“We have learned that through struggle and through success and failure, and those things are important. We invest in those and right now with all these cuts it makes it really, really hard to maintain that program.
“It is simply about identifying what are those things that are absolutely critical to the way we do business in our football club … what is critical to our competitive advantage and fighting as hard as we can within the confines of the rules to protect those.”
Gale admitted the Tigers spent towards the upper end of the soft cap that was at $9.7 million per club before the shutdown. That has been reduced to $8.7 million in 2020 and could go below the $6.7 million flagged to be the cap in 2021.
They were one of the first clubs to invest heavily in mindfulness programs and their injury rate has been the envy of the competition in recent seasons.
“In one respect you think some of those advantages might be gone but the biggest strength is our culture and it’s our connection with each other,” Gale said.
“Maybe this could provide us with greater opportunity, I’m confident our guys will make good out of this.”
He said the Tigers accepted the AFL’s position because, in Gale’s words, “without competition we are nothing” but the reality is that clubs were likely to be completely different organisations in the future than they were before the coronavirus shutdown.
Gale indicated he could see clubs becoming more elite, with development of people and players happening outside the club before they entered the AFL.
Clubs and the AFL will be in debt when the game returns with the loan of $600 million having to be serviced and the river of money that flowed from the AFL due to the broadcast agreement will slow.
“It’s inevitable that distributions will be reduced significantly so it is inevitable that our businesses are going to have to change. What that means and what sorts of things you prioritise over others I don’t know,” Gale said.
Many clubs have flagged the possibility that state league programs would no longer be part of AFL clubs, with the shrinking of football departments and reduced list sizes changing the pathway programs.
Gale said he feared clubs may no longer have the resources to take risks on players such as Marlion Pickett, who made a stunning debut in last year’s grand final after joining Richmond via the mid-season draft.
Gale said clubs previously developed young athletes to get to the elite level, rather than bringing them in as elite athletes but he suspected that might shift.
“We have taken on more and more and more because that is what we do, we run elite sporting programs and I am not sure whether it is sustainable in the long term,” Gale said.
“There are going to be some hard choices.”
Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.