Free agency coming to restrictive Australian Football League

One of pro sports' most restrictive labor markets, the Australian Football League, is introducing free agency starting in 2012.

By , Guest blogger

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The Australian Football League (AFL) and the Australian Football League Players’ Association (AFLPA) has announced agreement on the introduction of free agency to the AFL labour market, to commence in 2012, after the competition expands from 16 to 18 clubs.

For readers not familiar with Australian football and the AFL; the labour market has been governed by a combination of a reverse-order player draft, a hard total player payments cap (per club, the 2010 TPPC is AUD $8.21m for player payments + $537k for additional marketing agreements), and player list restrictions giving each club a maximum primary list of 40 players. This system has been in place since the mid 1980s and has come to be one of the most restrictive system of labour market regulation in any professional team sport in the world. The only way players could move between clubs was to enter the draft system again or to be traded for other players and/or draft picks. Following the precedent in the High Court of Australia case, Buckley v Tutty, such a system was highly likely to fall as an unreasonable common law restraint of trade; but it is worth noting this model of free agency has been negotiated without recourse to the courts or industrial disputation. The system of free agency is summarised as follows:

1. Delisted players:

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- All players who are delisted by a club are unrestricted free agents.

2. Listed players with at least 8 seasons at one AFL club, who are out of contract for the first time since reaching 8 seasons of service:

· Restricted free agency for such players who are in the Top 25% of player salaries at that club. Restricted free agents have the right to negotiate with any new club, but their current club has a right of first refusal, which allows current club to match an employment offer lodged by a new club. If the current club chooses not to match the offer, the current club will receive compensation in the form of an additional draft selection if the current club has a net loss of free agents. If the current club does choose to match the offer, but the restricted free agent does wish to leave his current club, the player can only do so by being traded, or by re-entering the pool of players eligible to be drafted.

· Unrestricted free agency for such players who are in the Bottom 75% of player salaries at that club.

3. Listed players with 10 or more seasons at one AFL club, who are out of contract, and have already come out of contract once before in the period of 8+ seasons at one AFL club.

- All such players are unrestricted free agents.

The AFL website is the best place for news on the specifics of the deal:

The sports pages of the Melbourne-based newspapers, the Herald Sun and The Age, have interesting coverage of the full spectrum of opinions; ranging from applause for a well-balanced deal, to claims this is a portent of impending doom for the competition; in particular, see the colourful report by Patrick Smith inThe Australian newspaper.

Specifics of how the Top 25% of players at each club will be determined, along with the value of compensation for a net loss of free agents are yet to be determined.

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