As we went over in the first instalment, Gillon McLachlan has singled out making the AFL more accessible to fans as a key agenda when he takes over as CEO in June.
He’s set himself no small task, given devotees to the AFL have been hit with more reasons to feel frustrated with the game than Josh Gibson has made spoils in recent years.
It’s not a question of off-field scandals involving tanking, doping and the like. Aussie Rules has had its image as a “game of the people” seriously assaulted as a result of profit-minded initiatives in the past 10 years, which McLachlan will need to set right if he wants to live up to his word.
Here are some of the issues the would be supporter’s champion needs to take control of sooner rather than later:
The Fixture: What happened to the days when AFL matches were played on Friday night, Saturday afternoon and night and Sunday afternoon, so that everyone had wrapped up their working week when the round began and could get a good night’s sleep after it finished?
This year, matches are being played at family-unfriendly times such as Thursday (six matches scheduled), Sunday night (also six) and Monday (three), playing into the hands of free-to-air TV’s ambitions to get more casual viewers.
In other words, the current fixturing system takes the diehard footy fans and their future – the young supporters who can’t find time to watch games on school nights – for granted, and it will be a test of McLachlan’s authority whether he can scale back this hallmark of Demetriou’s profit-minded time at the helm.
Ticketing: Under the AFL’s new “variable ticketing system”, people have to pay considerably more to get seats at high crowd drawing games than they did last year. For example, away members may need to pay up to $30 to upgrade to a top deck seat at the MCG, and the argument that there are more good seats at low-drawing games to make up for this doesn’t stand to reason.
McLachlan has said he will address the cost of going to the footy, but that probably won’t mean scrapping the new system as much as communicating better how it works to fans.
Whatever “addressing” involves, this is the issue McLachlan really needs to get right to earn his credibility as the supporters’ friend, because this is the issue the supporters will hold him to the most: crowd numbers are already well down from last year, and expected blockbusters featuring Collingwood, Carlton, Richmond and Essendon in the first four rounds this year barely fetched 60,000 people.
Women’s participation: The AFL’s progress when it comes to including women in the game languishes well behind its efforts with race, culture, and even homophobia.
Women make up an estimated one third of club members and 43% of the AFL’s viewing audience. There are over 100,000 female footy players, 30,000 in Auskick and around 1500 accredited coaches according to the Geelong Advertiser’s Elise Potter.
But for their contribution, women only get superficial representation at league level. Only two women currently sit on the AFL Commission: Sam Mostyn and Dorothy Hisgrove. Only Hisgrove has an executive position as general manager of people, customer and community.
The gender imbalance in senior positions is just as obvious looking at most club boards, and the game has just this week lost a potential trailblazer for female coaches in Peta Searle.
McLachlan has promised to lead a more diverse AFL and set an example by promoting more women to senior positions, but he needs to act on this sooner rather than later to avoid this becoming an ‘election’ promise.
The new CEO will need to listen to the voices of existing female members on the commission to make sure any action taken towards gender equalisation is meaningful, and doesn’t just become a token move like the annual Women’s round.