Should Governments fund AFL and NRL high performance centres?

By Greg Blood. Originally published in The Footy Almanac, 16 April 2019.

The recent Morrison Federal  Government budget announced $60m in funding for three AFL clubs (Brisbane, Carlton, Richmond) and one NRL club (North Queensland). This was followed up by the Morrison Government election announcement of $15m for the Adelaide Crows. These funding announcements generally relate to the development of their high-performance facilities.

Richmond CEO Brendon Gale  on receiving $15m grant stated “Significantly it will also provide the administration space and facilities to enable the delivery of exceptional men’s and women’s football programming … we will now continue to work to source the remaining funding required to bring this $60 million vision to life.”

The question I have seen asked several times is  – why is the Federal Government funding AFL and NRL clubs?

The clubs involved would argue that their facilities will be used by local communities or the emerging AFLW teams. Prime Minister Morrison said of the Richmond grant “Australians know all too well that the power of sport extends beyond the boundary line and that’s what establishing the William Cooper Centre is all about.”

Interestingly these grants were not part of the Minister for Sport’s Community Sport Infrastructure Programme but through Community Development Grants Programme managed by  Dept. of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities.

This is not the first time Federal Governments have invested in high performance centres for AFL and NRL clubs. I think the first club to receive this type of finding was the Western Bulldogs in 2004. More recently, the NSW State Government has instigated $50m NSW NRL Centres of Excellence Program.

The primary criticism of  Federal and State Government funding high performance training centres for  AFL and NRL clubs  is that they are significant professional sports in Australia and they have acccess to hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from television rights deals, sponsorship and attendance.  These sports also have  revenue base that can be linked to large stadiums that have been funded wholly or in part by Federal and State Governments.

It was recently reported that the Australian Institute of Sport is seeking $200m to revitalise its facilities that were primarily constructed between 1981 to 1985. It did receive $65m in 2003 to develop a new pool, recovery centre and athlete residence. The AIS in Canberra has been viewed as a world class national training centre and open to all sports but primarily Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games athletes. Should it  have received the $60m funding rather than the three AFL and one NRL club? Most of these athletes using the AIS facilities receive limited income from their sport and represent on the international sporting field.

I thought it might be worthwhile to see the amount of Federal and State Government funding that has been invested in AFL and NRL high performance centres over the last two decades.  As previously mentioned, these centres are now often linked to community facilities and more recently to women’s teams.

AFL Clubs

Adelaide Crows – $15m in 2019 from Morrison Government election announcement to support the development of a new home for the Crows in the city centre that also supports women’s team.

Brisbane Lions – $15m in 2019 from Morrison Government budget and $15m from Palaszczuk State Government. Estimated cost $70m.

Carlton Blues – $15m in 2019 from Morrison Government and $20m in 2018 from Andrews Government for redevelopment of Ikon Park.

Essendon Bombers -$6m in 2011 from Gillard Federal Government as part of it sharing facilities with Paralympic athletes and $1.8m State Government.  Estimated cost $26m. Essendon is looking to futher redevelopment its Tullamarine base.

Freemantle Dockers – $10m in 2013 from Gillard Federal Government and $10m from Barnett State Government. Estimated cost $109m.

Gold Coast Suns – $15m in 2015 from Abbott Federal Government. Estimated cost $22m.

Hawthorn – is chasing $130 million to fund its ambitious shift from Waverley Park to a new training facility in Dingley. Currently no commitments from Federal and State Governments.

North Melbourne Kangaroos  – Arden Street Oval was redeveloped in time for the 2010 AFL season with funding from Federal and State Governments. It cost $16 million. In 2018,  it is seeking $10m for redevelopment of its Arden Street headquarters.

Port Adelaide Power  – $2.5m in 2008 from Rudd Federal Government  and $2.5m in 2008 from Rann State Government for the development of our Allan Scott Power Headquarters facility at Alberton Oval.   $6m in 2019 from Morrison Government election announcement to SANFL for an  upgrade of Thebarton Oval.

