After 20 odd years of involvement with the AFL at headquarters in one position or another, Gillon Mclachlan has finally stood down as AFL CEO a year after it was first announced. Here we take a brief look at his accomplishments and whether or not the league has been better for his appointment.
In 2000, then AFL chief Wayne Jackson recruited him to the league as a consultant. By 2004, he was General Manager – Commercial Operations, which included being on the committee that worked on the 2007 Broadcast Rights. By 2008, he was the leagues Chief Operating Officer. In 2012, he stepped in to take over from Demetriou for 2 months when he went on leave.
As Andrew Demetriou’s second in command, McLachlan reportedly had done his best work in the back rooms – hammering out deals with broadcasters, governments, clubs and the game’s many partners.
Controversies and misteps
Im not going to try and get Gillon promoted to Saint hood so lets start with the odd happenings that could perhaps have gone a little better.
Mclachlan took over a league reeling from the Essendon drug saga – indeed he was the face of the initial press conferences – although it was Demetriou who handled most of the fallout amind the court cases and accustations.
In 2015, the Adam Goodes racism saga took over. Mclachlan initially insisted that the League couldnt dictate to fans how to behave after fans took to booing the Swans ruckman incessantly.
“We can’t tell our supporters how to behave,” McLachlan said. “History says they are the best in the world … Despite their perspective [I’m hopeful] they’ll look to the heart of the issue and they’ll decide what’s appropriate or not … And in the end, it is about respecting the feelings of Goodes.”
“Adam stood up to represent Indigenous people and he took a stand on racism. For this, I believe he was subject to hostility from some in our crowds,” he said.“As a game, we should have acted sooner and I am sorry we acted too slowly.”
The racism issue would come back in 2021 with Collingwoods “Do Better” Report and in 2022, with racism allegations at Hawthorn with some criticism of the AFLs handing of the independent investigation.
In 2017, the AFL had to let go two of its senior staff, Simon Lethlean and Richmard Simkiss after allegations of inappropriate relations with junior female members. The Age reporting that the AFL had little choice in terminating its football boss, Simon Lethlean, because his authority as the purveyor of rules and regulations across the 18 clubs had been too badly damaged.
In 2017, the AFL courted controversy when it made a big statement supporting marriage equality, including changing the AFL sign at AFL House to a Yes logo. In 2022, it would again wade into politics supporting the Yes campaign for the Voice
In late 2018, The Grand Final deal extension for a further 20 years may have raised a few eyebrows outside of Victoria, but it also delivered 225m in upgrade funding for Docklands and funding for half a dozen AFLW venues around Victoria.
To Boldly go…
The man certainly wont die wondering what might have been. Games have gone interntaional, tens of millions thrown at current and new clubs. The league bought Docklands 9 years before it had to.
Mclachlan was one of the main architects of the league setting up the Giants and Suns, including the massive financial support they’ve recieved over the journey since start up. Conversely, Tasmania was ignored or pushed to one side until finally being given the green light in 2022.
In 2013, the AFL began playing in New Zealand, with an annual game continuing until 2015, before Wellington Council pulled the pin.
In 2015 the league signed a massive media rights deal worth 2.5b over 6 years from 2018 to 2022 – this would be adjusted down some in 2020-22 due to COVID reductiuons negotiated with broadcasters.
In November 2016, the League finally purchased Docklands from its ownership group for almost 270m, 9 years before schedule.
In 2016, Mclachlan launched AFLW more or less off his own back before he’d even gone to the Commission, and about 4 years before anyone expected the league to make a move.
“I got a bit emotional at that game, and just announced it without going to commission, that we were going to start a (women’s) league,” McLachlan told AFL.com.au. “It was way beyond my brief, and I rightly got into a lot of trouble.”
Initally starting with a few teams, it is now 18 teams strong, with AFL and AFLW just signing a massive joint CBA.
In 2017, the League played its first matches ever in Shanghai – an experiment that saw a game a year played annually until the advent of COVID. IT remains to be seen if those games will happen again. Attendances were not exactly strong, although the League and host club claimed success.
In 2018, the AFL launched the illfated AFLX competition, but poor support for the abridged format, saw the matches dropped for 2020, officially to focus more on AFLW. Whatever the reason, AFLX was no more.
On March 9, 2020, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan stated that as a domestic sport, AFL’s exposure to COVID-19 was expected to be limited. That view was far from isolated – but didnt last long. He announced the suspension of the AFL season on March 22. The financial losses over the next two seasons hit hard
“”It’s big,” McLachlan said. “Revenue declined over the two years against forecasts. We’re down over $700 million between us and the clubs.”
The AFL cut costs, ordered clubs to stand down much of their staff and even the players took a 50% pay cut. The League was able to negotiate a 600m line of credit secured by its ownership of Docklands Stadium.
Finally the metrics.
On the metrics at least, he rates pretty highly, even after adjusting figures for inflation. The league lost 8.7m over the last 10 years – which given most of those losses were during COVID is more than acceptable – and how about that recovery!
Mclachlan benefits here from attendance increases due to improved facilities at Perth Stadium (opened 2018) and to a lesser extent Adelaide Oval (2014), while several traditional big clubs in Victoria are on the move again.
Parameters for membership counting are something of a joke now compared to 4 years ago, and not much can really be read into that.
The TV Audience is climbing however – and while official figures for 2023 have not been released, we estimate 142 million watched the AFL this season across all platforms – a lift of about 31%.
- Gillon Mclachlan – Wikipedia
- 02.09.2012 – NRL chief executive target Gillon McLachlan turned down approach from EPL giant Liverpool
- 30.04.2014 – What you need to know about the AFL’s new boss, Gillon McLachlan
- 30.04.2014 – Gillon McLachlan to take over as AFL chief executive from Andrew Demetriou in June
- 31.07.2015 – Adam Goodes booing: AFL head Gillon McLachlan says fans can’t be told how to behave
- 18.04.2016 – AFL boss apologises to Adam Goodes, saying league should have ‘acted sooner’ on racism
- 10.08.2017 – AFL had to let Simon Lethlean go: Gillon McLachlan
- 06.02.2018 – AFLX launched with parachutes, flairs, acrobats and ‘Zooper goals’ at Etihad Stadium
- 06.08.2019 – X off the map: AFL to remove AFLX from pre-season fixture
- 26.09.2020 – How coronavirus killed the golden goose of sport and how each code is placed to pick up the pieces
- 01.02.2021 – Collingwood’s ‘Do Better Report’ released
- 23.09.2021 – How much damage did COVID-19 do to our sporting nation? Here’s what the data shows
- 12.04.2022 – Gillon McLachlan made his share of mistakes but the game was always foremost in his thinking
- 12.04.2022 – Why Gill is leaving, and the AFLW call that got him in big ‘trouble’
- 20.10.2022 – Final report into Hawks racism allegations to be released publicly as AFL releases terms, end date for independent investigation