ESSENDON could slash more than $3 million off its $10 million debt this year in the greatest financial turnaround in AFL history.
The Dons hope to surge home and into the finals this year as they average 56,000 for home
crowds after again breaking their membership record.
It has set the platform for a profit that should eclipse $3 million for the season, more than double the $1.2 million windfall the Essendon board had projected.
Last year’s financial loss was $9.8 million, with the current debt around $10.5 million after the move to its base near Melbourne Airport and four years of ASADA turmoil.
But Essendon chief executive Xavier Campbell told the Herald Sun the board would aggressively slash that debt, starting this year.
It could reduce the debt to less than $7 million, with the club confident it can balance debt reduction with an expansion of its facilities.
Campbell said the departures of high-profile players including Patrick Ryder, Michael Hibberd and Stewart Crameri had created salary cap room for off-season acquisitions.
Essendon’s board would have to approve huge offers to the likes of Dustin Martin, but has not done so yet.
The board will also wait until next season to consider a contract extension for coach John Worsfold, in the second year of a three-season deal.
He is effectively in his first year of coaching given last year’s Court of Arbitration for Sport bans, with the board yet to even discuss his contract as an issue.
Campbell would not put a figure on the likely profit but Essendon believes it can take a huge chunk out of its debt.
“We have a lot of work in front of us and we don’t want to take any support for granted, but we have a significant debt challenge that we hope we can make a significant inroad into sooner rather than later so we can invest in the further growth of our facility and our footy club,” Campbell said.
“We have had a lot of unique one-off costs over the last four years, but the club is strong and has absorbed those.”
A survey of 5000 members in the past fortnight showed satisfaction higher than at any time in recent memory.
Those supporters are eager for Essendon to add an AFLW team, with the Bombers’ fundraising to underwrite the expansion of their Melbourne Airport site.
Worsfold, 48, looks to be settling into his role seamlessly but given the unique circumstances of his first year there is no hurry with an extension.
“Realistically this is John’s first year of pure coaching. Last year he did a fantastic job in unique circumstances and it was clearly well received by the club and broader support base,” Campbell said.
“We haven’t had any discussions yet and we won’t for the time being. The focus is the footy program.
“I can’t imagine we would look at it any earlier than any year. You can see what other clubs are doing in that area and we haven’t even discussed it at board level.”
Campbell said the club’s total player payments were balanced to ensure space for the trade period.
“We have been prudent in the way we have managed our cap, but we have also lost significant talent over the last three years.
“That has presented opportunities but Adrian Dodoro and Rob Kerr have done a really good job in ensuring we are well positioned for the coming years.
“Any contract over a certain amount or tenure must go to the board, but we haven’t had to do that yet.”