Richmond Tigers – $15m in 2019 from Morrison Government budget for establishment of William Cooper Centre to house the club’s women’s football operations and the Bachar Houli Foundation.

St Kilda Saints – $12 in 2015 and $13 m in 2018 million from Andrews State Government for redevelopment of Moorabbin Oval. Estimated cost $30.3m. Note – State Government previously provided $3.45 million when it moved to Seaford.

West Coast Eagles – $13m from Abbott Federal Government in 2016 and $10m by Barnett State Government. Estimated cost $59.9m

Western Bulldogs – $8m in 2004 from Howard Federal Government and $3m Bracks State Government. Estimated cost $20m

Clubs that I could not locate Federal or State high performance training investment are Geelong Cats, Sydney Swans and Melbourne Demons.

NRL Clubs

Brisbane Broncos – $6.75m in 2014 from Abbott Government. Estimated cost $27m.

Canberra Raiders – $5m in 2018 from Barr ACT Government and $4m in 2018 from Beljekian State Government. Estimated cost $19m.

Canterbury Bulldogs – $2m in 2017 from Beljekian State Government as part of its Centres of Excellence Program.

Cronulla Sharks – $8m in 2017 from Berejiklian State Government as part of its Centres of Excellence Program.

Gold Coast Titans – $12m training facility received no government funding.

Manly Sea Eagles – $20m in 2019 as part of Berejiklian State Government election commitment. Estimated cost $36m.

Melbourne Storm – $12 million in 2018 from Andrews State Government.

North Queensland Cowboys – $15m in 2019 from Morrison Federal Government budget.

Newcastle Knights – $10m in 2017 from Berejiklian State Government as part of its Centres of Excellence Program. Estimated cost $20m.

South Sydney – $10m in 2014 from Abbott Federal Government and $8.6m in 2017 from Berejiklian State Government as part of its Centres of Excellence Program. Estimated cost $26m.

Sydney Roosters – $5.76m in 2017 from Berejiklian State Government as part of its Centres of Excellence Program.

Wests Tigers – $5.5 m in 2017 from Berejiklian State Government as part of its Centres of Excellence Program. Aim to develop $57m facility at Concord Oval.

Penrith Panthers were disappointed that its $22 million facility which was fully funded by the Panthers Group was precluded from applying for Berejiklian State Government Centres of Excellence Program. It was aiming to help refund some of the costs of their training centre.

No funding grants could be currently located for St George Dragons and Parramatta Eels.

In looking at the funding arrangements for both AFL and NRL  clubs there was also  some level local government assistance.

It should be noted that cricket, rugby and netball have received funding from Federal and State Governments for high performance training centres.  In fact, the Morrison Federal Government in 2019 budget committed $7m to National Cricket Campus in Brisbane.

As can be seen, AFL and NRL teams have extracted very good funding from Federal and State Governments. The question to be raised is whether these governments should be funding these high-performance centres. In my research it appears that the Queensland Government is generally reticent to fund these facilities.

When I look around the country, I think the high-performance training centres that need  additional funding are the AIS, state institutes and regional training academies. These primarily cater for athletes and coaches from the less wealthy Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games sports and  are more often linked to the community. Recently, the AIS told a Federal Parliamentary Inquiry that it had 521,000 visitors to its Canberra Campus in 2017/18 including 105,00 attending training camps and events.

I think it the duty of AFL and NRL and their clubs to totally fully fund their club’s high-performance centres due to their sports’ large revenue base linked to development and performances of their athletes.

AFL and NRL clubs are in an arms race for the best training facilities for a limited number of athletes. Should the  Federal and State Government’s have any part of this race ? These clubs have been smart enough to link community functions in their bid to win the arms race.

I think Federal and State Government  funding should go to community and institute/academy facilities  which play an important role in the early development of athletes and to athletes that compete on the world stage in the most cases for little financial reward.

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