AFL Gillon McLachlan

'It feels right': Gillon McLachlan to step down as AFL CEO but not before seeing off the year

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan has announced his decision to leave the role, however, cited there was more on the agenda to complete before his tenure is up at the end of the year.

AFL Chief Executive Officer Gillon McLachlan has advised the AFL Commission of his resignation from the role, however, will remain committed to delivering a number of key projects before his tenure is up at the end of the year.

Having entered into the role as CEO of the AFL in 2014 as the successor to Andrew Demetriou, Gillon McLachlan has announced that 2022 will be his final year in the job, citing that, after nine seasons, the time was right to step away.

In a media conference on Tuesday morning, McLachlan, joined by AFL Commission Chairman Richard Goyder spoke about the decision, however, the outgoing CEO was quick to declare that he wouldn't be leaving too quickly, as there was still a plan to complete a variety of tasks yet.

"I'm not leaving today... cause the reality is, there are four of five huge things to get done still this year," McLachlan stated.

"I'd like to reiterate what I said when I accepted this role, that it's been an honour and a privilege to serve this game. Best game in the world. That's why everyone loves it so much. The responsibility's never been lost on me and I feel good that the game's in better shape now than the time I took over.

"I'm leaving now because it feels right, right for the AFL, right for me, right for my family. The AFL's in incredible shape and I say this, it's in incredible shape on whatever method you assess it, footy's back pumping with a clear plan for continued growth and I feel good about that, I feel that it's the right time to close out the stuff we need to do this year.

"The reality is, the AFL has been a huge part of my life and it's all about the people and I'm not going to individualise, other than to say I could never have imagined, when I started, that the friendships I'd take from the AFL would be, by far, the most significant thing from my time here.

"[The] greatest game in the world is so because there's a bloody lot of passionate and mercurial people in and around it and I think footy brings out the best in them."

Goyder, on having a chat with McLachlan over the past weekend, understood the call that was being made and reflected upon the legacy that McLachlan will leave behind as he took the sport through tough times, but came out with record highs.

"Gil advised me on the weekend of his intention to step down as the CEO of the AFL at the end of 2022. That'll be nine men's seasons and probably seven women's hopefully by then and 22 years or so at the AFL," Goyder began.

"From my point of view and the Commission's point of view, it'd be correct to say that we're not happy with that decision but completely supportive of it. Gil's always said to me that he wanted to go at the top of his game, at time of his choosing and when the AFL was in as good a shape as it can be and I think that's fair play and the Commission thinks that's fair play and certainly fair for him and his family.

"It's worth reflecting a bit on Gil's time to date at the AFL and looking at the scorecard if you like; there are record numbers in participation, membership, attendance, revenue, the broadcast deals, the viewership, the growth in New South Wales and Queensland, girls and women in the game with I think 600,000 participants now, the investment in facilities not just at the elite level but throughout the community which is a massive legacy. And of course, competitive balance has been a huge issue and continues to be something that we aspire to in the AFL, any team on any day, and I think that will be part of Gil's legacy.

"We just completed season six of the AFL Women's and it was the best season we've ever had and it was a wonderful Grand Final in Adelaide on Saturday but who will ever forget the first game and Gil having to go outside and tell people 'Sorry, the gates are closed because we can't let anyone else in and the Grand Final in 2019 with 53,000 people at the Adelaide Oval, it was one of the best moments in AFL footy in my view. And of course, we'll have 18 women's teams later this year which is just fantastic.

"He's always had this unrelenting focus on the fans and making sure the game was accessible and affordable to our fans and also that we never forget, in fact, we always build on, community footy and it's been so important, it's been more important over the last few years than ever in this country that we encourage participation whether it's the volunteers, whether it's the players, people in community footy and Gil's been big on that. So we always want to attract the best athletes to play at the elite level but we also want the highest participation of any sport and we've worked incredibly hard on that.

"Gil's always been really clear, what he wanted to do, not on timing but the point of which he thought would be the right time. I know Gil well enough that he comes to that view and I, and the Commission work with him to make sure we get the best outcome which I think we have. It's not a decision about money or timeframe, it's a decision that Gil's made about when's the right time to go."

Goyder also made sure to outline the plan that McLachlan and his team were still facing and wanted to complete during the remainder of the year, and McLachlan's time at the helm, including a new broadcast deal, a new CBA for men and women, a club funding model, and continuing discussions about granting an AFL licence to Tasmania.

