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Kicking the governance football – How does your AFL club compare?

By Nathan Bartrop FGIA FCG, Executive Director, White Label Corporate.

  • This article gives an insight into the disclosure of corporate governance practices across the 18 Australian Football League (AFL) clubs.
  • It provides an overview of how the clubs compare to the practices and expectations of an Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) listed entity.
  • In time, it would be desirable to see improvement by all clubs in their disclosure and continuing to articulate their culture, governance and skills required that are essential to running a football club.


It has been more than 20 years since the first edition of the ASX Corporate Governance Council’s Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations (Principles and Recommendations).[1] As an avid football supporter (sorry NRL and soccer supporters there is only one ‘football’ and that is AFL!) and a Chartered Secretary, my interest turned to what AFL clubs disclose publicly about their corporate governance practices?

Intrigued, I visited all 18 websites of AFL clubs and conducted a desktop audit of their publicly disclosed corporate governance disclosures. My research has shown that, unfortunately for the most part, if you are a member of an AFL club, there’s not too much disclosure in the form of a corporate governance statement and outline of key governance disclosures that you expect from ASX listed entities. Despite the high levels of turnover, infrastructure, people and assets, surprisingly there is a low level of corporate governance disclosure. This is despite prior research which looked at corporate governance at AFL clubs.[2] It should be noted that this article is looking predominantly at the disclosure and transparency to members, rather than to actually test each club’s level of governance and its relation to performance.

Principles and Recommendations

An ASX listed entity is required to lodged on the ASX Market Announcements Platform a corporate governance statement, which is either placed on its website or is contained in its annual report,[3] with an Appendix 4G: key to governance disclosures.[4] This applies to all entities listed on ASX and does not vary with the size of an entity. Disclosure is on an if not why not basis, except for those entities that are in the S & P/ ASX 300 index, which are required to comply with the recommendations in the Principles and Recommendations relating to having an audit committee and remuneration committee and the composition of those committee.[5] An entity which is in the S & P All Ordinaries must have an audit committee.[6]

The purpose of the Principles and Recommendations is to set out recommended corporate governance practices that are likely to achieve good governance outcomes and meet the reasonable expectations of most investors in most situations.[7] The consultation draft for the Principles and Recommendations fifth edition states that if an entity is in the S & P/ ASX 300 index, it should set an objective for achieving gender equality should be to have a balanced board (40 per cent women /40 per cent men / up to 20 per cent any gender. This recommendation is up from the ‘not less than 30 per cent’ of each gender recommendation in the current Principles and Recommendations. In my view, AFL clubs should be considered in the same manner as listed entities in the S & P /ASX 300 index.

Governance of unlisted entities

There are no specific requirements of unlisted public companies that are limited by guarantee or shares. Some entities choose to voluntarily report their corporate governance practices against the Principles and Recommendations, such as Governance Institute of Australia, CPA Australia and AICD. The thought process for these entities and other not for profit entities or public entities, is to lead by example, increase transparency, demonstrate accountability and act with a high level of honesty, respect and fairness.

Who owns the AFL clubs?

To give some understanding of why some clubs disclose more in relation to their corporate governance practices, it is important to understand who their ultimate owners are. In the 1980s there were privately owned AFL clubs[8], however since that period the AFL appears to have been reluctant to endorse this form of ownership. There are three types of ownership — ownership by members directly, ownership by the AFL and ownership by the West Australian Football Commission Inc. (WAFC).

A following is a summary of the ownership of AFL Clubs.[9]

Ownership by ‘members’ directly.

  • Brisbane Bears-Fitzroy Lions Football Club Limited (Brisbane Lions)
  • Carlton Football Club Limited (Carlton Blues)
  • Collingwood Football Club Limited (Collingwood Magpies)
  • Essendon Football Club Limited (Essendon Bombers)
  • Geelong Football Club Limited (Geelong Cats)
  • Hawthorn Football Club Limited (Hawthorn Hawks)
  • Melbourne Football Club Limited (Melbourne Demons)
  • North Melbourne Football Club Limited (North Melbourne Kangaroos)
  • Richmond Football Club Limited (Richmond Tigers)
  • St Kilda Saints Football Club Ltd (St Kilda Saints)
  • Footscray Football Club Ltd (Western Bulldogs)

These clubs are companies limited by guarantee and incorporated pursuant to the Corporations Act 2001 (Commonwealth). These clubs are run by the board of directors and contain between 6 and 12 directors. There is varying ability for a member to nominate to become a director and/or the directors directly appointing other directors, dependent on the constitution.

