Normal publishers are limited to a couple of thousand words on pieces but we’ve pulled together this 10,600 word opus chronicling all of Eddie McGuire’s completely unsustainable conflicts of interest. When will someone act on this? Rarely a day goes by now without serial media personality and Collingwood president (let’s leave it at that), Eddie McGuire, grabbing the headlines with his latest outpouring of what’s required in all things AFL.
Such has been the accelerated volume of his pronouncements in the past couple of weeks that you have to wonder if there isn’t another agenda at work here beyond the issue of the day?
Eddie has been unusually busy even by his own high wire standards, as he takes up the cudgels on behalf of just about everyone in need of protection in the AFL. After all who else is better equipped in the AFL to identify and contain the next challenge to the welfare or well being of the league than Eddie Inc? The man who never gives less than 100% to anything he does.
But we have to be cynical and confess that we just don’t think Eddie has enough 100% to go around. That in giving of so much of himself to so many, he is showing classic signs of being stretched to breaking point.
The signs are unmistakable. Beneath the headlines and familiar posturing, on-air TV and radio debates, the “editorials” with himself and all and sundry, and the thundering ultimatums, even a threat to take a machine gun to future AFL Player’s Association (AFLPA) pay talks, there are some very subtle PR diversions at work.
During the past week or so Eddie seems to have been on an accelerated footing, preoccupied with potential solutions to many of the AFL’s most vexing problems. However, helping “persuade” his principal employer (Channel 9) to stop burying AFL Friday night footy in the northern markets doesn’t appear to be one of them.
Yet even as you think he’s still achieved a new benchmark for flying the flag for himself and Collingwood, he can still take your breath away.
EDDIE LAUNCHES INTO AGENTS AND THE PLAYERS ASSOCIATION
Not content with last week telling player manager’s they should be taken out of the game as an industry to remove one further layer of needless self-interest from the business of AFL, by the weekend he’s ramped that up to also possibly include the AFLPA as also largely irrelevant. Or maybe they shouldn’t be getting the kind of financial assistance from the league the union gets ($5 million a year), which could then be diverted to helping keep the clubs alive. This is, of course, all offered as sincere advice with only the best interests of the AFL at heart.
Eddie is neither going to do away with the agents or the AFLPA, but it sure got him some attention and if he can’t make the union go away, how about the next best thing? Invite himself to the negotiating table for the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the union? That’s what is so unique about Eddie Inc – attack a perceived threat on different fronts and see where it goes. As a fishing expedition it’s a sound strategy but his declared interest in the CBA is also instructive concerning his modesty. He doesn’t wait to be invited or seconded to certain things he wants to be involved in. Eddie just feels that if he thinks he’s required, then that’s good enough. In terms of his drive against the AFLPA and agents, dare one wonder if his ego is now getting well ahead of himself?
It seems the only piece missing from the final solution here is for Eddie to in fact get together with maybe one of his chums like James Hird who is in the AFL player financial advisory business with JB Were, and start his own AFL meat market agency. Don’t know how you do that as a club president or budding media mogul, but maybe he sees that as only a minor consideration against the greater benefit he will bring to the market?
THE TRIGGER PRESSURING A YOUNG PLAYER
So why has he suddenly got the AFLPA and player agents and their ill-gotten gains in his gun sight? Maybe it’s because they had a go at him earlier last week after trying to bully a young player into signing a new contract, which his manager wasn’t happy about and said so. Eddie then went on the Footy Show last Thursday and wondered why players need a manager and then for at least 10 minutes basically made a case for their removal.
He did concede that there might be maybe 20 players in the AFL who require management for marketing deals and the like, but the rest could perfectly well get by with lawyers for their contracts, financial advisers and the club’s own player welfare people. Of course this conveniently overlooks the fact that most players need independent agents who not only understand all the rules and regulations (few lawyers do) but also what is market value for their clients. As for the union who would negotiate a CBA and without a CBA you would have anarchy.
