User:Brennan.McDonald/A look into Free Agency and the Australian Football League

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Here is a link to my presentation. I had problems uploading it up to my Wiki so just click on the link and it should be on the left hand side of the page. Thank you!

Free Agency and the Australian Football League

Business, Politics and Sport: Free Agency and the Australian Football League

Melbourne Cricket Ground 2007 (00197)

This essay will examine the introduction of various components of free agency to the Australian Football League at the end of 2012, and also look at the implications that this will have on the different stakeholders within the AFL. This free agency concept is the result of a recent Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the AFL and the AFL Players Association (AFLPA).

Free agency is aimed at allowing more player movement and should ease draft and trade restrictions on the professional teams operating within the AFL. This makes it easier for players to be able to leave clubs and join the team that offers them a more lucrative contract or have a higher level of success. This model of free agency is capped however so a Premier League-style division between the wealthy and poor clubs should not exist, however most critics point out that that could still happen. People like Mick Malthouse and Jeff Kennett who are well know AFL personalities have spoken out against free agency.

This essay will also make a comparison between the National Football League’s free agency model and the AFL version, and how the National Football League Players Association has managed through collective bargaining to get the best working conditions and pay for its players. Freedom of movement and restriction of trade will be discussed, referring to the Bosman case in Europe in 1995.


Sydney swans supporters at the 2006 afl grand final

In early 2010, the Australian Football League (AFL) and the Australian Football League Players Association (AFLPA) reached an agreement that will introduce free agency into the AFL following 2012[1]. All parties involved with the AFL in some way will be affected by this concept when it is implemented into Australia’s premier football league which includes: players, coaches, agents, sponsors, members, fans, and various other stakeholders.

This ‘free agency’ model is aimed at allowing more player movement and should ease draft and trade restrictions on the professional teams operating within the AFL. This should make it easier for players to be able to leave clubs and join the team that offers them a more lucrative contract, and footballers who have served a certain period of time with one club will be able to leave for a higher pay check or be compensated for their service. This model of free agency is capped however so a Premier League-style division between the wealthy and poor clubs should not exist (which is known as the Big 4)[2]. However, some critics of free agency are concerned that the AFL could become much like the National Football League or the Premier League where players chase the biggest contracts with little loyalty for their teams.

Free Agency[edit]

A free agent is any player who is not under contract to any team and thus has free right to negotiate with any other team for new contract terms. Under the AFL’s current proposal, a player will have to serve 8 years with the one team before they can be classed as a free agent.

- A restricted free agent is a player who is off contract and can negotiate with other teams for his services; however his current team can match any offer to retain that player.

- An unrestricted free agent is a player who can negotiate with any team but his current team has no guarantee to match outside offers. From the end of 2012 free agency will be implemented into the AFL, paving the way for larger playing contracts especially for the top players in the league.

Proposed Model[edit]

According to the AFL, this is the basic layout that will be introduced:

• Players who are not in the top 25% of salaries at their clubs will be eligible for unrestricted free agency if they have served 8 years on the clubs primary list.

• Players who are in the top 25% of salaries at their club will be eligible for restricted free agency for their first new contract after they have served eight years on the primary list of the club.

• Compensation in the form of draft picks will be allocated to teams with a net loss of free agents, and this will be determined by the AFL.

• If a player refuses to accept the matched offer from their current team, they can choose to be traded or be nominated for the AFL Draft.[3]

Comparison with the National Football League[edit]

America has a long history of battles fought and won through their various labour union movements, and the NFLPA is no different. Formed in 1956 and receiving NFL recognition in 1968, the NFLPA ‘represents the players in matters concerning wages, hours, working conditions, to protect players' rights as professional athletes, to ensure the terms of a collective bargaining agreement are met, to negotiate and monitor retirement and insurance benefits, to provide assistance to charitable and community organizations, and to enhance and defend the image of players and their profession on and off the field.’[4]

Just this year, from March 11 to July 25, the NFL imposed a lockout of all players over a labour dispute with the NFLPA in which the NFL owners unanimously voted in 2006 to not to extend a CBA past 2010. Speculation surrounded the league that would be no football for the 2011 season; however on August 5 the lockout was officially ended when a new CBA was signed by the NFLA and the NFLPA. This shows the power that the NFLPA has in American Football.[5]

Free agency as it is today has existed in the NFL since 1993, and is technically known as ‘Plan A Free Agency’[6]. It is similar to that of the model that the AFL will introduce, however a player who has only played 3 years at a club (instead of 5) and their contract expires is free to sign with any team unless the original team matches it. Another difference between the AFL and NFL is of course the amount in which the players are paid, although this is to be expected with the NFL’s larger salary cap ($8,212,500 for the AFL and $120,000,000 for the NFL).[7]


Different AFL personalities and people in the media have had mixed reviews of the AFL’s plan to implement free agency after 2012. The main talking point of free agency is the general opinion from critics is that players will always choose to join a successful club over a large pay cheque, thus creating a Premier League-style division.

