The problem for the AFL is not cost of living but how to maintain the forced relocation of footballers to satellite teams. Brisbane had most of their extra cap space removed and look what's happening. The rumblings of homesick players from the GWS experiment, an immensely costly experiment, are starting to reach alarming proportions from the AFL's perspective. The AFL simply cannot allow GWS to fail and it has to find some way of keeping the talent there.
Sydney needed success to survive, a bit like the Storm, and the hope was that once the success was achieved the team would stabilise. Noone's sure this is the case yet, hence the dangerous decision to throw mountains of cash at Buddy and Tippett. If this fails, Sydney might become a basketcase once more.
GWS and Sydney are both too big to fall, more worrisome than Brisbane from a national perspective, and the banana benders will currently be causing immense headaches for the AFL.
The national comp is anything but established and the AFL has bigger concerns than Victorian rantings about "level playing fields". A northern domination is the not a concern for them, it's the only solution available and if that means giving them a head start they'll do it, don't worry about that.