The AFL has recorded a loss of almost $23 million in 2020 but has avoided "financial armageddon" which some experts feared could bankrupt the league during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
AFL commission chair Richard Goyder on Tuesday announced the competition's financial figures.
The $22.8 million operating loss is a serious hit, but nowhere near the $500 million predicted by some industry heavyweights last year.
After one round of games played in empty stadiums, the AFL was forced to suspend the 2020 season as the world adapted to the pandemic.
Even before games were postponed, former Collingwood president Eddie McGuire feared the AFL would lose close to a $1 billion if the season was cancelled.
"That's on our best day. And we could still go under," McGuire said in March. "This is financial armageddon coming for the AFL and its clubs."
The AFL stood down 85 per cent of its employees and took brutal cost-cutting measures immediately, while all 18 clubs were also forced to axe hundreds of jobs.
But resuming the 17-round season in June, and later temporarily relocating all Victorian clubs, enabled a finals series to be run and a premier to be crowned.
"Working through the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 really tested both the resilience of the AFL and its clubs," Goyder said.
"The collective unity of football enabled the game to weather arguably the biggest challenge in our history and reinforced the incredible connection football has with our members and supporters.
"The year was tough financially but I want to thank the boards and staff of the 18 clubs, our players, umpires and our own AFL Executive and team, led by Gillon McLachlan, for the work they did."
Despite fans largely being unable to attend matches, total club membership was down 6.1 per cent from the all-time record (1,057,572) set in 2019.
The AFL's revenue decreased by $119.1 million to $674.8 million, with the league explaining that fall on a reduction in crowds and government restrictions in response to the coronavirus.
"The work over a number of years to prioritise building a balance sheet to protect the industry in difficult times, including the early purchase of Marvel Stadium, allowed the game to trade through 2020 without incurring significant debt," Goyder said.
"Regardless of the challenges we face in the next 12 months, our priority remains to keep our game as affordable and accessible as possible for all fans."