The sport’s governing body has lost its way after a huge financial hole in the sport’s bottom line.
The AFL has faced the axe as its revenue has slumped from $13 million in 2013-14 to just $4 million in 2017-18.
There are now fewer than 10 clubs left in the AFL, with three more clubs, Essendon, Carlton and Richmond, on their way out of the game.
That leaves the competition with just $2 million in cash and no operating profit.
It’s left a huge hole in its financial position, and with AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou warning clubs last year to cut their losses and close their doors if they wanted to survive, the industry has been left scrambling to find a way to survive.
“It’s a problem that we’ve got to find solutions,” Demetryou told ABC Radio Melbourne on Tuesday.
And the problem is that the problem lies at the top.
Premier Daniel Andrews has said he wants the AFL to be “faster, smarter and stronger”.
But with no end in sight to the AFL’s financial woes, the AFL is struggling to find the money to stay in business.
Under AFL regulations, a club cannot go out of business unless it loses a significant percentage of its operating revenue.
If it loses less than 10 per cent of its revenue, it can still be considered a “business entity”.
In other words, it’s a registered club with the AFL.
But in 2017 the AFL only had $2.4 million cash left in its coffers.
With its bottom line in tatters, the competition is now struggling to survive on the back of just $3.6 million in revenue.
“The problem is it’s not sustainable and it’s getting worse,” AFL CEO Andrew Demertriou told radio station 3AW on Tuesday night.
“[We need to] make sure that our bottom line is sustainable, so that we can keep doing the business.”
The number of AFL clubs has fallen from 28 in 2013 to just 11 in 2017.
Since then, the number of clubs has shrunk from 27 to 21.
Despite the downturn in the market, the league is still able to attract a record crowd of more than 8 million to its games.
AFL president Andrew Demeto said there were still many “challenging issues” to tackle in 2017 but there was “a real sense that we’re getting closer to a solution”.
The league has promised to make changes to the way it handles the clubs and its relationship with its players.
However, with the current revenue structure, the big question is what kind of changes the AFL will make in 2018.
Former AFL chief executives Andrew Demeterriou, Paul Marsh and Mick Malthouse were among the key figures to step down from the league in 2015.
In 2017, AFL chief David Noble said the league had not made enough money to pay its players, and that there were “challenges ahead”.
“We need more money to fund players and to support our clubs,” Noble said.
As a result, the NRL has taken over the role of AFL chief financial officer, while the ACT Rugby Football Union took over the AFL role from the AFL earlier this year.
New chief executive Brendon Gale has been appointed as the AFL president.