Ownership by AFL (AFL owned clubs)

In the AFL owned clubs, each is a Company limited by guarantee and incorporated pursuant to the Corporations Act 2001 (Commonwealth), with the AFL being a member which elects seven of the nine directors, whilst the ordinary members electing the remaining two directors. Each club is a company with a constitution, similar to the member owned clubs, however the composition of directors is largely controlled by AFL.

  • Sydney Swans Football Club Limited (Sydney Swans)
  • Western Sydney Football Club Limited (Greater Western Sydney Giants)
  • GCFC Limited (Gold Coast Suns)
  • Adelaide Football Club Limited (Adelaide Crows)
  • Port Adelaide Football Club Ltd (Port Power)

The AFL itself is a public company limited by guarantee, with each of the 18 clubs’ members of the AFL. The AFL has a commission, which operates as the board of directors and also has a CEO and significant administrative resources to administer the game. The role of the Commission is to ensure the AFL is properly governed and managed. It has a brief outline of its corporate governance processes.[10]

The practice of AFL having a power to approve some of the directors of the AFL owned clubs is not transparent and no specifics are provided as to the process how this occurs and what governance processes are in place by the AFL to do so.

Ownership by WAFC

WAFC holds all of the shares in the following clubs.

  • Indian Pacific Limited (West Coast Eagles)
  • Fremantle Football Club Limited (Fremantle Dockers)

West Coast Eagles were established in 1986, originally chaired by Richard Colless and were established by paying the AFL $4,000,000 for a licence.[11] WAFC took control of 75 per cent of West Coast Eagles in 1989 after losses of $13,000,000.[12]

Fremantle Dockers were established in 1994 and WAFC paid $4,000,000 for the licence. Prior to 2019, the Fremantle Dockers’ election process was that two out of eight directors were elected by a popularity poll.[13] Members can now submit a nomination form to the Company Secretary when a vacancy arises.[14] It appears that since 2019 any vacancies of the board of West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers are approved by the WAFC in conjunction with each of the respective clubs, in a similar manner to the AFL owned clubs.

WAFC is the caretaker of football throughout Western Australia and is responsible for the overall development of the game.[15] It owns the licences of West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers, is a not-for-profit sports association and is incorporated under the Associations Incorporations Act 2015 (WA). The WAFC also has a role in supporting and developing the Western Australian Football League (WAFL), the WAFL Women’s League, community football, managing umpiring and driving participation through game development and the talent pathway. It is overseen by a voluntary board of Commissioners.[16]


The inaugural ladder of Corporate Governance disclosures is set out below.

Position Team
1. Geelong Cats
2. Western Bulldogs
3. Melbourne Demons
4. Essendon Bombers
5. North Melbourne
6 Hawthorn Hawks
7 Richmond Tigers
8 Brisbane Lions
9 Collingwood Magpies
10 Carlton Blues
11 St Kilda Saints
12 Fremantle Dockers
13 Sydney Swans
14 Adelaide Crows
15 Port Adelaide Power
16 GWS Giants
17 West Coast Eagles
18 Gold Coast Suns


Top eight

Geelong Cats

The ladder leader, Geelong Cats were the only club to outline a corporate governance statement in their annual report or on their website, a key requirement of the ASX Listing Rules and Principles and Recommendations [17]. This corporate governance statement outlines the focus and importance of good governance, outlines the role of the board, board composition, tenure, committee, relationship with management, board code of conduct and communication with members. An easily accessible website outlines its last three years financial statements, WGEA Employer Statement for February 2024 with an explanation of their Gender Equality Framework. Geelong Cats have a Corporate Governance Committee which articulates its key role to assist the Board. Four out of its eight directors are female, which is more than the 40 per cent recommendation in the consultation draft for the fifth edition of Principles and Recommendations.

