He said player wages, but also executive wages at the AFL and at clubs as well as coaches and allied industry incomes would all have to be recalibrated and reduced on the basis of the new football economy.
Jackson said the loss of crowds this year would be damaging to revenues but as troubling was the profound impact in coming years from the broad economic downturn. He said the concern for clubs was in the economic impact on mid-level companies that were the lower-tier sponsors, coterie members and backers at club events.
The AFL has asked clubs to contemplate significant industry-wide change in a new football economy and offer recommendations for structural change, primarily in football spend.
The Age has also sought advice from respected football people across the spectrum from football – Leigh Matthews – to administrators, agents and media rights holders.
Jackson was a long-term chief executive at both Essendon and Melbourne and has been consulting to the AFL since leaving the Demons.
He said the AFL was in a sound financial position because of Marvel Stadium and the broadcast rights, which would return revenues once games returned. But he said there would inevitably be a financial re-set at clubs in terms of revenues and costs.
“Clubs are accountable for their on-field performance but there is little accountability for their off-field performance, for their financial performance,” he said.
He was troubled by the levels of debt clubs carried, a large amount of which has been to fund new and bigger club facilities.
“My personal view is the importance of facilities is overstated. Invariably club strength is more influenced by list management and having the right environment and culture,” he said.
“I do not agree with the view (elite facilities were important to attract and retain the best players). It is an argument to justify facilities spending. I don’t think it makes any difference at all. It’s ultimately about the culture and the environment you create, not the facilities you build.
“In the main, players move for homesickness, for opportunity, or to go to better culture and environment. Players left Melbourne in the mid 2000s for those reasons. Melbourne were miserable in those mid-2000s because of the quality of the playing list and the environment.
“But North Melbourne, when they were playing in seven preliminary finals in a row, they were playing out of portables in Arden Street but had a great culture and environment.
“Melbourne played in the grand final in 2000 training out of the Junction Oval.
“So I do not subscribe to the view it’s about facilities and spending money.”
He said he believed the nine games per round was critical to the broadcast rights deal and so it was important to preserve the existing 18 teams.
“I don’t think the argument about cutting teams makes any sense at all,” he said.
The AFL’s multicultural and women’s strategies were critical to the league’s success in driving growth in the game over the next 20 years and both areas needed continued funding.
“The game is not just about the elite level, it is about participation and the people in the stands watching,” he said.
“If you want to disillusion women and girls as participants and consumers of the game then you cut those programs and say as a cost-cutting exercise we are going to shelve the women’s competition for three years and then start it again.
“Do you think you get those women back in three year’s time when you say ‘we really do love you now?’ ’’
Michael Gleeson is an award-winning senior sports writer specialising in AFL and athletics.