AFL CEO succession plan appears in tatters
AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou speaks to the media. AAP Iamge/Julian Smith
In July 2012 Andrew Demetriou took an extended break from the game – during the season, no less. Sure, the Olympics were on and that explains two weeks, however the break was more like two months.
This long break certainly raised a few eyebrows. For mine, Demetriou has been off his game ever since. In my opinion, a number of factors add up to his likely resignation in the not too distant future, but not without some collateral damage for another along the way.
Firstly, I think he is tired and ready to move on after 10 successful years at the helm.
With comparisons to Jeff Kennett’s reign as Victorian Premier (ironic, yes), Demetriou took some major decisions and has presided over a significant development phase for the code.
The next few years will be much tougher and less interesting in a positive way. They will be about consolidation, not expansion. They will be entangled in a complicated landscape of drugs, both illicit and performance enhancing, issues around betting integrity and player injury management.
None of those issues are easy to navigate but easy fodder for critics. And you have to admit to a problem to be dealing with it.
Media foot soldiers like Francis Leach will regularly take their stick to whack the big AFL piñata, as Leach himself called the AFL administration on the ABC’s Offsiders last weekend.
The AFL CEO has been like the big dog of Australian sport with the little dogs always barking at his heels. In the past, the big dog would laugh and trundle off with his head held high, often justifiably.
Even the staunchest of AFL fans, though, are questioning how Demetriou has handled the tanking fiasco.
The second factor revolves around Gillon McLachlan, now number two at AFL House. According to media reports, the NRL went after McLachlan to secure him as their CEO following the dumping of David Gallop last year.
This seems to have prompted a Kirribilli-type agreement between Demetriou and McLachlan to ensure he stays in the AFL and is groomed as the next AFL CEO.
There is no public evidence of this agreement beyond the elevation of McLachlan and the departure of Adrian Anderson in December 2012. However, most people have read between the lines and it’s pretty obvious a succession plan has been put in place.
This leads to the third factor, centered on the handling of tanking.
It makes sense that if your grooming a CEO you get him out in the public eye as much as possible. This enables the fans to become familiar with McLachlan as the face of the game.
It was McLachlan who a few weeks ago held a press conference to provide an update on ASADA’s investigation into Essendon and at least one other player from another AFL club. This is a matter of the highest priority for the AFL.
It was McLachlan again on his own who conducted a presser to announce the fine and suspension at Melbourne FC for “not tanking”.
It is fact Demetriou’s own denial of tanking in the past that gave the AFL a much bigger headache from a PR perspective.
I’m sure the legal ramifications of admitting tanking occurred are far reaching and need to be handled carefully.
However, McLachlan was not only given a difficult message to sell, he botched it through poor preparation by denying tanking occurred and then suggesting he doesn’t know what tanking is.
McLachlan should have been prepared on the tanking question and made a statement to the effect that whilst ‘tanking’ is American slang, the AFL deems its use by the media to mean tanking by players on the field.
He did say there was no evidence of the players deliberately trying to lose games but should not have insulted everyone’s intelligence by feigning ignorance of tanking, which has so permeated the game’s vernacular.
The upshot is Demetriou’s tenure as CEO is seriously in doubt beyond this season. However, his natural successor in McLachlan has taken an enormous public perception hit by association and also by his own doing.
Perhaps the fans are better off knowing that McLachlan is not up to the task as AFL CEO, one of the most difficult jobs in the sporting world.
The AFL Commission, though, has the biggest issue, finding a successor for both.