Tim Lane’s departure from Channel 9’s AFL commentary team brought the usual sidestepping by Eddie McGuire of conflict of interest questions, but it didn’t take long into Channel 9’s first broadcast of the season for Lane to be vindicated.

Our initial reaction

Here’s what we wrote in our Easter Thursday bumper sealed section to our beloved sole subscribers:

“Tim Lane has quit Channel 9’s AFL commentary team on the eve of the season over the issue of credibility in having to call Collingwood games alongside club president (inter alia) Eddie McGuire. [Does anyone know the Latin for “among many other things”?]

Apparently Channel 9 have reneged on a promise they made to Lane that Eddie McGuire would not call Collingwood games and hence Timmy wants out.

The prospect of calling Collingwood games alongside Eddie became untenable for Tim, and good on him for taking a stand. Why has it taken so long for someone to recognise the problems inherent in a club president calling his own team’s games? Eddie assured Club Member 3506 (i.e. Yours Crully) at Collingwood’s AGM that all other club presidents had no problem with it, nor did the AFL.

Kudos to Tim Lane for putting professionalism and ethics ahead of a gig. So-called “entertainers” like Rex Hunt may dub him “Timmy Tobin” (as in the Tobin Bros, Funeral Directors) but call him what you like, he is one of the best callers in the business. Channel 9 may be able to attract a more popular caller, but Tim is without a doubt the thinking footy fan’s caller.

But then again, appealing to the lowest common denominator has never been prohibited by Channel 9’s station charter.

Eddie’s response to the issue was, not surprising, to put the blinkers on and once again deny there was any problem with conflict of interest. “Tim had a number of conditions in his contract, that was possibly one, there was another one he wouldn’t wear the Channel Nine blazer. He wouldn’t go over interstate, he wouldn’t do promos – this is the big-time football. If you’re not 100 per cent committed to Channel Nine, there’s no place for you.”

This man is unbelievable.

Eddie, here is why Tim left, in the words of Tim: “I have to be independent, I have to be seen to be independent and I felt that to broadcast the Collingwood games with Eddie was to endorse his dual roles. I wasn’t prepared to do that.”

In case you didn’t get the message Eddie, Timmy’s saying “conflict of interest”!

I haven’t run this by the Mayne Man, but darn it, I’m sticking out the neck and unilaterally awarding Tim Lane the Crikey Bouquet of the Day (subject to the Crikey Proprietor’s power of veto).”

Eddie defends the indefensible on the Footy Show

Eddie’s quotes above are pretty damning in our view – they completely side-step the issue of conflict of interest and stink of Eddie throwing the onus back on Timmy to prove that he is not being a super-sensitive prat.

Don’t you just love it how Eddie trots out the line that “Tim had a number of conditions in his contract”?

Admittedly, Eddie put up a better show when he explained himself on the AFL’s equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition, the Footy Show, under intense cross-examination by Ferdinand McGuire himself. He accepted Tim’s reasons for resigning but again made mention of Tim’s contract stipulations.

Again, the inference quite clearly was that Tim was being a prima donna, but his contract stipulations were hardly onerous or unreasonable given Lane’s position as an ABC employee first and foremost who just happened to be moonlighting on a commercial station. (As he had done a couple of years ago when he hosted Channel Rex’s “Talking Footy” without compromising his position as an ABC broadcaster.)

The first, that Tim wouldn’t wear the Channel 9 blazer, is perfectly reasonable. Lane is an ABC employee and the ABC is forbidden under its charter to promote any commercial interests. (The same can be said about Eddie’s claim that Lane wouldn’t do promos.)

The second, that Lane wouldn’t travel interstate, is a complete beat-up. Lane was only scheduled to call Friday night games, and only one Friday night game is scheduled outside of Melbourne for the entire season.

Eddie’s jibes that “this is the big-time football – if you’re not 100 per cent committed to Channel Nine, there’s no place for you” are just cheap shots. They seem to imply that Lane is not up to the job in the big league and hence has to settle for employment at a lesser organisation.

So what is the problem?

Well, where do we start?

On the Footy Show, Eddie seemed to imply that the problem was that there would be biased commentary in the sense of a past player (or fan / Club President in Eddie’s case) “barracking” rather than providing objective commentary. Eddie referred to fellow Channel 9 commentator Dermott Brereton, who is on the board at his former club, Hawthorn.

That is not the issue at all – we don’t have so much of a problem about past players “barracking for their team”. It’s annoying to some, but not diabolical.

Plenty do it.

Ian Robertson is the worst offender and shouldn’t be let loose on Carlton games – “kick it to Braddles, he’s free on the wing!”

And every commentator in a sport where an individual or team are representing Australia is just about given carte blanche – and seemingly encouraged by the networks – to barrack for our boy or girl.

Our problem is that Eddie just cannot be trusted to not promote his own or Collingwood’s commercial interests.

We’ve heard before that other clubs have lost sponsorship opportunities because they cannot guarantee the on-air exposure that Eddie can give Collingwood’s sponsors via the Footy Show. This claim is given a fair amount of credibility given Eddie’s boast at last year’s AGM that Collingwood’s guernsey is now worth 70% more than any other club’s in the AFL.

