Andrew Demetriou looks bored.
The seemingly funereal atmosphere at one of many conference halls around Australia, more often than not on the Eastern seaboard, repeats itself every November.
We get two minutes of Adrian Anderson – prior to his departure – waffling on about the rules and regulations of the draft, time which everybody watching uses to argue over who will be drafted at pick one. Then the soporific tones of Demetriou invade your ears, as he drones out a pick number and a club, then sits back to watch as recruiting managers pluck talented youngsters from Under 18 level and make their footballing dreams reality.
It’s really, really boring. And it shows on the faces of nearly everyone involved.
Much has been said about the “Americanisation” of Australian rules football over the past few years. Whether it be the use of the word “quarterback” to describe a half back who sets up play (despite the fact that a quarterback’s greatest weapon – his throwing arm – would see him rendered useless in AFL), or the seemingly ongoing debate about teams needing cheerleaders, someone is always bringing a comparison between AFL and any one of the mega-rich, billion dollar national leagues in America.
Here’s another one. We need to make the draft more interesting.
As it stands, pay TV stations and one radio station cover the draft. They show the first round, then maybe interview the top draft pick, recap your team’s first round draft choice, show some highlights, interview pick 61’s mum in the green room and roll credits.
If you’re passionate about junior football, and you spend time during the regular season attending TAC Cup games and taking notes and comparing players and writing out phantom drafts, you have the right to feel a little cheated.
Let’s compare the AFL draft to the NFL draft. Usually held at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, it has live spectators, packed into every inch of the stands, hurling advice and cheers at their team’s representatives. There’s players in attendance – not just the top 10, but something more like the top 50. Each team gets 15 minutes to make their choice. Commentators speculate, analyse, argue and compare each and every single pick.
Players are greeted by Andrew Demetriou’s equivalent, who warmly gives them a hug, or a pat on the shoulder. They pose for photos, they put on a team hat, they’re officially part of the franchise. They wander off stage, they get interviewed by media, allowing the viewers at home to capture the emotion of the moment and the realisation of a dream. It doesn’t feel like a procession.
There’s so many picks that it takes three days to get through them all. It’s exciting, it draws you in, and it vindicates all the scouting armchair experts do throughout the college season.
It is a system like that which the AFL needs.
Get your figurehead involved. For better or worse, Demetriou is a recognisable figure of the AFL. Give him the responsibility of reading out each club’s decision. Recruiting managers, for all their hard work and hours of footage, deserve a rest. Give each club a ‘war room’, and put a camera in it so we can see the elation when a club nails a slider, or the despair when they miss out on a favourite pick.
Allow fans in. There are people in the AFL community who live for the draft. Newspapers have improved their coverage of the TAC Cup championships, but the public are generally ill-informed of their club’s potential top draftee. Sell tickets – if there’s one thing the AFL loves more than anything else, it’s money – to select seating so fans can cheer for their team’s picks.
Give the draft to free-to-air television. AFL as a sport is big enough to justify canning “Packed to the Rafters” or “NCIS” for a night. Set a big stage up, interview draftees as they walk off stage, before the realisation that they are now big league footballers sets in. For many, it’s the biggest night of their lives.
Don’t increase the number of picks, or the draft zones, or the speed and intonation with which Demetriou reads out names. Just make sure that the draft isn’t a boring conveyor belt of names read out and largely ignored thereafter.
Generally, the Americanisation of our game should be dismissed. But this is an exception that has to be made.
The game doesn’t need half back flankers being renamed quarterbacks, or wingers adopting the wide receiver moniker. Nor does it need scantily clad cheerleaders waving pompoms and performing choreographed chants on the sidelines. Those things aren’t important.
The draft is. It’s the single most important pathway for young players to begin their careers in the AFL, and the league is wasting the night as a spectacle.