Bid for level playing field

The AFL has strategically hand-picked six club chiefs to join bosses Andrew Demetriou and Gillon McLachlan on a July mission to New York to investigate American football's sophisticated equalisation formula. The aim is to close the growing divide between rich and poor clubs.

Eddie McGuire and Andrew Newbold, the presidents of powerful Collingwood and Hawthorn who have both strongly resisted calls for a tax on the wealthier clubs, will join a 10-man deputation searching for methods to equalise the competition, which after seven rounds this season sees close to one-third of clubs already out of finals contention.

It now seems beyond doubt that the AFL is seriously investigating a new and more significant tax on the wealthier clubs as part of a reformed and more complex equalisation structure, with the growing divide described by outgoing Sydney chairman Richard Colless in a paper to the AFL late last year as ''a ticking time bomb''.

The AFL travelling party will also include Western Bulldogs president Peter Gordon and will meet NFL chiefs - whose clubs contribute one-third of their gate takings into a central equalisation pool - at that sport's New York head office. Meetings have also been scheduled with Major League Baseball, which recently introduced a new luxury tax, and American basketball bosses.

The AFL's deputy chief McLachlan agreed that McGuire and Newbold, along with West Coast chief Trevor Nisbett, were crucial members of the group ''because they will be faced with more of a philosophical challenge than the others''.

''This [equalisation] is a huge strategic and philosophical plank of where we've been and where we'll go in the future and the point about these big American sports is that all have strengthened their equalisation in recent years and all are more equal than we are,'' McLachlan said.

Club chief executives Brendon Gale (Richmond) and Keith Thomas (Port Adelaide) will make up the club representatives with AFL Commissioner Paul Bassett and AFL Players Association boss Matt Finnis also on board.

McLachlan described the NFL competition - in which a significantly larger proportion of its revenue is placed in the equalisation pool - as the most similar in structure to the AFL compared with the NBA and American baseball. He said that while a fixed equalisation formula had been guaranteed until the end of 2014, a radical review of that formula was crucial. ''Equalisation is central to our competition,'' he said.

Significantly the AFL party will also travel to Boston to meet US business magnate Robert Kraft, the owner of the powerhouse New England Patriots - one of the wealthier NFL clubs to have strongly supported sacrificing profits for the sake of equalisation.

Nisbett, whose Eagles remain one of the AFL's wealthiest and most powerful clubs, said he considered himself fortunate to be taking part in the one-week trip, but added: ''I'm hoping it's not just a fact-finding mission about taking from the rich and giving to the poor.

''I'm open and interested to see what some of the owners of these clubs say. I think it's a genuine attempt to make sure everyone understands why the NFL is the best competition in the world. We need to know what are the many number of things that make an even competition, including exploring new ways of earning extra revenues. What the AFL wants to do is to create an equal competition but we don't want a competition where instead of six clubs losing money every year we see 11 or 12 clubs losing money. We want to equalise up - we don't want to equalise down.''

McGuire and Newbold were part of the so-called ''bloc'' of wealthier Victorian clubs which met in February to voice misgivings about a potential luxury tax to aid clubs that had been poorly administered or suffered from disadvantages which could be remedied by the AFL, such as buying Etihad Stadium.

McGuire said at the time: ''So far, the best ideas I have heard have been to reach into the pockets of clubs who have acted in a responsible manner and if that is the best some clubs can come up with, then no wonder we are in this situation. We have acquiesced and acquiesced, but enough is enough.''

Said Newbold: ''Why are Hawthorn - who are innovative and have worked bloody hard to get ourselves to where we are now - being penalised because the Bulldogs have to write out cheques each year to play games at Etihad Stadium?''

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