In order to win on the field, the AFLPA must win off it first

It’s hard to argue that rich young men deserve more money. The sympathies of the average person often go to the minimum wage battlers before it goes to footballers on a comparative motza. And that’s fair – no-one at HPN will argue for a second that you shouldn’t read up on Fair Work Commission decisions on the minimum wage or penalty rates.

But ultimately this is a sports (primarily AFL) website, and the AFL is currently locked in an industrial dispute with it’s players. And it shows no sign of ending. Despite a recent offer to the AFL Players Association to attempt to end the more than year long stand-off, it appears that a final deal is a while away yet. The issues as reported appear to many and varied, with one major sticking point.

Cash money.

Earlier in 2017 the AFLPA was pushing hard for a fixed percentage of total revenue – a contentious issue in the negotiations that seems to fallen off the radar of the most recent round of coverage. Instead, the most recent reported offer to the AFLPA has been a 20% increase immediately, with 1% increases for the next five years.

While this seems generous in isolation, the AFL recently negotiated the single biggest increase to broadcasting rights in the code’s history. This is a massive new income stream, and it makes the offer seem comparatively… well, have a look for yourself:


In this situation, AFL Broadcast Rights include both TV and Radio rights, which have both exploded in value in recent years. The most recent TV rights deal was for $2.508 billion dollars over six years, a roughly 60% increase on the previous deal. Whilst broadcast rights don’t represent the total revenue of the AFL, it provides a decent simulcra to the state of the AFL’s finances.

However, we know from our post on club revenues that the AFL distribution of funds (including broadcast rights) provides a small fraction of most clubs’ revenue.

A fair question would be to ask how the rise of TPP compares with the wages of the average Australian worker, which we luckily have in graph form:


There is little doubt that compared to the average Aussie worker, footballers have had a pretty decent run over the last 20 years. However, when compared with the rapidly-increasing revenues of the AFL, it’s hard to mount the argument that the players don’t deserve a significantly larger share of the increased success that the AFL is seeing.

Some may point to extra effort being put into grassroots football, or the introduction of the AFLW competition, by the AFL as a mitigation for offering the players such a deal. This argument works at face value, until you find out that it cost the AFL about $4 million for the clubs’ contribution to the AFLW’s running costs – a small fraction of the money being negotiated above. And the AFL spent just $41 million on game development grants, and $16 million on developing new markets. The 2016 AFL Annual Report indicates that total AFL revenues have increased by over $200m in the last decade – a number that will increase by another $175m in 2017. In the same period player wages have increased by less than $100m across the board.

Previously, HPN has assumed that there would be a 50% rise in the salary cap to about $15m per club – a figure that would only amount to between $280 and $320 million of player payments across the entire competition (depending on the spread of increases per year). This would adequately compensate for the loss of the veteran’s allowance, and the removal of the rookie list (with a subsequent expansion of the main list).

While other issues exist on the bargaining table, one can’t help but feel that they would proceed quickly once the issue of pay is sorted out.

An extremely early look at HPN’s AFL Team Ratings

Three weeks of the AFL season are past us and…honestly, we don’t know who is good or bad yet. Are the Suns set for another long year, or is there light in the tunnel? Is Ross Lyon about to be sacked, or is he a genius for the Dockers upset win over the Bulldogs? Should the Tigers make a big offer to Dustin Martin, or for some unknown reason not offer one of the best players in football the money he deserves?


We are going to look at how the team strengths sit (according to the HPN Team Strength Ratings introduced last year) and see what rash judgements we can bring to the table.

In 2016, HPN did not run our team ratings this early in the year; unsure what affect the volatility of the small sample size would have over the data. However, we think there are some interesting trends emerging early, some which will hold and others that won’t.

Across a 22 game season, each week of football is worth roughly 4.5% of the total season. However, after round three each game for each team represents 33% of their sample – a very high amount. To attempt to counter this, we have (as we did last year) adjusted each Rating for the opposition strength as determined by Ratings in their opposition’s other games. In short, this should make the data less “noisy”.

