The Australian Football League (AFL) is the professional men's competition for Australian rules football, played by top performers around the country. Teams and organisations often seek high-level athletes and coaches, and they may compensate them well for their skills and work. Discovering the average AFL salary can help you understand how professional sports structure their salaries and learn what professional AFL players make at various stages of their careers. In this article, we discuss the average AFL salary, how much AFL coaches earn, the pay structure, salary caps and floors involved in AFL salaries and how clubs acquire players.
What's the average AFL salary for players?
The average salary of an AFL player is currently $362,471 per year. Given that players are paid depending on their value to a club, the salary range between players can be significant. Some players earn over one million dollars per year which vastly increases the average AFL salary, meaning most players earn below the average pay.
Within limits, teams can choose how much they pay players. They usually select a price based on their team's needs and the qualities the player can provide. Clubs also consider experience level, reputation and skills when deciding on players' salaries. Unlike other sports around the world, the field positions of AFL players typically don't affect their salaries. However, players that are successful in some key positions may be more valuable to particular clubs. Here is how the salary can vary for different experience levels:
A rookie is an early-career AFL player who has recently entered the league. Given that they're new to this high-level setting of the game and have less experience, there is often more risk involved in clubs selecting them. Therefore, rookies tend to earn a salary on the lower range of the scale. Many of these players don't play many games throughout a season, so they typically make a base salary with additional match payments when they play.
Rookies selected directly from the national draft usually have a similar pay structure, but their position in the draft means that scouts value their skills. This means they usually come with less risk for clubs and therefore have a higher base salary with the same match payments as other rookies. This structure protects clubs from spending high salaries on players when they're unsure how they'll perform while still providing a suitable wage for the rookies.
Mid-level experienced players
When players have been playing within the AFL for about three to four years, they typically earn a wage closer to the average salary for AFL players. Clubs typically have a more accurate idea of how players may perform when they have been playing for some time. Therefore, there is less risk involved, and clubs can afford to spend more on players.
Additionally, these players generally play a lot more games than rookies, which is part of the reason they earn a larger salary. Players at this level typically have managers that help them negotiate a fair wage and consider the options available.
More experienced players
After playing in the AFL for around four to five years, experienced players usually play almost every game. These players are highly valuable to clubs as they can rely on them throughout the season. Therefore, their salaries are usually slightly above average, including match payments. At this stage of their career, more experienced players may be on multiple-year contracts as negotiated by their managers.
How much do AFL coaches earn?
Coaches are one of the most critical assets to a club and play a significant role in the team's success. Most clubs and coaches don't disclose the exact amount coaches are paid, so it's hard to define an average AFL coach salary. AFL assistant coaches significantly contribute to the team's performance and take a more on-the-ground approach during training sessions, establishing appropriate drills and training programs to facilitate the team's progress.
AFL club's pay structure
Players are paid monthly for their work and performance, which equals one-twelfth of their annual salary. Some players are on a base contract, which means they get paid an additional payment for each match they play. Their base payment covers their training and schedule requirements throughout the year. Most players have their own managers who assist in negotiating salaries with the team they play for and may discuss salaries and opportunities with other clubs.
Some clubs also include bonus payments throughout a player's time at the club. Typically every ten, 20 or 50 games, they can provide a payment to support players. Bonus payments can encourage players to stay at a club and help teams maintain their structure for more extended periods. Additionally, clubs may issue payments depending on how players place on best-and-fairest awards at the end of the seasons as a performance incentive.
What's the salary cap?
The AFL has a salary cap that dictates the maximum amount of money a player can earn. They implemented this structure to equalise spending on players across the league, as clubs with more money were at an unfair advantage and could pay more to attract valuable players. The AFL introduced this cap when the Victoria Football League (VFL) expanded to become the AFL, and interstate clubs with less funding entered the league. A pay cap meant that they could attract players equally to Victorian teams, and the competition remained fair and competitive.
When the AFL introduced the salary cap, the league was still mainly played in Victoria. This meant many people around the country couldn't attend the game, so there was less money circulating within the league and the cap was much lower. Since then, games have been pushed to prime time slots as popularity increased and teams travelled interstate to play at different locations, where more of the population could attend and support the league. The AFL organisation and specific clubs began earning more money, and salaries increased rapidly.
How much is the salary cap?
The AFL salary cap is $14.7 million per year per club. This means the total salaries for all players within a team are under that figure to ensure fairness among the competition. The salary cap is reviewed regularly and has increased as the league became more popular and each club began to earn more money. The AFL can also reduce the cap in times of economic challenges when less of the public contributes by attending games and buying memberships and merchandise.
AFL clubs can have up to 44 players within their club, including four to six rookies. As each club can spend up to $14.7 million on salaries for these players, it defines the average AFL salary for each club. However, not every club spends the maximum allowed amount, so the average salary at those clubs would be lower. Clubs might spend above a minimum amount each year on wages too, which is outlined by the salary floor.
What's the salary floor?
In addition to a salary cap, the AFL also has a salary floor, which outlines the minimum amount that a club can pay their players. The salary floor amount fluctuates from one year to another and is a percentage of the salary cap. This defines a strict range that clubs may spend on salaries.
A salary cap and floor normalises the wages in the league and ensures that clubs are spending a relatively equal amount on supporting their players. As the salary cap increases with the league's popularity and inflation rates, the salary floor also increases to maintain a concise spending range.
How do AFL clubs acquire players?
AFL clubs can acquire players from multiple sources and at different times of the year. Most players enter the league with a specific club through the AFL draft, which occurs at the end of each season. Sports professionals rank players in the draft based on their skills, qualities, reputation and performance. Clubs select their draft picks in a predetermined order to choose their preferred players. Once clubs select a player, they negotiate a salary with the player and agree on a contract.
Clubs can also trade players with other clubs to agree on a deal, either involving money or swapping for other players. The trade period happens in the off-season, following the completion of each season. Finally, a small number of players are sourced from similar professional sports, chosen for their athleticism and skills.
Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.