The overnight $60,000 pay rise

Can you imagine getting an immediate $60,000-a-year pay rise?

Well, that’s what happened this week to a bunch of young blokes that I work with.

Even better, the average 20-something who got the pay rise is pulling in a whopping $371,000 a year.

I’m talking about AFL footballers … who this week scored a six-year, $1.84 billion collective pay deal.

But now for the tackle: despite the serious dough they get, a lot of these players will end up kicking their finances out of bounds on the full.

It’s a worldwide phenomenon: American footy players (lycra and crash helmets) earn an average of $US1.9 million a year, but most of them are broke within three years of retirement. NBA basketball players earn an average of $5.15 million a year, but 60% of them are broke within five years of hanging up their boots, according to a fascinating ESPN documentary called Broke.

How does this happen?

Well, this week I sat down with a bloke who knows: North Melbourne coach Brad Scott.

A few things you should know about Brad: first, he’s whip smart; second, he cares deeply about his players; and third, he happens to be a Barefooter!

(Oh, and fourth, I’m helping his boys this year … with their finances, not with their footy. Obviously.)

When it comes to footy and finances, Brad has seen it all.

In fact, when he was first drafted in the nineties, he was paid an outrageous sign-on fee:

“I got seven and a half grand”, he tells me.

“… and $250 a game.”

(And, just like my sheepdog Betty, if he got rubbed out or injured … no pay.)

While you may scoff at the players’ pay rise (and pay packet), after 20 years of playing and coaching Brad knows why many of them end up broke.

Let’s start the siren.

Show Me the Money!

“Part of the problem is that everyone else thinks they’ve got it made”, says Brad.

And then he proceeds to throw cold water over the “$371,000 average wage” claim that’s bandied around in the media (and by yours truly at the start of this column).

“Look, of the 44 players on our list, only 14 are earning above the average wage, and the rest are below it … and that would be similar for all the clubs.”

And ‘below’ is actually … really low:

The minimum wage for a rookie is $71,500, and for a second-year player it’s $100,000.

Sure, good money for doing something you’d do for free … but you’re hardly turning up to training in a Porsche 911.

And herein lies the problem:

“When you’re a young AFL footballer … you get a lot of female attention.”

“And the players … well, they’re not going to downplay the image. Really, it’s not in their interests to say … ‘hey I umm, actually don’t earn that much money’.”

And it’s not just the girls. Often when the players go home they shout their mates, and their families, who all believe they’re loaded.

I know what you’re thinking at this point: “Yeah, but that’s just what they start on, they’ll soon earn the big bucks.”

And you’re right.

Brad tells me that when some young players get a sizeable contract that can mean their salary is double or triple their first pay. And that’s when the real problems begin.

He’s My Private Banker

When your income triples, so do the opportunities to spend it.

There’s no shortage of banks — with private bankers in tow — wanting to lend these players huge sums of dough, to fulfil their Instagram images.

“The average AFL player career is just three years”, says Brad soberly.

“So, yes, technically they can service the debt while they’re playing … but what happens when they stop?”

A financial shirt front. “I’ve seen it too many times”, says Brad. “Plenty of guys I’ve played with end their career with a negative net worth position.”

That’s why Brad tells his players there’s only one thing he’s really impressed by: “It’s not what you earn, it’s what you save.”

Boofhead’s Bar and Grill

The final trap for many players … the world over … is that they tend to invest badly.

“They often invest in exotic investments”, says Brad.

Generally, it’s not their idea either.

The one thing I’ve learnt from dealing with professional sportspeople over my career is that there’s always a ‘bunch of blokes’ waiting around to hip-and-shoulder them into something complex, confusing, and high risk: restaurants, bars, property developments, you name it.

And best of all?

These high-tax-paying players can be so negatively geared, they’ll be positively screwed!

The Good Coach

The AFL and the clubs understand the problems players face, and that’s why they’re investing a lot into player development. Every club employs staff whose sole role is looking after player welfare. Plus, each player is mandated to have at least one weekday off per week to focus on professional development, either study or work placement.

Before the final siren sounds, the last word must go to Brad:

“The reason I’m passionate about financial education is that I’ve seen too many players who struggle after retirement, when they should be a step ahead. The reality is that a lot of players don’t succeed in the AFL — but they can all succeed in life.”

Tread Your Own Path!