Well, here we are. Just over five months since season 2019 began, we’re staring at the very end of another gripping home-and-away campaign.
The latest decision from the AFL, to request clubs focus on their match-day experience, is the continuation in a line of choices that are based far away from the on-field action that fans know and love.
The Gillon McLachlan era is quickly becoming everything that is not football.
A self-proclaimed man of the people, decisions in the McLachlan era have been about listening to the people and giving the fans what they want. Or at least that is what McLachlan would have you believe.
Surely being a man of the people means focusing on the footy and making sure the actual game itself is entertaining?
Instead if you really analyse it, every big decision and every big moment of this new McLachlan era has been about elements that have nothing to do with footy.
Ticket prices, food prices, a revamped match review panel, a revamped father-son process, on-going drug sagas, the equalisation debate, and the new AFL buzz phrase ‘match-day experience’ have defined the McLachlan era thus far.
The problem with the administration being so heavily focused on these off-field areas is that the one element that does bring all fans together is being forgotten: the actual footy.
Whether you support Adelaide or West Coast, Carlton or Collingwood, every fan wants to go and watch a good game of footy. With McLachlan focused on the ‘experience’, he has forgotten that it is the on-field action that will keep people coming back week after week.
McLachlan has made a lot of fans over his first year by making friendly, popular decisions on trivial topics, but decisions need to be made on the substantial topics; whether he can keep these fans in the long run is dependent on the game improving.
It is a hard time of year to be trending, and perhaps that’s why the AFL is focused off field, but even decisions at this time of the year could have an on-field focus for 2015.
Last year the AFL suffered through its lowest scoring season since officially becoming the AFL. With coaches becoming so focused on structures and processes, the real passion from the players and the game was hard to find in most matches across 2014. The gulf between good and bad games is as large as it has ever been and realistically trying to improve the on-field content does not seem to be at the forefront for the AFL.
A second lingering concern for McLachlan is the lack of transparency that the league administration is showing. The drugs issues – whether Essendon or this new Ryan Crowley situation – highlight how murky the AFL is when handling these difficult topics and making tough decisions.
The lack of transparency and has the potential to really sabotage McLachlan and his new regime.
McLachlan is well travelled and has done research on American sport for ideas on his own identity for the game. The warning signs are in the American system. Roger Goddell continues to fight for respect and power, having been undone by a lack of transparency. It is really the lack of respect that Goddell has with key stakeholders that is most noticeable, and for a new executive like McLachlan, his respect and credibility is key.
The problem the AFL has with this power is that in the event that some of the underground reports or insiders are given a stronger presence. Who knows, the lid may be blown on a number of secrets. Rightly or wrongly, as the CEO, that responsibility will fall on McLachlan, so it is no doubt a dangerous place to be in.
Action returns to the field in two short weeks, let us hope that this action leads to the McLachlan era also having the same focus for action. Inaction could be career suicide for the most powerful man in the game.