Every elite major sporting competition in the world find it necessary to sustain a system of independent agents to both protect and provide their clients with advice and contract negotiation. The system has been shown to work extremely well in the AFL so why would you dismantle it now? Because it seems Eddie McGuire had a run in with leading player manager Ricky Nixon, and then subsequently goes on national prime time TV and claims he’s been trying to figure out how to help clubs get more money so they can survive…and you know the rest.
As for any argument about the need for the AFLPA, which is mostly funded by the AFL as a percentage of player salaries, every major sporting code in the world uses this model.
CLEAR EXAMPLE OF CONFLICT OF INTEREST
So Eddie’s diatribe masquerading as an attempt to find a way to inject more money into the clubs by removing needless double dipping or whatever via agents and the union sticking their nose into the player salary trough, was nothing less than a tit-for-tat response to those who would seek to criticise him and his club for its over-zealous attempts to retain young Magpies star, Nick Davis. It’s also a clear example of wearing his media hat on what was in fact a Collingwood matter. It is precisely an issue like this that makes a mockery of his assertion that he is able to wear both hats without a conflict if interest.
It’s not so much frightening as untenable that he can continue to be both media commentator on the main AFL TV network and a club president. He cannot continue to be a loose cannon in the biggest sport in the country where he gets to vent his conflicting Collingwood spleen and prejudice and parade it as thinking only of the good of the game. His agenda in this matter is beyond dispute and transparent to all who understand what has occurred within the game’s politics.
An interesting post script to this episode is that on Monday it was announced that the previously much put upon Nick Davis, having declared at the weekend in the Herald Sun that he was now ready to be a Magpie for life just as Eddie desired, was now leaving Nixon’s Flying Start management group. His “friend” and lawyer Garry Woodhams and another friend Heath Wilson, will now look after his legal and commercial interests. Score that one to Eddie.
EDDIE’S SEAT AT THE BARGAINING TABLE
It was inevitable after Eddie and Nixon had their big radio stoush last Friday, that you could expect Eddie to then use his Collingwood platform at the weekend to continue to go in hard on the question of player payments and who gets what? Sure enough last Saturday he took to his club soapbox, to further highlight his concern at the potential harm posed by future union pay demands (as yet unspecified) via the next CBA negotiations. However, not merely content with hammering any suggestion of a union pay hike, Eddie went even further and sought to invite himself to the party. He said: “Collingwood will call on the AFL to have a seat at the collective bargaining table or at the very least be an observer at the negotiations. The Stakes are too high to look away on this one.” Excuse me?
This is the same AFLPA he has questioned as either relevant or effective? By implying they waste money or are extravagant through wondering why they have their offices up on the 47th floor or whatever of the Rialto Tower? Always a man for recognising clear conflicts of interest, Eddie was quoted in the Sunday Herald Sun as being concerned that current AFL operations manager Andrew Demetriou, “is going to have to dismantle his own deal” and negotiate with his “hand-picked successor” Rob Kerr. By implication McGuire’s presence would ensure that Demetriou and Kerr don’t hold hands across the CBA table.
EVEN WAYNE JACKSON SPOTTED THIS CONFLICT
Wayne Jackson for one seemed on the case when presented with that one: “I just wonder if he’s the bloke who wants to do the negotiations or be the independent person. I don’t know what cap he wants to wear in all of that.”
Well as the fearless watchdog and contract guru of AFL style negotiating, where was Eddie, when the AFL and his club was being stitched up by previous ham-fisted negotiations when the stakes were far higher than any future union agreement he’s now so concerned about. Well, of course he couldn’t give them his input…that would be a conflict of interest. Just as we would be curious as to how seeking to be party to negotiation of the AFLPA wouldn’t be a conflict for one club president against all the others? Why should he be so privileged? Next thing you know every club would demand a seat at the table. At that point the AFLPA might as well rip up the CBA and let its members chance their arms in a free market that means no artificial industry work place employment mechanisms such as the salary cap or the draft. As for his media connection in any of this, well that’s just another conflict!
