The AFL Thinks These Are The 14 Issues New CEO Gillon McLachlan Needs To Address

Incoming AFL chief exec Gillon McLachlan at the media conference announcing his appointment today. Photo: Getty.

The AFL’s deputy CEO Gillon McLachlan will take over from his boss, Andrew Demetriou, as chief executive in June, the AFL announced today.

McLachlan, 41 and father of three young girls, who played university-level Australian rules in the 1990s, has law and commerce degrees. He has worked for the AFL for 14 years and was appointed chief operating officer in 2008, steering the league’s media strategy and $1.25 billion broadcasting deal, as well as club expansion and stadium infrastructure.

Of course one of McLachlan’s biggest successes is establishing the AFL’s own media division and website , which today outlined the issues the issues they think the organisation’s incoming leader has to tackle.

1. Declining crowds
Crowd numbers are down 2% on last year and alongside live broadcasts of every game, the AFL thinks “variable ticket pricing has been poorly thought out and poorly explained”, and the cost, alongside the expense of freshments, needs to be tackled. “Making ticket pricing simpler would be a good start” they say.

2. The state of the game on the field
Conscious of criticism that the game seems bogged down in contests for the ball on the ground, the AFL uses the Socrates defence, pointing to a 110-year-old newspaper report to suggest it’s been ever thus.
“McLachlan need not worry about radical rule changes. Winding back the interchange numbers should be enough to sort things out,” they say.

3. Equalisation
“A massive challenge” with the gap between poor and rich clubs growing, they say, but it’s currently being investigated – even a “luxury tax” is being mooted – with the response due mid year. “McLachlan’s renowned negotiating skills will be needed to thrash out the finer details,” they say.

4. The next broadcast rights deal
There’s 2.5 years left to run on the current deal, and the new boss has set the end of 2015 as the deadline for a new arrangement, which could last for up to 10 years. Streaming for TV is one of the issues on the table and former News Ltd boss Kim Williams will make things tough for aspiring rights holders.

5. A night Grand Final
When they say “there is a strong likelihood” of a shift to a “twilight or night slot in the not-too-distant future”, their thinking couldn’t be more obvious.

6. Securing the integrity of the game
Information sharing, gambling, illicit and performance-enhancing drugs are “problem areas” they say.

7. Growth of the expansion clubs
Making GWS and the Gold Coast financially viable is the challenge. Apparently McLachlan thinks 18 clubs is enough for another decade.

8. The Sydney market
Taking a dig at the NRL for trying to poach its new CEO, the AFL sees the NRL and its aim to be the nation’s highest participation sport in five years as “a significant challenge” in NSW.

9. The Brisbane Lions
Falling membership and income, a $1.5 million loss in 2013 are a headache, but the AFL has tossed the club a lifetime and says it “wants the Lions to succeed”.

10. International exposure
New Zealand games are the limit of McLachlan’s current ambitions.

11. Tasmania
A change of heart has already emerged from previous plans to send mainland teams down there to play. “My vision for Tasmania is we have a one-state approach that means the north and the south working together coming behind one team,” McLachlan said. So it’s a matter of knocking heads together down there, especially anyone with two already.

12. Purchasing Etihad Stadium
It’s there’s for $1 in 2025, but the thinking is nabbing it earlier offers the chance to cut better revenue deals for St Kilda, North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs. The thinking is TV rights will pay for it, but McLachlan says buyer and seller are a long way apart on price.

13. Football on Good Friday
“Highly likely” in 2015. Question is who gets this prized Easter egg.

14. Developing and retaining off-field talent
The administration and coaching side of the business is a growing difficulty, which even Demetriou acknowledged. No hints on a solution were offered.

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