AFL CEO succession plan appears in tatters

Redb Roar Guru

By Redb, Redb is a Roar Guru

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    Even AD didn't understand the Viney decision. AAP Iamge/Julian Smith

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    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.

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    The Crowd Says (26)

    • February 26th 2013 @ 8:36am
      Australian Rules said | February 26th 2013 @ 8:36am | ! Report

      In terms of an alleged “Kirribilly agreement”, you last sentence summed that up – it’s the AFL Commission’s job to appoint the CEO. Though you’re right in saying it looked like Gil stayed with an understanding (or hope) that the job is his next.

      I agree that change is needed at the AFL. Demetriou has become too forceful a character and there’s few people in the AFL world, if any, that can stand up to or challenge his world view effectively enough.
      In his role as Chief, Demetriou set a new bench mark in sports administration in this country. But the old saying is ringing true: that progress is impossible without change.

      • Roar Guru

        February 26th 2013 @ 9:13am
        Redb said | February 26th 2013 @ 9:13am | ! Report

        AR,

        My read (guess) is that Demetriou brokered the succession plan with Commission approval. CEO’s spend most of their time in unofficial chats with the Board – as you know decisions are rarely made in meetings.

        Ten years is a long time in the job, sometimes a little revolution doesn’t hurt. It also gives the AFL a chance to reset with disillusioned fans under AD.

    • Columnist

      February 26th 2013 @ 8:36am
      Cameron Rose said | February 26th 2013 @ 8:36am | ! Report

      I do agree that AD is clearly looking to the future, and appears to have lost an element of control.

      Perhaps his extended holiday was a way of freshening up for another decade at the helm, but it doesn’t seem to have worked, and he is resigned to the fact that he is nearer the end than the start.

      McLachlan has made some verbal errors, but I’m sure the pressure cooker of a press conference against the blood-thirsty media sharks takes some getting used to.

      • Roar Guru

        February 26th 2013 @ 9:15am
        Redb said | February 26th 2013 @ 9:15am | ! Report

        Thanks Cam, yes I suspect the break probably did more harm than good in terms of his enthusiasm level. Lake Como or Docklands? Hmmmm…

        McLachlan may have spent too much time under AD, he does not come across as someone who commands attention. Agree hosting a presser would be intimidating though.

        • Columnist

          February 26th 2013 @ 10:25am
          Cameron Rose said | February 26th 2013 @ 10:25am | ! Report

          Yes, McLachlan seems more of the softly-softly type rather than a voice of authority. Too much of a nice guy perhaps. It will be interesting to see if he grows into it.

    • February 26th 2013 @ 9:20am
      LK said | February 26th 2013 @ 9:20am | ! Report

      What to make of the timing of Adrian Anderson’s departure? Most of the issues that have arisen in the off-season – tanking and drugs – have come after his departure. Did he see these issues coming? Or was he the guy holding things together? He did cop an enormous amount of criticism from AFL fans.

      It is interesting that the three other major football codes have had recent changes in leadership, and all of them appointed external candidates. I think it would be very wise for the AFL commission to do the same. Gillion will always be seen as AD’s “mini-me”, rightly or wrongly.

      • Roar Guru

        February 26th 2013 @ 10:00am
        Redb said | February 26th 2013 @ 10:00am | ! Report

        LK,

        Agree on the mini-me.

        One thing for sure the AFL Commission are no dills they are the most experienced people in the land in their sport commission roles and will find the right person to lead our game in the next stage of it’s development.

    • February 26th 2013 @ 9:22am
      The Curious Case of Benjamin Stratton said | February 26th 2013 @ 9:22am | ! Report

      I reckon he’s done a pretty good job over the past 10. Give the bloke a break.

      You go on about the tanking issue and then admit there exists known unknowns surrounding the case. AD also can’t control each individual club let alone individuals. The tanking issue likely couldn’t have been handled better by anyone else.

      If he resigns at the end of this year I doubt very much the tanking issue was the catalyst, rather, he’s been planning it for a while as the media reported last year.

      • Roar Guru

        February 26th 2013 @ 9:36am
        Redb said | February 26th 2013 @ 9:36am | ! Report

        I’m far from a usual critic of AD, here’s my piece from only 8 months ago.
        http://www.theroar.com.au/2012/06/08/demetriou-stay-top-afl/

        I think much has changed in that time. The tanking issue illustrates poor management from the early evidence in 2007 to 2009, AD’s blatant denial of tanking and continued support of the priority pick (albeit good intended) has worked against the game. There has been ample evidence in US sports of the same problem. .

        I think AD needs to move on. Sure he wont spit the dummy and walk out tommorrow that would be more damaging, but a staged exit has been put in place and so far they’ve botched it as McLachlan has been made to look like a dill.

    • Roar Guru

      February 26th 2013 @ 11:18am
      Andy_Roo said | February 26th 2013 @ 11:18am | ! Report

      I think Adrian Anderson is a big loss to the AFL. He is a bloke who was given the big jobs and always seemed to get them done. I think he would have been a good choice as the next CEO. With McLachlan being anointed as the next CEO you can’t blame Anderson for looking elsewhere to further his career.
      As for McLachlan I think he will probably take time to emerge from Demetriou’s shadow, much as Demetriou took time to emerge from Ross Oakley’s shadow.

      • Roar Guru

        February 26th 2013 @ 2:03pm
        Redb said | February 26th 2013 @ 2:03pm | ! Report

        Can’t say I agree on Anderson. Too much lawyer speak not enough football nous.

        We need a balance between corporate smarts and football fan – someone in the AD mould but a little less divisive.

    • February 26th 2013 @ 11:56am
      Bunny Colvin said | February 26th 2013 @ 11:56am | ! Report

      Demetriou has made a real mess of things and should go.

      They have attempted to cover up things on too many occasions at the AFL. Enough is enough.

      As Kennett said, the culture needs changing and Demetriou is all about the old ways of cover ups and controlling the image.

      The image now is ugly and needs a new face to alter the perception.

      The 2 months holiday to go to the Olympics and Lake Como in Italy mid season last year was arrogance and contempt. It also said we do not need him around because it works perfectly well without him.

      • February 26th 2013 @ 12:13pm
        Basil C said | February 26th 2013 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

        I think the AFL has come thru their lowest patch OK. Thats as bad as its going to get and they went OK but perhaps its time for Vlad to move on – he looks stale…

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