Buddy hell – are the Swans fair dinkum?

Date: October 4, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

The AFL has made a habit of helping out the Sydney Football Club financially.

Since South Melbourne took flight to the Harbour City in the early-1980s, the AFL has poured millions of dollars into ensuring that the Swans are a viable competitor in the code’s premier competition.

Cognisant of the need for credibility and success by the local team in the country’s largest television market, the powers that be at AFL House in Melbourne have often swum against the tide in their endeavours to keep Sydney in the top-half of the table.

At present, the AFL is pouring over the details of an in-principal agreement between the Swans and Hawthorn’s dual premiership winning forward Lance Franklin to ensure that the club does not commit financial suicide by signing a nine-year, $10 million deal with the 26-year-old.

And well might the governing body be hesitant about such a contract being signed.

What is currently believed to be on the table can in time destroy the club’s player list, and by extension, require further financial assistance from the AFL – something that the remainder of the league will not tolerate.

Should a player under contract to an AFL club be delisted prior to the expiration of the contract the residual amount will be carried on the club’s books until it is paid out in full.

Standard practice is for the outstanding amount to be included in a single year.

Potentially for the Swans, should Franklin – who would be contracted until the age of 35 under the current proposal that is on the table – lose form or fitness and be jettisoned from the club’s list significantly ahead of the contract’s scheduled termination, the club would be left with a crippling financial impost.

To date Franklin has been hardly a gilt-edged example of an in injury-free footballer.

Indeed, signing a player in his mid-20s to a nine-year eight-figure sum is something that would never have previously been contemplated.

It is the two factors combined that has the AFL nervous.

At the end of the 2013 season there was just two players in the competition who had played to 35 years of age – Dustin Fletcher and Brent Harvey.

To put the Franklin contract into perspective, should he average 19 games per season for the next nine years he would end up playing 344 games which would place him at present the 14th most capped player in the competition’s history.

The chances of ‘Buddy’ getting to 35 and remaining a first-pick player are relatively slim when you look at those figures.

Luck – both for him and the Swans – would have to play a very big part.

It is believed that the terms of the contract that has been put to Franklin would see him paid less than a million dollars in his first two years with the club, after which there would be a significant ramping prior to a reduction in the ninth year.

The lessened dollar value in the early stages of the contract is no doubt predicated on the alleged $900,000 per year that is currently being paid to former Adelaide forward Kurt Tippett, who controversially joined the club between seasons.

If Franklin’s form wavered significantly late in his contract the club would have only two options open to it – delist him and pay the remaining monies in total against the next season’s salary cap or continue to carry him on the books as a contracted player whilst paying him a seven-figure sum to effectively sit on the sidelines as a spectator.

Either way, what the Swans are proposing carries enormous risks for the club’s future in the next five to nine years.

It is therefore not surprising to see the AFL having its doubts.

It has to approve the deal before it can go ahead and it would not be unexpected at all if it sort some significant variations, namely in the longevity of the contract.

If it insists that the period be watered down it will be fascinating to see how Franklin and his management respond.

Either way, one thing is guaranteed – the longstanding ‘cost-of-living allowance’ that Sydney has had over and above the regular salary-cap, and has been a perennial bug bear for the other clubs in the competition – will soon be a thing of the past.

Under the current arrangement with the AFL, the Swans receive an additional ten per cent on top of the standard annual club cap of $9.14 million as an offset for the higher living costs in the country’s biggest city.

Unsurprisingly, the mega-deal signed by Tippett and the one mooted for Franklin have had the other clubs up in arms with the commonly held belief that the extra dividend afforded the Swans is merely allowing them to sign-up marquee players rather than being spread across the entire playing group.

‘Buddy’ may have already bid farewell to his Hawks teammates but there remains some water to flow under the Sydney Harbour Bridge before his moniker makes it onto a new contract.

Just how the AFL reacts will be as closely tracked as one of Franklin’s arcing 50-metre drop punts.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 3 October 2013