10 minutes into Thursday’s broadcast, Tim was vindicated

It didn’t take long into Thursday night’s broadcast of the Richmond v Collingwood clash for the Plug Factory to crank into hyper-drive.

Before the game had started, Eddie was in the Collingwood rooms with his ear cocked to the door, hoping to tune in to coach Mick Malthouse’s pre-game address. Coincidentally, Eddie was positioned right in front of a major sponsor’s signs and the close in shot of Eddie quite clearly showed the sponsor’s message over his shoulder. Then he wheeled around for a quick cliche51 fest with injured player Jarrod Molloy and – what do you know – another major sponsor’s signs were once again conveniently in the background.

Call us paranoid, and admittedly there was plenty of sponsor signage in the rooms, but the shots of Eddie and Molloy could have just as easily shown blank wall space in the background.

Contrast this with the next sequence, Gary Lyon’s interview with Richmond coach Spud Frawley, a close in head shot with no prominent signage in the background except the team’s motivational slogan, which itself was partly obscured anyway. Later in the broadcast, Tony Jones conducted a post-match cliche51 fest with Richmond captain Wayne Campbell in the Richmond rooms and all we could see were unadorned walls in background.

Was it just good luck that shots emanating from the Magpies’ change-rooms miraculously managed to capture the sponsor’s signs in the background whereas shots from the Tigers’ change-rooms did not?

Call us loony conspiracy theorists, but we think that luck might not have played a part.

After the pre-match fluff, we took a shot from the Collingwood change rooms from behind the players as they ran onto the hallowed turf (most of which has been transplanted from Strath Ayr grass growers in Seymour in the past few weeks). The cameras were so close to the players that you could just about smell the liniment, so copping a peek at the sponsor’s name on the back of their jerseys was unavoidable.

Again, maybe we’re giving Eddie far too much credit for being some sort of a manipulative subliminal advertising Svengali. But we certainly didn’t get a similar shot from the Richmond change-rooms.

As the Pies gathered on the ground, we had a shot lasting a few seconds of the Magpies’ banner with the sponsor’s message on it. Again, no contra deal for the Tigers.

So before the ball had been bounced, Collingwood had already snuck out to a very handy lead – Magpies’ sponsors 4 plugs, Tigers’ sponsors nil.

Before the game started, the crowd was asked to observe along with the teams 30 seconds’ silence to honour the 444 people who had died on Victoria’s roads last year. You see, the TAC are sponsors of both Collingwood and Richmond, and according to Eddie “the clubs” had organised this as a way of re-enforcing the road safety message at Easter time.

Obviously Eddie, as president of one of those clubs, would have had something to do with this.

It is hard to criticise this sort of event given it is sending out a community service message.

However, the ground announcer said that “the majority of deaths are caused by speeding, drink driving, fatigue and recklessness”. The majority of people who are being commemorated aren’t exactly “innocent” like the September 11 victims, nor did they die in serving their country like those who are celebrated on ANZAC Day.

While we would be treading on dangerous turf if we suggested anything untoward in Eddie getting such an important message across in this way, it would be hard to imagine any other club president being able to arrange for such a sombre commemoration on behalf of their sponsor.

I can’t remember the “Quit” campaign ever being promoted at a Fitzroy game in this way.

But the issue here is not the morality of the sponsor’s message, just the fact that Eddie seems to be able to get sponsors’ plugs in where others would have a Streets Eskimo Pie’s chance in Hell of succeeding.

At the end of the 30 seconds’ silence, Eddie plugged both of the TAC’s messages – would any other “commentator” do that?

As the captains shook hands and were about to toss the coin, Eddie noted a bit of animosity between Nathan Buckley and Wayne Campbell, which Eddie found amusing given that they’d just started up an internet company together. Eddie noted that they didn’t look like they were “logging onto the fitness.com or anything like that”.

We don’t know whether Eddie’s tentacles have extended into this fledgling enterprise, but even if they haven’t this gratuitous plug is still objectionable in that he’s clearly conferred a benefit on his good mate Buckley. On the previous night’s Footy Show, much mirth was made of how Eddie had gone out to shop for an engagement ring with MegaBucks. Eddie quipped that he’d brokered the deal, and during the segment he gave a cheerio to the jeweller to the stars – unbelievable!

But back to the footy broadcast…

Late in the game, Eddie noticed a bit of noise from behind the goals as Collingwood supporters gave up hope and left early. Eddie noted that Tiger fans were “sending a few early Magpie departures home with their best wishes and telling them not to drive silly on the roads tonight… on behalf of their sponsors.”

All during the game, Eddie made continual references to the “Wizard Home Loans cup” (the mortgage broker half owned by Big Kerry’s PBL), which is unavoidable to an extent when talking about clubs’ pre-season form.

But when Eddie makes comments like “this is the real thing – this isn’t the Wizard Home Loans cup”, the needle on the Plug Detector starts to twitch. Eddie really does seem to try too hard sometimes.

