The game’s administration body has not been more vulnerable since the turbulent times of the 1980-90s when the league transitioned from the VFL to a national competition. Privatisation was a prominent feature of this time, with the league’s brief foray into private ownership ending in disaster for Sydney and the now defunct Brisbane Bears.
However, the concept of private ownership has re-emerged as a possibility at AFL House in recent months, in a radical new way. The Mongrel Punt revealed exclusively in February that the AFL is spruiking AFLX licenses to potential billionaire private owners. The AFL is now planning to invite clubs to bid for AFLX licenses to participate in next year’s series that will be structured as an eight-team tournament. However, if the eight licenses are not taken up by the clubs, the AFL is set to expand the bidding process to include potential private owners.
This is viewed as potentially catastrophic by the clubs.
Collingwood President Eddie McGuire, who remains the most powerful figure in the game, has publicly and privately been the most vocal opponent of the AFL’s plan. Journalist Michael Warner on 3AW quoted McGuire as saying “if things like that get up it might be time we need to roll this mob.”
This “mob” is the AFL.
McGuire was no less angry publicly on his Triple M breakfast show last week, forewarning that the privatisation proposal could “completely end in the AFL being rissoled by the clubs.” McGuire continued his declaration of war on league headquarters declaring that “private ownership nearly [killed] Australian Rules Football.”
“Let there be no mistake: private ownership nearly killed the Swans, Brisbane, it did kill the Brisbane Bears… this is ridiculous.”
They were strong comments, especially from a figure as influential as McGuire. One only needs to look at McGuire’s role in the prison bars saga to witness the power he wields over league headquarters. McGuire has also knocked back one of the designs for Port’s 150th anniversary commemorative logo, according to SEN SA’s Dwayne Russell. The logo was set to be used for both Port Adelaide’s Power and Magpies teams next season as Port Adelaide CEO Keith Thomas announced on the club’s website. Therefore, the magpie monarch or prison bars would have obviously been incorporated into the joint logo.
However, McGuire is not the only influential Victorian club president disenfranchised with the AFL administration. Hawthorn President Jeff Kennett has openly accused the AFL of a conspiracy to actively “weaken” the Hawks, who have been the most dominant club over the past two decades.
“They know what they’re doing…” Kennett said when asked directly about the matter on 1116 SEN.
Kennett cited the AFL’s desire to push Hawthorn out of Tasmania, as contextually, the AFL has sought to relocate North Melbourne to form the “Tassie Kangaroos.”
Moreover, his biggest gripe is the fixture, which when released, was slammed by the Hawthorn President in an open letter to members.
“We feel the 2019 fixture does not entirely respect our great club, what it has done for the AFL and our success over the last 11 years.”
Kennett’s complaints about the fixture are absurd. It seems the largest injustice bestowed upon Hawthorn in his eyes is the amount of Sunday fixtures.
“Eight of them! Not one or two, I don’t mind one or two. I don’t mind sharing burdens but eight that’s more than a third of our games.”
I don’t think Jeff releases that a third of AFL games on any given weekend are played on Sundays. I’m not sure one or two would really be “sharing” the burden?
Even though Kennett’s complaints are not overly valid it does emphasise the growing discontent against the game’s administration amongst the sport’s most powerful figures. More pressingly, the AFL still does bow to the power of Victorian club presidents such as Kennett, despite the lack of validity of their protests.
The fixture’s release in October last year was delayed by a day due to outrage by multiple Victorian clubs, with Hawthorn leading the charge. Changes were therefore made to the fixture. The most glaring of which was the second Showdown being shifted from the Round 16 Friday night timeslot. In its place is the Hawthorn-Collingwood game at the MCG.
Thus, former AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou’s promise in 2011 to stage a Friday night Showdown once AFL moved to the redeveloped Adelaide Oval, has still never been acted upon.
So as powerful figures, on the right side of the border, become restless, where does this leave AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan?
McLachlan has assured those at AFL House that we will not be departing the role this year, however, who fills the chair beyond 2020 is unclear. McLachlan has previously stated that he wants a less scrutinised job by the time his children reach high school. If this sentiment remains, 2020 will be his final year as AFL CEO.
The Age’s Caroline Wilson has reported that, in a break in convention, McLachlan has not orchestrated a succession plan. Notwithstanding this, The Age also revealed that McLachlan has assigned football operations manager Steve Hocking to be considered as his successor. Hocking may be too closely aligned to the current administration to be the ideal replacement amongst frustrated club figures.
Being the man in charge of football, Hocking has had a difficult year. The nine rule changes he orchestrated in order to raise scoring has had the opposite effect and resulted in fifty-two year scoring lows. Umpiring, that exists under Hocking’s umbrella, has also caused great angst with the AFL never being more worried about the declining standard.
But that is not their only worry.
The natives are restless in AFL Club Land, and when the drums start beating, they don’t get quieter. Gil, Steve and their mates at AFL House have upset plenty over the journey. They’d be wise not to upset any more.
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