It could suit a wealthier club like Collingwood to wreck the delicate balance of the competition if it became everyone for themselves. Those with the money get to field the strongest teams, while players would go to the club of their choice for whatever reasons suited them. The CBA is the one thing that the AFL and the AFLPA recognises restrains the competition from seeing someone like Essendon becoming another Manchester United where your revenue streams makes you virtually unstoppable. Or as Collingwood knows only too well from the bad old ’80’s, cashing cheques you don’t have to try and stay competitive with those that are. Football around the world where there is no salary cap is littered with such casualties. Is that what the Magpies would like to see? Of course they don’t. Eddie no more wants that than he wants the wooden spoon.
FATHER AND SON RULE …DO THE MAGPIES LACK THE GENE POOL?
While we are questioning how he advances his club interests while purporting to represent those of the game, he also at the weekend suggested his club now supported throwing in a highest bidder tendering process as another twist to the draft whereby the father-son rule would be changed. Basically at the moment there is a decent second round draft choice mechanism that allows the likes of Geelong to be able to secure Gary Albett Jnr to the club. There is no question that over time the rules work for the benefit of most, but more importantly it’s a highly appreciated connection for the fans. No fan wants to see if possible the son of a former club legend playing for another team. But McGuire is happy to complicate this practice and make it much more difficult. Why? Well look at the contemporary record over the last 30 years regarding the benefits of the father son rule at most clubs. But perhaps because Collingwood has produced such a stream of ordinary players over that time maybe Eddie thinks the Magpie gene pool is inferior to a lot of other clubs so why not make it tougher for them? Further neutralise (spoil) a system that has clearly benefited rival clubs such as Essendon, Geelong, Richmond and others.
Either that or Eddie just wants to spoil what is one of the great rules that benefits long-term supporters, which suggests something mean-spirited about this endeavour. Essendon this year even recruited the grandson of their greatest ever player, Dick Reynolds. It was as much about the romance of his heritage as it was his genes, and he went for a lower draft pick than any tendering system would allow should Essendon, had they have had to bid for him. He might be a grandson but it still holds that sentimental historic thrill for Essendon fans every bit as relevant as Gary Ablett Jnr playing for anyone other than Geelong. Who would want to deprive Geelong fans of allowing them to see the sons of god reviving the greatest cry in AFL “Abletttt”?
But it’s his provocative AFLPA statement on top of a steady steam of invective over the last two weeks that has little to do with whether the Western Bulldogs face extinction because they are a financial cot case. It’s just more of the same of Eddie running these various agendas whether they’re designed to make life difficult for people who oppose him, or are part of a larger smokescreen. However, you can be certain Eddie will give every indication that this is a serious suggestion because why wouldn’t the operations manager of the AFL benefit from Eddie’s insight as to how stay on the straight and narrow? Who better to guard against conflicted Demetriou selling out the AFL to his old union, than someone who thoroughly understands this conflict business pretty well?
HOW DID EDDIE GET THIS FAR?
Still let’s give Eddie his due. He didn’t get where he is today through jungle cunning or sucking up to James Packer. He has worked hard and has a real talent. While he is a superb networker who does a lot of charity work and does genuinely care about maintaining and growing a healthy AFL, he is a mass of contradictions. Perhaps if he didn’t spend so much time defending the indefensible in relation to his conflicts, you would cut him some slack for all the good and the genuine sacrifice that he does do time and again when his heart is in the right place. But it is when you see him being more calculating in explaining away certain business interests or advancing certain causes as detailed here, that you remember that his conflicts aren’t always so harmless.