Round 3 ratings

As you can see, the consensus best team so far in 2017 (Adelaide) holds the top spot on the HPN charts as well. Two of the three currently undefeated teams hold spots in the top four; namely Adelaide and Richmond. Joining the Crows and Tigers at the top end of the HPN Ratings is pre-season presumptive premeriship favourite GWS and early season surprise packets Port Adelaide. It is worth noting that the only loss so far by both the Giants and Power has been to the top ranked Crows. All four sides sit near the top with respect to the Mid Scores, and have scores in each of the three categories above the league average (after adjustment for opposition). These are good early signs for this quartet, but early signs nonetheless.

Also siding with popular opinion is the noted backward movement of two perennial favourites, Geelong and Hawthorn. The Cats and Hawks may have records that are polar opposites, but both sides seem to have slipped a little from last year. If it were not for Geelong’s incredible efficiency up forward, they could be sitting at 1-2. And the Hawks have barely fired a shot yet.

Perhaps the most surprising result of the early HPN ratings is the low grade given to the Bulldogs, who have a promising 2-1 record. The Dogs have taken a significant hit from the opposition adjustment, as they have only recorded close-ish wins (and a loss) against relatively low ranked sides. This should adjust over the coming weeks when they face tougher opposition – pending their ability to win those games. It is also worth noting that the Cats and Dogs record-breaking midfield performances from last year have declined severely in the season to date – something to keep an eye on.

Finally, the Essendon and Carlton ratings were skewed significantly by the extreme weather on display last weekend. This should normalise over the coming weeks.

The Arc/HPN Crossover: Don’t Stress If Your Team Is 0-2

This is a collaboration post between HPN and Matt Cowgill of The Arc/ESPN. Matt is an expert in finding beautiful ways to display footy data, in order to tell compelling stories. And we are HPN. Matt has kindly provided the graphs, and some of the general comments for this piece from Pakistan. Unfortunately, as Matt wrote some of his ESPN article from there this week, this is only the second best AFL Stats article from Pakistan this week.

Earlier this week Rohan Connolly wrote a pretty well balanced piece on sides that start a season 0-2. Connelly stated that since 2008 only one of the 46 sides to start winless from their first two games has gone on to make finals.

Note: Connolly doesn’t include Carlton’s 2013 finals appearance in his count, which we politely disagree with. Whilst they only made the finals due to Essendon’s penalties ruling them out of finals contention, they still played in two actual finals, winning one. Which is one of only two finals wins for the Blues in the last decade. What we’re trying to say is: cut Carlton some slack for once!

But this doesn’t tell the whole story. Since 1994 (the introduction of the final eight), 101 sides have started out 0-2, and 18 have gone on to make the finals. Here’s how it looks as a season progression:


Using our superpowers of subtraction, that means that between 1994 and 2007, 54 sides started 0-2, with 16 making the finals from there. Here’s two different views of that information:

1994-2007: 16 of 54 = 29.6%

2008-2016: 2 of 47 = 4.2%

That’s a pretty striking difference, one explained by a few different factors. Firstly, for much of the early part of this decade the AFL had expansion sides present, and a Melbourne team that was barely better. That depressed the quality of the competition and increased the number of sides without a realistic hope of finals.

Secondly, the increase of the size of the competition has made it slightly harder for average sides to make the finals. In 1994, 53% of the AFL made the finals, decreasing to 50% between 1995 and 2010. When the AFL increased to 17 sides in 2011, 47% of the league played in September, and from 2012 on that share has decreased to 44%. In short, this means that it is harder to make up the ground after a poor start, because of the sheer number of teams ahead of them.

However, where there are a large number of teams getting off to poor starts (such as in 2013 and 2014), there seems to be an increased chance of a team making the finals after a 0-2 start. Since 2011, there has been one finalist who has started 0-2 where there have been at least six teams who have done so. It is also worth noting that in 2017 we have eight teams on 0-2; another great chance to test this theory.

But what clubs tend to get off to a poor start, and which of them have turned it around over time?

Pasted image at 2017_04_06 09_51 PM

There are two Port Adelaide dots at the head of that chart, representing the 2002 and 2003 Power seasons. In both years the Power recovered from 0-2 starts to finish as minor premiers, winning 18 games in each year.

The Carlton dot represents the 1994 season, where the Blues finished second and went out in straight sets in the finals.


It’s quite possible to get out to a slow start and have a successful season, and the conditions seem to be as good in 2017 as they have been in any other recent year.