Mick Malthouse (Former coach, Collingwood Magpies)[edit]

Malthouse, recently retired coach of AFL powerhouse the Collingwood Magpies, has stated that ‘that the introduction of free agency would lead to big clubs dominating the league.’ He also said ‘If we had free agency …would we start to get back to what we were in the '60s and '70s where four clubs dominated the competition because they had the money and all the clout?’ Malthouse believes that players will only want to join clubs with success instead of joining a lower team for maybe even more money.[8]

Jeff Kennett (President, Hawthorn Hawks)[edit]

Kennett shares Malthouse’s views of free agency, even going a few steps further: ‘They will play player against player, club against club, it will be uncontrollable...They have produced a bowl of spaghetti which is slippery, has no definable ends, and administrators are going to find it increasingly difficult to manage their clubs.’[9] However Kennett fails to note that not all players will chase success over money. Gary Ablett, who is a superstar of the game, left one the league’s most presently successful clubs Geelong to join the fledgling Gold Coast Suns for $10 million over a 5 year period. Geelong beat Collingwood to win the 2011 Premiership while Gold Coast won only 1 game last year.

Caroline Wilson (Journalist, The Age)[edit]

Caroline Wilson, a journalist for the newspaper The Age, echoes the thoughts of both Malthouse and Kennett’s sentiments stating that players will chase success over money. Using former St Kilda and now Collingwood player Luke Ball as an example, Wilson said: ‘the fact remains that successful clubs will always attract good players once they are free to choose’. Wilson also goes on to say that free agency will ‘further demystify that element of magic that surrounds football’.[10]

Andrew Demetriou (AFL CEO)[edit]

Demetriou has obviously gone against both Malthouse and Kennett’s view of free agency. Reacting to Malthouse’s argument that free agency will widen the gap between the upper and lower echelon teams, Demetriou stated that there is ‘still a salary cap...if Collingwood has Dane Swan, Dale Thomas and Scott Pendlebury...and whoever else, they won’t be chasing six free agents will they?’ Demetriou believes that free agency will not widen the gap between different clubs, however has also said that the AFL needs to provide a ‘fair financial footing for all clubs’.[11]

10 out of the then 16 coaches endorsed the agreement between the AFL and the AFLPA echoing the same thoughts of optimism for the introduction of free agency.[12]

Club Loyalty[edit]

While the AFL is the premier sporting league in the league, it boasts a high expectation from the fans for players to exhibit strong loyalty to the club that they play for. Unlike the NFL where players show almost no loyalty and will usually always sign for money over success, AFL fans sit on the other end of the spectrum. When Gary Ablett joined the Gold Coast after a very successful tenure at Geelong[13] (which his father also famously played for), and some fans were ‘angry’ at the club for not keeping such a marquee player. One reason that AFL fans desire loyalty from the players is the father-son rule that exists in the system[14]. This rule allows clubs to select the sons of former players who have played for that club. This has been used with various players, a good example being Gary Ablett and his father Gary Ablett Sr. who both played for Geelong. Although free agency may create a higher turnover of players throughout the clubs there is not a disproportionate amount of 8 year or more veterans in the AFL.

Freedom of Movement: the Bosman Ruling[edit]

In Europe, Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Football Association ASBL v Jean-Marc Bosman (1995) which became known as the Bosman ruling is a European Court of Justice decision concerning freedom of movement for workers and freedom of association.[15] This case is important because it made a decision that effected free movement and labour and also changed the way in which football player’s transition to other EU clubs: it allowed players to move on from their club to another once their contract had expired. Before this ruling players could only move to a club if both clubs agreed to it, and there was a setting of a transfer fee in which one club was selling the player and the other was buying. This indirectly affected all football worldwide, and helped to increase ‘player power’.

Luke Ball, currently playing for Collingwood had requested to be traded there by St Kilda before the trade week in late 2009. However the two clubs could not agree and so Ball entered the AFL Draft where Collingwood picked him with pick 30.[16][17]. This is a situation where a larger degree of freedom of movement is needed in the AFL, and if a player wishes to sign with another club he should be able to.


After reviewing all the different aspects of the AFL’s free agency model to be introduced next year, it seems that this new implementation will help keep the league at the top of the Australian sporting tree. All parties involved with the AFL will benefit in some way. The players will have an increased chance to make more money and chase success. The AFL will have increased exposure, due to the fact of high profile or marquee players will change teams more regularly. This in turn affects other stakeholders such as sponsors and of course will draw more fans to the sport. Many critics of free agency compare it with the NFL system in America where there is no loyalty shown to any clubs, and also believe that the successful clubs gain more success and the lower teams fail to move up the ladder. However, the AFL will probably not ever reach that stage because of the strength of grassroots football and the history and tradition that clings to Australia’s biggest brand of football. Free agency will only benefit all stakeholders of the game and help it to continue to grow over time.


  1. Free Agency for 2012,
  2. The Premierships Big 4: to be or not to be,
  3. How free agency will work,
  4. NFL Players Association History,
  5. NFL lockout is now in effect; pro football enters first work stoppage since 1987,
  6. NFL owners opt out of CBA,
  7. Salary cap: massive pay hike,
  8. Free Agency will hurt AFL: Mick Malthouse,
  9. Kennett Slams Free Agency,
  10. AFL justifiably wary of free agency,
  11. Demetriou slams so called problems,
  12. What they said: clubs react to free agency,
  13. Gary Ablett Jr. signs deal with Gold Coast Suns,
  14. Father-Son Rule,
  15. The Bosman Case,
  16. Ross Lyone says St Kilda does not regret Ball
  17. Free agency? Sort out third party payments first,