Eddie seems to have a genuine blind sport for engaging his brain so that it truly recognises when the lines are not blurred but he stubbornly pursues that line even to the point of terminal foot in mouth or something even worse. He uses his position not just to pedal influence, which often he uses for great public good, but as with the Footy Show last week, to score points and have an agenda that only demonstrates his hopelessness in reconciling responsibility as to his conflicts. He should be held accountable to his own club board who won’t do a thing while the money roles in, nor the network while his shows rate, and the AFL will sit on the fence because they don’t want to have a row with their broadcast partner’s AFL anchor.
Now let’s strip away the politics, hidden agendas, the obvious conflicts and let’s consider Eddie Inc purely as an AFL club president albeit a highly influential one. A media savvy president who is known to be a real stickler for protecting AFL interests from the avarice of others and poor negotiation. A guy so on the case and that much smarter than the rest of us that it begs this question: how come Eddie didn’t sound the alarm bells on the TV deal?
TV RIGHTS QUESTIONS FOR EDDIE
If Eddie is so concerned about the high stakes of the next CBA negotiations, where was Eddie when he was needed to help the AFL and his own club avoid the mess they are now in concerning Friday night AFL in the key northern development market? A market where millions is being earmarked for future critical northern development, but of which millions might have been saved if Friday night football had ended up with anyone else other than Channel 9. Who is to say that if Friday night footy had been put to a single tender outside all other media deal, Seven could have more than matched the Channel 9 figure, and not have been compromised by an existing commitment to the AFL prime rival Rugby League. Was Eddie sounding the alarm bells on that one? Because if he were half as smart as we know he is, he would have realised Rugby League was a problem even if the people doing the deal for the AFL (including his own manager) thought they had their Friday night bases covered.
Well let’s face it, even if Eddie had formed that view, given his various hats he could not have said anything to anybody anyway without it being a conflict? So there’s nothing about the media rights deal and input from Eddie that suggests Demetriou would be crazy not to have Eddie tag-teaming him on the CBA. As if the two main parties to the CBA would countenance him riding shotgun over Demetriou’s shoulder as some kind of omnipotent power or observer, after having openly declared his hostility in the last week to the player’s union.
But then why has he been firing all these bullets about greedy players for almost two weeks? Diversion. He had a losing footy team under the pump before last weekend, and of course his network is still in the gun over the Friday night disaster. Suffice to add here on a point of accuracy that contrary to Eddie’s rose-tinted view of the media rights where he declared at the weekend “the media rights saved the AFL’s neck” (read Channel 9); the AFL’s future was always secure. The media rights were always going to bring a handsome price whoever won them. Although recent events now suggest that if they were up for grabs this year, the AFL might be lucky to have got half the cash amount of $80 million annually for five years. But then that would just mean clubs and the league itself would need to rationalise and cut their cloth to suit their coat. There’s nothing new or radical about that.
But putting future media rights or even potentially renegotiated rights beyond this season on the agenda, the AFL’s future is more predicated on whether the league can sustain clubs who are becoming hopelessly insolvent, not whether the league itself is at all viable? So the media rights has not saved the AFL’s neck, just as the $110 million sale of Waverley might not stop the league going into liquidation. It’s all about managing the different slices of the pie. Of offsetting revenue streams against costs and some of these costs are either able to be scaled back or reduced.
Eddie it appears would be happy to claw back $5 million from the AFLPA welfare payment. Crikey could argue you could claw a similar amount back just by imposing restraints on AFL spending in football departments, and if you have a salary cap for players, why not coaching staff? If you have a will there is always a way to cut costs, it just so happens Eddie seems particularly keen to make players the villain right now.
At some time in the very near future the AFL and people like Eddie, who has already contradicted himself on this matter, need to decide whether they are prepared to continue to prop up the Western Bulldogs and Kangaroos or any other club now massively under the pump financially. Nobody wants to see teams disappear but there does appear to be a growing gulf between the rich and poor where the inevitable seems more and more likely.