Who is your AFL club death-riding this year?

The introduction of future draft pick trades in 2015 has given us, the footballing public/nerds, the wonderful spectacle of clubs quite literally taking bets on each other and then “death-riding” them the following year in the hopes of securing a better pick.

In 2016, for example, Collingwood’s struggles resulted in the pick they traded for Adam Treloar turning into pick 8 (in addition to the pick 7 from 2015), significantly more than they would have hoped to have paid for him. By contrast, Melbourne took a bet on themselves last year and traded their 2016 first round pick for a 2015 one from Gold Coast, a deal that ended up in Melbourne’s favour due to their moderate rise up the ladder.

Thus, we give you, a death-riding chart for 2017:


We’ve kept this to the first two rounds as there’s probably not a lot to be gained from pick shifts in the third and fourth rounds.

St Kilda stand to win handsomely from the Hawthorn trade even if the Hawks end up premiers, but if the Hawks miss the eight it will turn from a bargain into an outright heist. Here’s what we said at the time of the trade:


St Kilda, for their part, effectively split their first rounder into two useful second round picks while retaining a first rounder of currently unknown quality. The pick split is a move we think works in isolation due to the greater expected output of two picks in this range vs a typical pick 10 but the addition of a 2017 selection is a massive bonus.

St Kilda gave up pick 10 for multiple good picks, and right now there’s a chance that Hawthorn’s first rounder by itself could land around the pick 10 they gave up.

Hawthorn, in a frenzied final day’s trade, were left holding just one pick in the first two rounds, and it’s tied to GWS’ finishing position. This was due to the Hawks swapping the equivalent of more than entire draft in multiple moves to obtain O’Meara. Currently GWS are one of two teams sitting 1-1 so on our death-ride chart the pick looks better, but the Giants are still one of the presumptive premiership favourites (Matt Cowgill at The Arc has them with a 15% chance of finishing in the top 2). If that pans out it leaves Hawthorn entering the draft at pick 36.

Richmond have ended up with Geelong’s first round pick after it changed hands no less than three times. First it moved to Carlton in the Tuohy-Smedts swap, then went to GWS in the deal that moved Marchbank and Pickett. Finally, GWS traded it to Richmond in the swap for Deledio. The end result is that the Tigers will be hoping Dangerwood fails to repeat last year’s preliminary final appearance.

Brisbane acquired Port Adelaide’s first round pick in the Pearce Hanley trade, where the balance of traded goods roughly values Hanley at whatever the Port pick nets them:

hanley swap.PNG

Port Adelaide had pick 9 in the first round last year after finishing 10th and popular opinion (although not that of HPN) had them getting worse and regretting giving up that first rounder this year. However, on early season form that looks less likely.

After a subsequent, perfectly weighted swap with Sydney, Port took four picks in the first 33 last year, including round 1 Rising Star Sam Powell-Pepper. The others, Todd Marshall, Willem Drew and Joe Atley haven’t been seen yet. If Port can get some use out of those other draftees, they’ll be pretty happy with their 2016 trades even before we consider a potential jump up the ladder devaluing their first rounder.

GWS ended up with St Kilda’s second round pick for Jack Steele, which as we noted last year, was a win-win, with the Giants getting extra value from a pick and the Saints getting more from Steele than the Giants would. A Saints preliminary final appearance (or complete collapse after their 0-2 start) would probably be required to alter the pick value enough to change this equation.

The Giants also got Collingwood’s second round pick for Will Hoskin-Elliott, and that bet remains one between Collingwood’s ladder expectations vs Will Hoskin-Elliott’s potential.

Gold Coast are sitting on a glut of second round picks, and should be variously tracking the fortunes of Fremantle, Hawthorn and Richmond this year. They got the Hawks’ second rounder as part of the swap for O’Meara and the Tigers’ pick for Prestia.

Most interesting is probably the Fremantle pick, which was a mundane pick swap and represents a pure bet against the Dockers improving:


Adelaide’s forward line was really, really, really good last week

It’s a bit of a cliché to rely on this early in the footballing year, but we’ve started to run out of superlatives to describe the dominance of the Crows’ all-conquering forward line. Last week, against a formidable Giants side, the Crows struggled for a quarter or so before flicking the switch to ultimate destruction.

