“While his blunt and aggressive style has earned him a reputation as a bully among some clubs, he has at least as many admirers in the football industry for his political ability.” Caroline Wilson on Andrew Demetriou in The Age, May 3, 2003.
The more things change…
When Andrew Demetriou assumed the mantle of top dog at the AFL in late July 2003, Carlton was playing underwhelmingly under a multiple premiership-winning coach, Richmond was flattering to deceive, and Paul Roos was winning rave reviews for lifting a rag-tag bunch of misfit footballers up the ladder.
As the man Kevin Sheedy labelled “Vlad” for his supposed dictatorial qualities exits stage left, it is worth travelling back to that innocent time – before anyone had heard of the MRP, GWS or AOD – and posing the question: Did Demetriou achieve what he set out to do?
A new 2IC
“My first priority is to find a new football operations manager,” the then 42-year-old declared, knowing the value of a capable second-in-command, having been one himself before taking over from Wayne Jackson.
It took Demetriou four months to find his man, a little-known media and sports lawyer named Adrian Anderson. Like the man who eventually replaced him as deputy, Gillon McLachlan, Anderson was a keen amateur football enthusiast. Arriving with little fanfare, he was at times derided for his staunch defence of the match review panel, but he provided doughty service for the best part of a decade. That’s a tick for Vlad.
Grow the game
His next stated aims were to maintain a 16-team competition and promote national growth. While the AFL is no longer a 16-club competition, it has been expansion rather than dreaded contraction that has prevailed. While financial and on-field turmoil inevitably pervade several clubs at any given time, none has ever seriously teetered on the brink of extinction under Demetriou’s watch. Further to this point, when he realised North Melbourne was too stubbornly resolute to be transplanted to the Gold Coast, Demetriou remained undeterred, and oversaw the foundation of 17th and 18th AFL entities. While their current fortunes differ, the Suns and Giants are truly Demetriou’s legacy, and the league has made abundantly clear its determination to promote the long game up north.
Put the fans first with scheduling
In 2003, Demetriou pushed the mantra of fan-first fixturing. “I think [it goes] a long way towards our relationship with our supporters, which is our most important relationship,” Demetriou said. In that respect the CEO leaves the game on a sour note. 2014 is preparing for a tantalising second half of the season, with as many as seven legitimate premiership contendersyet scheduling is a mess.
One of Demetriou’s proudest achievements is doubtless the glut of money he and and McLachlan acquired in the 2011 TV rights deal. Unfortunately though, the balance has not been struck, and even if Demetriou’s predecessor Wayne Jackson scoffed recently at the suggestion that football was becoming a “TV sport”, the end of Demetriou’s tenure has provided little evidence to the contrary.
Keep the bounce
A traditionalist at heart, Demetriou has stayed true to his word and ensured that the centre bounce remained sacrosanct, even if the footy is now tossed up elsewhere around the ground. The Demetriou era also brought about the sensible amendment whereby poor centre bounces are recalled.
Build a bridge with the MCC
It might seem a long time ago now, but back when he took over, one of the urgent issues Demetriou had to address was an impasse with the Melbourne Cricket Club over the contractual sticking point of an MCG final every week in September, even if a non-Victorian club had earned the right to host the game. While it took until 2005 to sort out and arguably cost the Brisbane Lions a fourth consecutive premiership, the issue was eventually sorted.
Fix the broadcasting “black hole” in NSW and Queensland
Back in 2003, footy devotees in the northern states almost invariably had to wait until 10.30 to watch Friday night footy on pay TV, and often even later on free-to-air television. The advent of secondary digital free-to-air channels and a deal with Foxtel ensured that diehards up north are no longer deprived.
To finish: Moments of humour
One thing you couldn’t accuse Demetriou of was not having a sense of humour. Our take on his top-three moments of levity:
1. The 2008 Brownlow night blunder of starting the count in unorthodox manner: by reading out the round two votes before the round one votes.
2. Meat Loaf’s grand final performance, possibly worse even than Port Adelaide’s effort in 2007.
3. Announcing Robin Nahas’ Brownlow votes by bellowing: “R. Naaaaaarhaaaaas.”
And one not so funny moment: Having a laughing fit live on Channel Seven after hearing that a dwarf entertainer had been set on fire by St Kilda players.
Farewell Vlad, we hardly knew ye.