BLACK MARKS FOR TIPSTARS BUT FULL MARKS FOR THE CURRENCY OF BEING KING OF COLLINGWOOD
When we want to tick off Eddie’s other attributes as master negotiator, should we list second sight or good instincts as a rich asset to be mined from Eddie Inc? Well, of course, Eddie’s licenced footy tipping operation Tipstars was an enormous success and he’s now reduced his majority stake in the company so Tattersalls could fund the losses. In fact as a marketing exercise we would have to deduct some points from his hyperbole report card on that one! Then we have the matter of his view of how much better the Channel 9 coverage would be over what Seven previously provided over the last 40 years or so. The AFL already knows how the fans not just up north, but those in our existing strongholds are already declaring Seven’s coverage as much missed. Just how would Eddie wish to quantify that superiority now? Additionally AFL TV ratings at Nine are down on Seven from last year, which is hardly a ringing endorsement. In fact figures show a worrying decline in viewer numbers stretching back several years.
Also another emerging and worrying aspect concerning this new AFL TV scheduling is a major drop off in live attendances particularly for Melbourne-based clubs with the likes of Melbourne now saying they are going to be staging a number of games that will lose money. A pitiful crowd of just 9421 attend Optus Oval on Saturday when the Dees played West Coast. The Bulldogs clash at Colonial with Brisbane was 12,000 down on their average home crowd in 2001. These and other similar stories are beginning to show an alarming slide and if it continues because of the frequency of weekend televised games now available (particularly in Victoria) some club budgets are going to be very sick indeed. The game might be awash with TV money but at what price? Perhaps that’s why Eddie is more concerned with talking up greedy players of the future than all the myriad problems now emerging as a consequence of this whole complicated and unsatisfactory TV deal that has led to alienation and not a little confusion for many people. With Seven everything was so much simpler.
But getting back to Eddie Inc, we would like offer this view with the obvious benefit of hindsight. Perhaps the major problem for Eddie as with most things Eddie does, is linked to his belief that he thinks he can save the world. In the world of AFL, megalomania might be seen as a virtue. But in reality it’s not going to alter the fact that Eddie’s view of all things AFL as seen through the Collingwood viewfinder is a very a distorted one. So he has been even more full of inflammatory opinions of late than ever before. It guarantees him plenty of headlines and makes him probably the most quotable person in Australian sport right now, but he hasn’t got to this position by being a reluctant media bride. There is a pattern of systematic media management to so much of what he says and does.
EDDIE GOES WAY BEYOND BEING A TV PERSONALITY
It’s worth mentioning too that by being Eddie “everywhere” it has given him an additional currency in business circles that goes way beyond being a major TV personality, and Eddie makes every post a winner in that regard. As Seinfield says “not that there’s anything wrong with that”! Except an acknowledgement by Eddie Inc that much of his Collingwood/AFL profile and penchant for being provocative, isn’t all personal sacrifice. There is considerable upside to being one of just nine men in Melbourne with a unique calling card – AFL club president.
All that he has made flow from that position has given Eddie Inc a very powerful leg up in the Melbourne business world, and that brings its own rewards that aren’t simply measured by satisfaction in helping revive both the fortunes of your club off the field, and hopefully soon enough on it. Let’s not kid ourselves that Eddie has been anything other than massively beneficial to the Collingwood Football Club in a financial sense.
We have no doubt his passion for the black and white to succeed it genuine. But all his dedication and commitment does come with a silver lining and it’s sometimes that lining that also begs the question as to possible conflict.
THE EDDIE EVERYWHERE AGENDA
Just in the last fortnight this includes such disparate and sometimes hypocritical stances as:
* Taking a machine gun to the greedy AFLPA metaphorical baseball bat.
* Talking up how Collingwood is only interested in players who are totally committed to the club as a means of applying pressure to the re-signing of a young Collingwood star.
* Beating the drum for survival of all 16 AFL clubs and various ways and means thereof to help them including ditching player managers.
* Prepared to take the AFL to court over further zonal draft concessions to Brisbane and Sydney.
* Offering his negotiating skills to help the AFL thwart any future CBA pay hike;
* and now further eroding the father-son drafting rules.
