“We are optimistic we will be financially independent of the AFL. No one wants to be a recipient club reliant on the AFL for distributions – you do not have much of a voice (with the AFL) when you are financially reliant on them.
“We are more reliant on the AFL than we should be and we are in more debt than we should be.
“We should have a membership of 60,000 to 70,000. We would have easily achieved 50,000 members had it been a regular season last year (the club had a record 48,775 members last year in a season in which fans could not attend games in Victoria).
“We would have been optimistic of making a (net) profit in normal circumstances last year.”
The club’s debt grew last year by another $1.6 million to $13.8 million. With money cheap through low interest rates, the club prioritised completing the rebuild of its Moorabbin facilities and the Danny Frawley centre ahead of driving down debt.
The club had only 2 per cent of members request a refund and had many offers from members to pay the membership of those fellow members who were in hardship and had needed to ask their money back.
“We are optimistic of our ability on the field and that will help us improve our financial situation off the field,” Bassat said. “There is no point spending less money and being poor on the field.”
Bassat said improved on-field performance was the fastest way to improve club finances in the short term. Once the club was in a stronger position, it could work to improve financial streams so as not to be reliant on the often cyclical nature of on-field performance for financial health.
Because of the later-than -normal finish to the season and the understaffed AFL membership services, St Kilda deferred the annual membership roll-over for 2021 by a month.
That meant that $2.3m in cash that would ordinarily have gone into the accounts for last financial year was deferred to this year. Thus the Saints start this year $2.3m ahead in revenue.
“All clubs benefited massively from JobKeeper and the lower cost base [of cutting staff numbers] from COVID, but our gate revenues were down, obviously,” Bassat said.
“That didn’t affect us as much as some other clubs. The clubs that have the biggest reliance on match-day receipts and attendance struggled the most.
“That’s why some of the clubs like us and North Melbourne were not as affected as the biggest clubs like West Coast and Collingwood who budget on big attendances at games.”
Michael Gleeson is an award-winning senior sports writer specialising in AFL and athletics.