Essendon players including full-forward Joe Daniher and Richmond forward Daniel Rioli are also coming out of contract.
The free agency rules stay the same for stars Dustin Martin and Nat Fyfe – only with much more money involved.
While the AFL will loosen the free agency rules as part of the new pay deal, the league has also confirmed that any changes will not affect this year’s eligible players.
Martin and Fyfe head that list and stay restricted free agents.
That means if a rival club makes an offer, their current club has the option to match it.
Richmond are confident Martin will stay beyond this season and Fyfe is likely to remain at Fremantle.
The obvious benefit for Martin and Fyfe is this year’s massive 20 per cent pay rise means clubs will have more in their war chests for recruiting.
Martin and Fyfe are certain to sign multi-million dollar contracts, no matter where they play next season.
But going forward, players have won significant changes to the free agency provisions.
Players will no longer need to be restricted free agents before earning unrestricted status.
The league will also choose from three proposals and make one more change by October.
The choices are portable free agency, free agency for life and restricted free agency for any players with four years experience who are under the median salary.
The AFL can also decide on another change but only if the players’ association agrees.
Free agency qualification periods remain at eight years for restricted – if the player is among the top 25 per cent of salaries at a club – and 10 years for unrestricted.
Fyfe and Martin made their AFL debuts in 2010.
“This wasn’t an easy negotiation in many respects,” players association chief Paul Marsh told reporters.
“But the thing is that we both kept listening to each other and we kept moving forward.
“It hasn’t been easy but we have had good visibility over the AFL’s finances.
“And that has been one of the key things here, that they have shared the information with us, allowing to get to a point where we’re comfortable.”
Cricket’s player body and head office are struggling to even get to the negotiating table ahead of the June 30 expiry of their current pay model.
But the AFL deal ensures some higher-paid players become instant millionaires by cashing in on the pay rise.
It will also give clubs more room in the salary cap and boost war chests for bidding for big-name recruits later this year.
The pay increase is heavily front-loaded, dropping sharply to 1.2 per cent next year, 1.3 per cent in 2019 and two per cent per year for the last three years of the deal.
That takes the club salary cap to $13.54 million by 2022.
The pay deal is about 28 per cent of total industry revenue, but can be even more if club and AFL earnings go above what is forecast.
The AFL commission met on Tuesday morning in Adelaide and signed off on the deal with the players association, ahead of last night’s Hall of Fame event, at which former Crows captain Simon Goodwin was inducted and dual premiership coach Malcolm Blight anointed an Australian Football Legend.
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