Gillon McLachlan with Mike Fitzpatrick. Photo: Pat ScalaNew AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan says he has a ”clear vision” for the league’s future, declaring improving the financial health of battling clubs, engaging with supporters and dealing with the escalating price of tickets were his priority.
McLachlan’s expected appointment was officially confirmed on Wednesday, with AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick revealing there had been 100 initial applicants, with this list slashed to 20 and then to a final three.
Geelong chief Brian Cook and Richmond counterpart Brendon Gale were interviewed by the AFL Commission on Monday, with McLachlan offered the job that evening.
Insisting he will have a different style to Demetriou’s sometimes confrontational manner and suggesting there will be executive and staff changes, McLachlan, who will also sit on the commission but not have a deputy, said he would have two “pressing” issues to deal with.
“The continued support and structural improvement of our weaker clubs, having a strong competition,” he said.
”I think also engaging with our fans and understanding the challenges and really, in my words, taking away any incumbrance, whether they be financial or scheduling or logistical from them being able to pursue their passion and going to the football.”
While attendance figures are slightly down this season, McLachlan, 40, said he didn’t feel there was a ”disconnect” between league headquarters and supporters but admitted there was work to be done.
”I don’t know how big that challenge is. I completely accept that we need to listen to the fans, we need to work incredibly hard on dealing with the issues they have and the challenges they have with going to our game,” McLachlan said.
”We will be addressing the cost of going to the football. Cost is more than just ticketing. It is ticketing charges, it is food and beverage, it is the total cost.”
Fitzpatrick admitted the league had endured a ”difficult” start to the season and ticket prices ”had certainly been an issue”. He said the AFL had failed to sell its variable ticket pricing ”particularly well” but more time was needed to determine its success.
Questioned on a range of issues, McLachlan, regarded in the industry as a top negotiator, said outside of the commission, he would answer to ”four masters” – the fans, community, clubs and players.
”They often have competing interests. It is my commitment that I will never prioritise one at the expense of the other,” he said.
South-Australian born McLachlan, having rejected an approach by the National Rugby League in 2012, admitted he would have quit the AFL had he not been awarded the top job. He had been groomed for the role for three years.
”I think the reality is I would have had to have left. The short answer is yes. I think everyone understands and accepts that. That wouldn’t have been in a fit of pique, that’s just a reality,” he said.
McLachlan, a life member of VAFA club Uni Blues and president of the Victorian Polo Club, said he was in favour of retaining an afternoon grand final and said he liked the centre bounce, although he did not guarantee it would remain.
He reaffirmed he would prefer Tasmania to eventually support the one team, a stance that recently drew a sharp response from Hawthorn and North Melbourne, which each host matches in the state.
”My vision for Tasmania is that we have a one-state approach. That means the north and the south working together to come in behind one team. Whether that’s possible, it’s a very challenging proposition but that is what Tasmanians ultimately need to become, one team, and that’s an aspiration,” he said.
McLachlan said his desire for a ”truly national” competition did not yet involve more expansion.
”I believe we have the right amount of teams for the foreseeable future, whether that’s five or 10 years. (But) it means consolidating the expansion teams, it means having a clear future in Tasmania, it means finishing and building a stadium in Burswood to deliver on a first-class stadium for all West Australians. It means ensuring that all people in the ACT buy into the Giants,” he said.
McLachlan said a decision on Good Friday football would be made at the June commission meeting.
Fitzpatrick said he would remain ”indefinitely” as chairman, a role he has held since 2007.
Demetriou will remain with the AFL until Thursday June 5, by which time it is expected the AFL will have ratified its new equalisation measures to help the less wealthy clubs. That will also be the day after the AFL’s Hall of Fame dinner.
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