The AFL and its two Melbourne stadiums are headed for a showdown, with the league not ruling out relocating more home-and-away games in Sydney and Canberra should the MCG and Telstra Dome refuse to improve their financial deals with Victorian clubs.
AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou and his team told the club presidents two days ago that Victorian teams were indirectly subsidising their rugby and soccer rivals, with clubs such as the Melbourne Victory receiving significantly better deals from the Docklands stadium than home teams such as cash-strapped Western Bulldogs or North Melbourne.
Demetriou and his team at Monday's pre-Brownlow presidents' meeting vowed to negotiate new agreements with both stadiums and indicated that the competition would use big-drawing AFL games as leverage.
While the AFL has already threatened to build a third stadium in Melbourne, it has also not ruled out removing fixtures involving tenant clubs such as Richmond and Hawthorn from the MCG. Telstra Dome, whose deal with the AFL reverts to a minimum 30 games a season in coming years, will also be placed under pressure to reward big crowds for home AFL clubs.
The meeting two days ago left the 16 club presidents determined to band together for the sake of the competition, with favoured MCG and Telstra Dome tenants Collingwood and Essendon respectively willing to join forces with clubs such as Richmond, Melbourne, St Kilda and Carlton in a bid to improve the ground agreements, which are crippling poorer Victorian teams.
Not only does the Melbourne Victory have a favourable Telstra Dome deal but international soccer and Bledisloe Cup fixtures at both stadiums have reaped significantly greater returns for those clubs and codes than the regular AFL games that the stadiums could not survive without.
Fuelling the AFL's frustration is the fact that the soon-to-be-built rectangular stadium in the Olympic Park precinct is expected to be commercially "clean", allowing tenant clubs at that ground full access to profitable signage and pourage agreements.
Demetriou indicated to the clubs that the AFL's campaign to improve the stadium deals was placed as a top priority, along with the Gold Coast and West Sydney push, and that the league hoped to lower and even eventually remove special assistance to clubs as a result of its negotiations with the stadiums.
A surprising revelation from the AFL's investigation into the MCG and Telstra Dome was that the MCG — currently servicing some $350 million worth of debt — paid even worse profits to clubs than Telstra Dome.
The 2009 fixture is not expected to be affected by the AFL's push, although some clubs left Monday's talks believing more games could be scheduled at the ACT's Manuka Oval and Sydney's ANZ Stadium next year as part of bargaining.
The MCG deal with the AFL was renegotiated with the rebuilding of the northern stand and runs until 2032, guaranteeing the stadium 45 home-and-away fixtures, including 10 of the best 12 in a season, along with the grand final and an average of one final a week over each finals series, fixtures that can be banked over the first two weeks of the finals.