Western Bulldogs

On the Western Bulldogs’ website, the club was able to articulate several of its governance practices and celebrate its diversity, development and culture. This includes its reconciliation action plan, diversity and inclusion action plan and members code of conduct.[18] In their annual report, Western Bulldogs were able to articulate several of its governance practices and celebrate its diversity, development and culture. Five of its 11 directors are female and the President is female, which is more than the proposed fifth edition 40 per cent recommendation.

Melbourne Demons

Melbourne Demons have a dedicated governance page on their website[19] and were able to articulate their nomination process and requirements to nominate for a board position and relevant contact details.[20] This process went over and above what most ASX listed entities do in relation to nominations for directors and didn’t require having to read through the constitution to understand the process. Four out of its eight directors are female and the president is also female, which is more than the fifth edition 40 per cent proposed recommendation.

Essendon Bombers

Essendon Bombers set out a substantial amount of their key governance policies, as well as their whistleblower policy and requirements of a potential director should they wish to nominate. The board skills matrix of Essendon is of particular note and similar to disclosures of ASX listed entities that outline the key mix of skills they require and any skills they are looking for in the future. Essendon also have a finance, risk, integrity and governance committee with oversight of these functions. Three out of its nine directors are female, which is below the fifth edition proposed 40 per cent recommendation, however is more than the current recommendation.

North Melbourne Kangaroos

North Melbourne Kangaroos have club policies on their website, including a gender pay gap statement, similar to Geelong Cats.[21] This pay gap statement outlines North Melbourne’s unique position as having both a female president and CEO, as well as promoting its status as an inclusive club with flexible work options and a focus on supporting families and carers. This does not extend to the Board, with three out of its eight directors female, which is below the proposed fifth edition 40 per cent recommendation, however is more than the current recommendation.

Hawthorn Hawks

There is a significant amount of information about Hawthorn Hawks on its website. Two relevant committees showing their commitment to governance is that they have a Governance, Risk, Integrity and Compliance Committee, as well as a Nominations Committee. A child safety statement and gender pay gap statement is on the website and includes a significant amount of past annual reports and information on its reconciliation. Additional information on the nomination process and a separate tab to address potential nominations is recommended. Three out of its nine directors are female, which is below the proposed fifth edition 40 per cent recommendation, however is above than the current recommendation.

Richmond Tigers

There are two committees set up for governance processes, a governance and remuneration committee and a nomination committee. There is a significant amount of tabs on its website dedicated to operation of the club, including an annual general meeting tab, annual reports, whistleblower policy and constitution. Richmond Tigers give some information as to how the nomination process works and what is expected, in its nomination by-laws. The community section also has a significant amount of information including a diversity and inclusion action plan, environmental action plan and reconciliation action plan. Four out of its ten directors are female, which is equal to the proposed fifth edition 40 per cent recommendation and above than the current recommendation. Given the significant amount of information, a corporate governance statement and commentary would assist members understand Richmond’s governance processes.

Positions 9–18

Brisbane Lions

Brisbane Lions have a modern constitution and appears to have embraced good corporate governance, however board policies and other items which are on other clubs’ websites, such as diversity + inclusion and gender pay equality are not present. There is an extensive community page which sets out the clubs’ interaction and support with the community. Two out of its nine directors are female, which is below the proposed fifth edition 40 per cent recommendation and below the current ASX CPR recommendation

Collingwood Magpies

The club has taken significant steps by updating its constitution and appears to have undergone a significant review to ensure it follows modern corporate governance practices. The club has introduced term limits for directors and the President, it will also establish a nominations Committee and has updated rules for the discipline, suspension and expulsion of Members. The club has a dedicated tab which then opens to a separate website on its support to the community. Three out of seven directors are female which is above the proposed fifth edition 40 per cent recommendation and above the current recommendation. There is a Finance and Risk Committee and an Integrity Committee, however information on these committees is not disclosed. Given the steps to update its constitution, it appears that the club is taking steps to improve its corporate governance and communications to its members.

