Anxiety over AFL finances due to virus

Oliver Caffrey and David Smith
Richmond and Carlton will kick-off the AFL season in front of no fans at the MCG

AFL players are feeling the pressure of keeping the season alive as the competition braces for the financial storm caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

That's the view of AFLPA boss Paul Marsh, who has concerns for the players' welfare by having the "whole industry on their shoulders".

After declaring the season would start as scheduled on Thursday night, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan admitted all games this year, including finals, could be played without crowds.

League and club finances will suffer significantly from the global impact of COVID-19, with Brisbane chief executive Greg Swann revealing the Lions would lose $5 million in gate-takings.

"We've got some huge financial issues at the moment as an industry that we've got to balance all out," Marsh told RSN on Thursday.

"The anxiety that the players will be facing going through this is extreme.

"They know the whole industry is on their shoulders at the moment. It's a big burden they're carrying."

McLachlan said the AFL's 17-round, 153-match competition "will not look like any other" as round one begins on Thursday night.

Matches will be played behind closed doors indefinitely with shortened 16 minute plus time-on quarters.

St Kilda football boss Simon Lethlean, who previously worked for the AFL, said shorter games could become permanent.

"In a crisis, you get a chance to change some things that maybe the competition thinks needs to happen and maybe we'll never go back to longer (20 minute plus time-on quarters)," he told SEN.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has brought in a ban on all non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.

The government's measures could last up to six months, or more, which would likely run the course of the AFL season.

The first four rounds will be crammed into a quicker time frame with the season to be under constant threat of shutting down because the competition will be immediately postponed if any player or official tests positive to coronavirus.

Sydney co-captain Dane Rampe said it was almost inevitable a Swans player would catch the virus during the year.

"We'd hopefully manage it as good as possible when the virus, hopefully not, makes it way within the four walls," he told reporters.

McLachlan on Wednesday said the AFL was yet to decide on a schedule past round one.

"Things have been changing fast. We'll get away this weekend and then we'll be working through it as we roll," he said.

Some 88 per cent of AFL players voted in favour of starting the season on time despite the outbreak of COVID-19, which has resulted in major sporting leagues and events around the world shutting down.

After initial "shock", Marsh said players have accepted they will need to take pay cuts.

"The reality of it is our industry is under huge financial pressure, and the players are part of that," he said.

All 18 coaches have reportedly already offered to take pay cuts, as have AFL administrators.