While no club has seen a mass exodus of members during the crisis, acute sensitivity prevails over club-membership support seen as crucial to the bottom line of the financially stricken football industry.
It has provoked the push for an unprecedented ATO 12-month exemption allowing tax deductible donations to football clubs as the league chiefs work to engage members in a season without match-day attendances.
Opera Australia, Australia’s largest arts employer, has ramped up requests for donations during the COVID-19 crisis, as has the Australian Ballet, offering subscribers who forfeit refunds to consider transforming the ticket cost to a tax-deductible donation.
“We are aware of the opera/ballet option,” said Collingwood chief Mark Anderson, “and while we haven’t needed to at this stage, we’re not ruling it out.
“We prefer the traditional football model of memberships tied to attendances at games but we are looking at a number of ways to work with our members as we work towards getting games underway.”
Geelong chief Brian Cook confirmed that the Cats had approached the ATO and expected a decision before the end of May. Cook said every club would seek tax relief for their members.
The club chiefs focusing on memberships during the COVID-19 crisis along with Collingwood’s Anderson are Justin Reeves (Hawthorn), Cain Liddle (Carlton), Ben Amarfio (North Melbourne), Brendon Gale (Richmond) and Simon Garlick (Fremantle).
Prevailing nervousness around membership – Collingwood’s Eddie McGuire spoke forebodingly of a “run on clubs” earlier this month – has produced contrasting responses from clubs.
Jeff Kennett urged Hawk members not to apply for refunds where possible, warning them that their support was required for Hawthorn to remain an unassisted club.
Richmond president Peggy O’Neal, whose club last week passed an AFL-high membership mark of 97,000, took a different approach when she wrote last week to members pointing out that the club was in a “position of strength” thanks to them. But O’Neal urged those whose circumstances had changed to contact the Tigers’ membership team.
Anderson, whose monthly payment membership run took place last Friday, said all Collingwood’s members had met those payments and that new subscriptions in recent weeks had lifted the club to almost 77,000. “Our members have been superb,” he said.
Caroline Wilson is a Walkley award-winning columnist and former chief football writer for The Age.