Carlton Blues

Carlton also published its gender pay gap report, however some information relevant to corporate governance such as this and the annual report are found via the search function of the website rather than in a dedicated corporate governance section. Carlton has a separate community page which sets out the Carlton Respects, Adam Saad Pathways, First Nations and community engagement. Three out of nine directors are female which is below the proposed fifth edition 40 per cent recommendation and above the current recommendation. A dedicated governance page and corporate governance statement would assist members understand Carlton’s governance processes.

St Kilda Saints

Similar to Carlton, information on corporate governance for St Kilda Saints is not easy to find. The annual report is found by using the search function and minimal information on the operation of the club is found on the website. Two out of nine directors are female which is below the proposed fifth edition 40 per cent recommendation and below the current recommendation.

Sydney Swans, Adelaide Crows, Port Adelaide Power, GWS Giants, West Coast Eagles and Gold Coast Suns

It is of no surprise that the AFL Clubs and WAFC Clubs are lower down the ladder, as some of the corporate governance practices of the AFL and WAFC are separately disclosed rather than on each of these club’s websites. What is surprising is for Port Adelaide, West Coast, GWS Giants and Gold Coast Suns is that there is very little disclosure to be found setting out any form of nomination process which would assist members to put forward their case for becoming a director or engaging with the Board. No annual report is forthcoming on the websites for any of these clubs, which is very surprising given members should at least be able to view a copy of the annual report on the website of an AFL Club.


With every season on average yielding three coaching changes in the last 13 years,[xxii] at least three clubs every year face a real prospect of having to utilise their board to run a competitive process and effectively also change a number of coaches and performance staff that arise as a result of a new coach being appointed. North Melbourne have appointed three permanent coaches and two temporary coaches in four years since Brad Scott departed. St Kilda confirmed Brett Ratten’s coaching future in July 2022 for a further two years, only to terminate his contract on 14 October 2022 and appoint Ross Lyon on 22 October 2022.[xxiii] Later, in a further development, St Kilda’s CEO agreed to part ways with St Kilda, with St Kilda admitting it was time to look for a new leader. Whilst some would see this as a favourable development, it shows that at St Kilda, most members would see these two developments as surprising in a short amount of time extending a coaching contract, replacing with a new coach and then agreeing to part ways with the CEO.

Whilst some clubs have been transparent in developing a coaching succession strategy, none have been forthcoming about replacing their CEO, chair (president) or general board succession. It will be interesting to see in the future if clubs can articulate their succession strategy, rather than scramble to get members to appoint a chair/president at an annual general meeting.[xxiv]

In time, it would be great to see improvement by all clubs in their disclosure and continuing to articulate their culture, governance and skills required that are essential to running a football club. At the very least, the ability to access an annual report and corporate governance statement isn’t too much to ask for given these clubs occupy almost 12 months of the year coverage in the media and are significant operations in their own right.


Nathan Bartrop can be contacted on 0433 922 188 or by email at

[1] Foreword, page 1. A consultation draft for the 5th edition was released in February 2024.

[2] Corporate Governance in the Australian Football League: A Critical Evaluation. Julie A Foreman, 2006.

[3] ASX Listing Rule 4.10.3 / 4.7.4.

[4] ASX Listing Rule 4.7.3

[5] ASX Listing Rules 12.7 and 12.8.

[6] ASX Listing Rule 12.7. It does not have to follow the specifics of the Principles and Recommendations.

[7] page 1.

[8] Sydney Swans, owned by Geoffrey Edelsten, bought for $2.9m in cash. Ownership passed in 1988 to a group of investors, who ultimately handed the license back to the AFL in October 1992.







[15] WAFC 2023 annual report p1

[16] Details of Commissioners is at

[17] Geelong Cats 2023 Financial Statements, pp 10-12 available at:









Material published in Governance Directions is copyright and may not be reproduced without permission. The views expressed therein are those of the author and not of Governance Institute of Australia. All views and opinions are provided as general commentary only and should not be relied upon in place of specific accounting, legal or other professional advice.


Acting for You, April 2024

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