And then in the post-match interview with Danny Frawley, Spud had obviously learned from his very tardy plugging a couple of weeks earlier on the Footy Show, as he slipped in a “drive safely over Easter” message. Eddie mopped up the interview with “Danny Frawley there emphasising the TAC theme for the night. Of course, the TAC are major sponsors for both Richmond and Collingwood.”

As if we needed reminding!

Would it make any difference if Eddie resigned as a commentator?

Eddie asked himself a similar question on the Footy Show when providing his compelling defence on this issue, but instead pondered if he resigned as Collingwood president, would it make a skerrick of difference?

Defendant McGuire answered fearless Crown Prosecutor McGuire’s question with a resounding “no”.

But if Eddie resigned as a commentator, would it make a difference?

The answer would have to be an equally resounding “yes”.

In a word, Eddie’s commentary is bland. In another word, it’s boring. He most certainly is not God’s gift to football commentary.

Eddie makes his fair share of clangers – at quarter time he read the score as “the Tigers are 8-2-50, Richmond are 4-1-25” and at one stage he identified player Holland as player Ottens. In fairness, every commentator makes these sorts of errors.

And in the commentary booth of McGuire, Commetti, Lyon and Brereton, the weakest link in our humble opinion is most certainly neither Commetti, Lyon nor Brereton.

But the continual plugging would cease – no other commentator is nearly as culpable as Eddie in the gratuitous plug stakes.

In fact, it is hard to recall any commentator mentioning a team’s sponsors – about the worst you will get is a mention of “the Wizard Cup” or “the CUB premiership season” or the like.

And it does the Magpies a dis-service in one sense to have one seat in the commentary booth occupied by their club president.

You see, club officials are forbidden to comment on umpiring decisions. So if Nathan Buckley is murdered and buried in the goal square and his co-commentators are struck down by a sudden bout of laryngitis, Eddie can’t say a dang thing because the AFL will have a wet lettuce leaf in the form of a “please explain” request waiting for him.

Emperor Eddie

It’s no secret that Eddie is Channel 9’s Golden Boy – come back Ray, all is forgiven! – but the LaneGate affair revealed just what stroke Eddie wields in the corridors of power at 22 Bendigo Street, Richmond, 3121.

The following quotes from Eddie in Caro’s piece in The Age on Thursday are interesting in that regard:

“McGuire said he had been disappointed by Lane’s refusal “to give me a shot, particularly since I personally recruited him… We also became aware that he wasn’t prepared to do the promos or wear the (Channel Nine) jacket. We copped the jacket but in hindsight we probably should have thought about that.

On top of all of his other commitments, Eddie is now a recruitment consultant at GTV 9!

Did he get a spotter’s fee for Timmy and if so, will he have to pay it back?

Why do Eddie’s bosses tolerate it?

The obvious question then is why do Eddie’s employers allow his labyrinthine network of commercial conflicts to flourish?

Simple – Eddie is good for his employers’ commercial interests and his endless cross-promotions do no harm to them.

But will they rein him in when he does start to hurt his bosses’ financial interests?

He’s been able to get away with blue murder in his column in Rupert’s Herald Sun, continually plugging the Footy Show (which appears on Big Kerry’s Channel 9) and Big Kerry’s house of pain, Crown Entertainment Complex.

Maybe old Rupe is too busy writing off his dud investments to notice an otherwise un-noteworthy column in the Hun.

Where will it all end?

One thing that has already been made abundantly clear out of all of this – Tim Lane comes out of it with professional integrity of the absolute highest standing.

He has thrown in what is probably a lucrative contract (albeit, which may be paid out in full if Channel 9 are held culpable for a breach) and all he was going to do was sit next to the bloke in the booth who is acting in two potentially conflicted roles.

The other thing that is clear is that two-bit commentators like Crikey will not be able to rein Eddie in, no matter how compelling the evidence that we can stack up against him and his endless plugs.

Perhaps in the not too distant future Eddie will take all of this one step too far and someone will buckle. He does manage to soothe over problems very well by side-stepping the issue – as he has done on this occasion – and placates the other clubs with things like the membership drive on week two of the Footy Show, all “for the good of footy” generally.

But one day someone might take it up with the powers that be and Eddie gets the wake-up call that we and others have been crying out for for too long.

It might be Geoff Dixon of QANTAS, a substantial advertiser on Channel 9, who gets sick of seeing Emirates Air getting plugs for free when QANTAS shell out their hard-gouged monopoly profits to pay for their advertising time.

Or it might be a rival club president whose club’s sponsorship deal is stiffed at the last minute because he can’t guarantee plug time the way Eddie can, so he takes it up with AFL wet lettuce flagellator Wayne Jackson to do something to Eddie.

Or it might be Rupert or Kerry themselves, who tire of seeing their rival’s business being plugged to death through their own media.

Either way, the Plug Factory is one flourishing Aussie industry which we would not mind at all seeing go belly up.

Feedback to: [email protected]

Peter Fray

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