In isolation, the performance wasn’t perhaps even the most spectacular attacking performance of the round, as Geelong’s destruction of Fremantle and Brisbane’s win over Gold Coast rate higher according to our data. However, when taking into consideration the strengths of the defences they were playing (with strength determined by their demonstrated ability last year according the HPN Defence Score), Adelaide stands alone at the head of the pack:

Round 1 ratings

Round 1 ratings note

(More information about the HPN Scores are here)

Adelaide not only put in a stellar round one performance up forward; but they did so against the second best defence from last year (GWS) who were basically unchanged from last year. Even without the presence of Taylor Walker, the Giants couldn’t stop Adelaide’s varied paths to goal, with Betts, McGovern, Jenkins, Lynch and co. finding seemingly endless ways to score. The rest of the competition should be very scared.

Elsewhere, Collingwood performed well against an extremely strong Bulldogs midfield last week – which was almost certain to regress to the mean in round two and eventually did last night. Even considering last night’s performance, it appears that Collingwood has significantly improved their ability to win territory and create scoring opportunities, with only their forward line letting them down now.

On the defensive side of the ball, Brisbane put in a heroic performance in denying the Gold Coast ability to score, and looked like a different team than the rabble that was the Lions’ back six in 2016. It’s highly unlikely that they will be able to keep this up in round two (let alone for the next 22 weeks), but signs of improvement are definitely there. Port Adelaide also showed definite signs of improvement on the defensive side of the ground, which might be more sustainable given their undeniable talent in the backline.

What this tells us

The adjusted ratings above are inherently noisy, and probably be mostly off the mark compared to when the season is done. However, they do tell us who performed above pre-existing expectations in round one, and who was slightly disappointing – and in what parts of the ground they were so.

For example, whilst they lost to Geelong, the performance by Fremantle last week was much better than most expected, especially when considering the strength of the Geelong side (especially in the midfield). And the win by the Bulldogs was probably below their performance last season.

What does winning in round 1 mean?

HPN has previously established that the predictive powers of the preseason are minimal at best, but after yet another crazy week of football to open up the season but we thought it’d be useful to look at how telling the first round of results would be in determining the make-up of the finals.

HPN has looked at the round one results of the last decade, and compared them to the eventual finals make up. We have considered two classes of results: eventual finalists beaten in round one by teams who missed the finals, and eventual finalists beaten by other finalists who finished lower down the ladder.

For example, Melbourne beating GWS (remember that everyone?) last year was an example of a non-finals team beating a finals team, whereas North beating Adelaide last year was an example of a lower ranked finals team beating a higher ranked one.

Finals teams losing to non-finals teams

2007-2016 FinalsNonFinals

Each season there are about 4.6 matchups between finalist and non-finalist sides (either four or six each year). Of those matchups, the underdog wins one a year on average – or 23% of the time. Think of the aforementioned Melbourne win, or GWS beating Sydney in 2014.

Lower ranked finals teams beating higher ranked finals teams

2007-2016 FinalsLowerFinals

Likewise, each season in the last decade has seen between one and two matchups between eventual finalists, with the team that turned out worse (according to the full home and away season’s results) winning 41% of the time.

What does this mean?

Essentially, it means that, like all weeks of football, results differ from both expectations but also final season outcomes for all sorts of reasons. Some teams may take pre-season easier than others, and come into round one underdone. Teams who go deep into September last year have had a delayed preseason and this may cause poorer early performance. Others, such as North Melbourne last year, can peak quite early in the year before fading away. Some teams may be trialling new tactics or structures and suffer from the lack of familiarity. Injuries can take different tolls at different points in the season.

The upshot is that one week of football isn’t enough to show the relational strengths of the entire league, and predicting finalists from such a small sample is obviously fraught with risk. Instead, we’re big fans of the shifting probabilities approach by Matt Cowgill of The Arc and ESPN

Ignoring the sentence above, how can the data above potentially apply to the 2017 season?

Using our HPN ladder predictions from last week, we can have a guess to apply last week’s results to this season’s round one performance.