Surrounded by his team and family at the press conference, McLachlan continued to come back to the fact that it felt like the right decision, no matter his feelings or emotions.

"It's clearly an emotional day because I've spent 20 years of my life here but I feel very good about where the league is and I feel good about the fact that that's the right time and I've got a plan with Richard and the Commission for this year, they can get done what they need to do, my team will do what we need to do," he said.

"I just felt, there are people coming back to the football, we closed out the Grand Final of AFLW... we had a chat and I just said 'I think this feels right' and coming out now, hopefully, it's not a distraction to the women's Grand Final or the men's season.

"It just felt the right time that they (the AFL Commission) could get done what they needed to this year, it might take six to seven months to find the right replacement and I can get that stuff done. I said, genuinely, a month ago, 'One day' and it just felt right on the weekend. We had that conversation, we sat in front of the plane and nutted it out and that was about it.

"What was clear was that once that (COVID) started, I would never have felt comfortable leaving until everything I thought was in order. It was a tough couple of years, there were moments there where I probably could've [left], if there was an option you would've but it's a hypothetical.

"Everyone will have their own views, I just feel good that leaving this year, that we do what we're gonna do and where the game is, that it's the right time, the right time for the game and for me and I'll feel good about where the game is and that's been my primary job and I've taken it very seriously. As I said, it's been a real privilege and honour, I'm aware of it every day and then for me, family and other things, it's time to look forward.

"You're aware of the responsibility because it means a lot to so many people. You're reminded of it every day. I've certainly been aware of the weight of responsibility but also, that's a privilege, I've felt that and so, it's not been a burden..., it's been a special thing to have had... but I feel we're in good shape and I'm leaving hopefully with the thing better than when I started."

Reflecting on the type of CEO he was, Goyder opened up about McLachlan's appeal and the characteristics that made him such a handy acquisition in the role, right from the start.

"His personal values, so that integrity, openness, there's not one significant thing in the AFL that he and I haven't spoken about and discussed," Goyder said.

"Also, his intuition, so I'd say, the ability to see around corners, and that's a great thing for a CEO to have, to sort of see what might be coming when it's not clear and be prepared to make hard decisions when others are throwing their hands in the air and saying 'Gee, this is hard and he did that. I think we all owe him a debt of gratitude for that."


Goyder confirmed that the process to finding a new CEO will begin imminently, however, wouldn't set a definitive timeline, nor would McLachlan outline what he hopes his successor brings to the role, noting that's a job for the AFL Commission.

"I and the Commission will kick off a process in the next couple of days in terms of finding and appointing a successor to Gil, we've got a period of time in which we can do that and we'll appoint an external search firm in the next couple of days and that process will get underway," Goyder said.

"I feel really good about the quality of people we've got within the AFL system right now, in terms of AFL House and in the clubs so I feel we've got, in that group, people who are more than capable of taking over from Gil, and then we'll go through a process and then there may well be others that come to hand and we'll take a look at. I feel very confident that in due course we'll be able to make an appointment which will be a really strong appointment to take the AFL forward.

"We'll appoint an external search firm so that just helps keep a bit of distance between the Commission and me and any potential candidate, and also, they bring some capability and expertise to it and just enables us to step back a little bit. Obviously, it'll keep us busy for the coming months, most important decision in many ways the Commission makes I would think, is appointing a CEO.

"In a sense, I'm looking forward to it because... we've got really good people and I think we'll see the best of people as we did, frankly when I was on the Commission and Gil was appointed. It's worth it, I was reflecting last night, thinking back to Gil's presentation to the Commission when he pitched for the role, and it was a superb presentation and he outlined a plan and a strategy, didn't pick COVID but other than that, he got most of, nailed it and so I'm looking forward to that."

"Richard and the Commission, it's their decision to make. What I do feel absolutely certain about is that whoever replaces me will be completely different and they'll have to bring their own style and be their own person, man or woman," McLachlan stated on the subject.

"That was the only bit of advice, for whoever gets the role, to be your own self and be your own person and you'll go okay and that was the advice given to me by Andrew Demetriou and hopefully I've brought that every day I've been here.

"All I know is that there are a number of internal candidates, male and female and I'm thrilled about that for a number of people I'm hopeful will apply and any of them that get it will do a great job in my view but it will be Richard and other's decisions. It will be based on how people will go about and what they want going forward and nothing to do with me."