AFL shows it is still scared of the dark

It’s Friday morning and AFL chief executive Gil McLachlan is having his usual casual chat on ABC Radio with Red Symons and Gerard Whateley about footy.

It’s not usually the place you look for breaking news at the game. But Gil, in his inimitable way, decided this would be the forum where he’d confirm that we will be playing this year Grand Final at the usual time of 2:30pm.

The timing of the 2017 Grand Final had been one of the most contentious issues of the game over the past six months. McLachlan has feigned indifference despite the public interest and at one stage admitted he had ‘forgotten’ to bring the issue up at an AFL Commission meeting.

What seemed another front line battle between the traditionalist and non-traditionalists of the sport was having litres of cold water poured on it by an AFL chief executive who didn’t seem to particularly care one way or another.

Doing his best Officer Barbrady impersonation from South Park, he insisted there was nothing to see here and we should move on.

In a year where we will see Good Friday football for the first time, Gil and the executive eventually decided that was enough change for 2017 and the ball will bounce at 2:30pm again this year.

And then, in a measure of how highly he rates the issue, he drops the news at 7:30am on a Friday morning on ABC. Whateley was excited by his exclusive, but the rest of us were left rubbing our eyes and with brief time to digest both our breakfast and the hype bubble building around Richmond.

McLachlan’s media persona is equal parts frustrating and genius. On one hand, we’d love to have a chief executive who was banging the desk with passion and leading us into a ‘bold new future’, but that just not Gil’s style.

Where the genius comes in is that amid an often feral media pack, where every issue is of nuclear importance, he has the ability to gently deflate the hype.

Rather than risking a splash on the back page of the Herald Sun, the AFL have chosen their moment not to act superbly. At a time where the nation’s biggest selling newspaper will be salivating at the prospect of portraying the likely end of a Collingwood coach, the decision to stick with the status quo will barely cause a ripple.

The movement behind a twilight or night Grand Final is all about the match as an event rather than as an actual game of football.

It is seen as inevitable that the demand to make the Grand Final experience more appealing to neutral fans will see it moved later in the day in the near future. The Superbowl blueprint is a clear and obvious path forward.

But history tells us that the AFL Grand Final does not do half time entertainment well. The most memorable performances have generally been the worst ones. When Meatloaf put in a Grand final effort even Leon Davis would have been embarrassed of in 2011, it was a low water mark from which we have never really recovered. If we are paying Sting more money than Tom Boyd to play at the decider, then where are our priorities?

With the exception of Angry Anderson in the Batmobile in 1991 (showing my age here), how many times have you walked away from a GF thinking, ‘Wow that was a great gig!’?

So before Gil and his band of merry men decide that it’s time to turn the MCG lights on for the crescendo of the season, it’d be nice to know what their plan is for the sideshow.

Otherwise, we are left with the same shoddy product simply put up in different wrapping. But that’s an issue for 2018.

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