The games which will turn out to have been upsets (by an eventual non-finalist or by a weaker finalist) have no immediate candidates in this view. No side from inside the HPN predicted ladder top-8 was beaten by a side outside of it. The biggest HPN win-differential upsets were Essendon (6.4 wins) over Hawthorn (9 wins), and Port Adelaide (13.7 wins) over Sydney (17.3 wins).

We recognise that we’re probably differing from the prevailing consensus here in rating Hawthorn lower and Port Adelaide higher, and it’s perfectly possible these will still look like big upsets in four months’ time.

It is the Port Adelaide win that looks most to us like an upset between two finals-bound teams, along with the Adelaide (17.2 wins) victory over GWS (17.4 wins) which was surprising only in its nature and margin.

If our preseason projections above turn out to be accurate, then this season has had a pretty typical round one as far as results go. The Dogs, Melbourne, West Coast and Geelong would all turn out to have beaten future non-finalists, with no upsets. Hawthorn and Essendon would eventuate as a matchup of non-finalists. With GWS and Sydney being upset by Adelaide and Port respectively, both match-ups of predicted finals sides would turn out to have been upsets.

If Hawthorn or St Kilda (for instance) make the finals or Port Adelaide or Melbourne don’t, then in hindsight we’ll have had more upsets. If Essendon make the finals or Sydney don’t, then we’ve instead had a taste of things to come for those teams.

We’ll see in several months if this stupid prediction will work out.

These Are The Last Days – an article about an article about a podcast

There was a ripple in the online footy world when a hot take appeared on the Herald Sun website about Erin Phillips and her ability to play in the AFL men’s competition. Whilst that may have captured most of the attention, we reckon it’s a fairly mundane point. Unlike other athletes such as Lindsey Vonn or Annika Sorenstam, Phillips has expressed no desire to compete in a men’s competition, nor is there any immediate need to. The mere existence of women’s football at the highest level means that she no longer has to consider that option if she wants to play football at the highest level. It is a completely asinine argument, a #hotake for the purposes of drumming up comments (up to 150 on the Herald Sun, and much more on other forms of social media). Normally we’d ignore writing about something like this like the plague; lest it give the original article any more attention.

However, what captured our focus instead was the garbage fire of an article that this #hottake was contained within. Let’s take this insightful quote:

“In a Round 1 to remember, Huddo, Mick and Loz put together a bumper SuperFooty Podcast, touching on subjects including:”


This is the week that HPN that the Herald Sun seem to have an employee whose job is to report on the goings-on of their own podcast, while not actually appearing on it. Let’s take another snippet from the piece, reading out a text message which we assumed originated from Bigfooty:

Mick read out a text message from a Carlton supporter, who might have been employing just a touch of irony.

“It was a tough start for Carlton, but there were many positives…

“Eddie Betts was on fire, Zach Touhy was almost best on ground, Jeff Garlett kicked three, Mitch Robinson smashed rivals, Lachy Henderson was a pillar in defence, Sam Jacobs dominated in the ruck and Josh Kennedy kicked seven.

“So lots of upside. Only Waite’s kicking let us down.”

Poor Blues supporters. Better times are ahead.


Side note: Carlton’s successful former players are really a decent if dated observation, and would have made a much better subject for an podcast/article if spun out into one focused on, say, Tuohy’s first game at Geelong.

The journalist in question seems to be frequently on the News Ltd podcast beat, with such memorable pieces as:

All these articles mix self-promotion and sensationalism with ease, combining to form the Holy Grail of footy clickbait. They all largely follow the same form: Initial hot take and then a list of the talking points from the episode.

Last year the articles all referred to the “Supercoach Podcast boys”, but now refer to the participants by name now that there is one female voice involved.

There is nothing wrong with the occasional piece of self-promotion, especially where there’s value in the secondary reference. However, the near-constant stream of articles that do nothing than attempt to bump up the listenership of a podcast being produced by one of, if not, the biggest media company in Australia screams of desperation.

If there’s something newsworthy to take from an interview on a podcast – regardless of source – then report on that. But the lack of secondary media sources reporting on these issues suggest that the probative value of these articles is non-existent, and they merely exist as promotional opportunities to further promote the opinions of those who already have a prominent platform.

More importantly, it takes away time from a journo from potentially developing and chasing their own stories, which would almost certainly have been more valuable to everyone involved.