Essendon have been forced into a million-dollar backdown amid the AFL’s ongoing battle with the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Monetary concerns sparked by the March shutdown have continued into the off-season, with list sizes and the salary cap recently reduced for 2021.
Clubs were also struck by a cash-flow crisis in November when, as revealed by 7NEWS last week, the AFL withheld tens of millions of dollars.
The funds are usually transferred on the 14th of each month but had not hit club bank accounts by Friday evening.
The delay arrived amid an ongoing debate about how much money the AFL will provide to clubs next season.
League officials are questioning whether they should foot the entire $13 million-plus player payments bill for rich clubs like Essendon, Collingwood, West Coast and Hawthorn.
With no answer in sight and the AFL yet to pay the club in November, the Bombers took matters into their own hands on Friday night.
Essendon officials informed players in an email that this month’s wages would be reduced by nine per cent ahead of discussions surrounding permanent pay cuts.
The Age reports the announcement blindsided the playing group, with senior members quickly calling their managers and the AFL Players’ Association.
The Bombers backed down after AFLPA officials told the club the temporary cuts could be in breach of their contractual obligations to players.
“We didn’t get the communication right and we own that,” Essendon chief executive Xavier Campbell told The Age.
“Our intention was to create a ‘holding position’ for the next fortnight to allow us the time to meet properly with the playing group.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t consult properly with the players prior, and that is our fault. But we will do this over the next few days.”
The episode adds to tumultuous 2020 headlined by Bombers president Paul Brasher admitting the coaching handover from John Worsfold to Ben Rutten backfired due to personality and style clashes.
Essendon had already frustrated some players when Tom Bellchambers retired without receiving a farewell game, while Adam Saad left for Carlton in acrimonious circumstances.
The Bombers now face a battle to convince their players to agree to pay cuts higher than the 3.5 per cent announced by the AFL and AFLPA.
The majority of footballers around the league will experience cuts for 2021 but the extent varies by their contractual situation and club.
The Age report states West Coast players have already agreed to give up more than the 3.5 per cent.