All of this taken as a whole over just the past two weeks is akin to beating up some issues and being in no hurry to settle them down (like the Governor General scandal becoming a handy smokescreen that effectively took the much more considerable heat off the Federal Government over its Tampa boat people cover up).
It’s not been lost on respected Age AFL columnist Robert Walls a former star Carlton player and coach of among others, Carlton and the Brisbane Lions. He wrote how he felt Collingwood had used the contract issue involving Nick Davis’ re-signing as a diversion to mask the deeper problems affecting the club’s on-field performance.
“So how have the Pies dealt with their week on the ropes? Have they closed ranks, pulled together? No, they put the focus on, and made a scapegoat out of, Nick Davis, a just-turned 22 year-old with only 54 games to his credit.” Walls described the exercise as basically a public relations “con”.
EDDIE NEEDS A MANAGER BUT PLAYERS DON’T
This is the same club with a president who believes players don’t need managers because the club’s can do that? Of course, whenever Eddie has to negotiate a contract his manager Jeff Browne does it for him. Eddie’s theory would be great if you want to beat up on the players and not have them independently represented. Now if he can’t shut the manager’s down and he can’t, and it would seem they aren’t necessarily finished with him either after his ambush, then why not the next best thing? Emasculate their clients through giving the AFLPA what’s what. Let Eddie lose with the machine gun at the negotiating table and he will have the AFLPA begging to take a pay cut. Now is that the sort of man the fans are happy to have as their president, or his player’s sit around the rooms after training and say what a great boss they’ve got?
So let’s concentrate on building up a better understanding of the psychological nuances affecting the more recent and erratic behaviour of the Magpie media manipulator.
THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS
When you wear as many hats as Eddie, (and he seems to find ever newer ones), he either needs a much bigger hat stand or a second head. We lean towards the latter. In fact not to put too big a head on it, we think Eddie has become “THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS”. There is the well-known Magpie brain, but the one that most concerns us is the Channel 9/media brain. It would appear to us this second one comes with a neurological automatic over-ride. When words such as television or media rights are mentioned, this brain becomes dominant.
Eddie is big on loyalty, to the club, his mates, his various employers and any Collingwood player who doesn’t want to exercise freewill. Sure it’s ok for his club to sack, delist or trade any player for any reason it cares to name. But when Nick Davis initially was not being responsive to signing a new contract beyond this season, Eddie went ballistic and public. It led Robert Walls to write in The Age: “President Eddie has weighed in by saying that if you don’t love the jumper, then you don’t play”. And while McGuire said this was aimed at all players, everyone else knew it was aimed at Davis. Of course in fairness to Eddie, all the other AFL clubs exhibit similar traits of loyalty but their president’s usually let their football departments do the talking, or the CEO. That is, unless you are John Elliott (Carlton), who manages to motivate player’s to leave his club (Aaron Hamill).
Of course Eddie can now correctly argue that the end justifies the means because since the Davis affair cranked up, a previously unsettled player is once again back in the fold and seemingly for a long time to come, and even better he’s managed to free himself of a powerful manager and trade him in for one who should be much more friendly to the Collingwood club come the contract negotiation which will now take place. But it took a sledgehammer to bend a player’s will to gain that end result and Collingwood captain Nathan Buckley is already on the record saying it would have been better if it happened away from the media spotlight.
However, doesn’t the Nick Davis case simply reaffirm that when it comes to Collingwood, nothing will stop Eddie from passionately defending his beloved club against anyone who would threaten its interests? Couldn’t this be more of a case of making an allowance to suggest he merely went over the top on the Davis affair? Yes if it was applied without fear or favor, but it isn’t. Eddie never wastes an opportunity to reassure Magpies fans how he’s in there continually fighting for every advantage for them, and nobody pushes Collingwood around, or tells them what they can and can’t do. We beg to differ.
EDDIE FAILS TO DELIVER ON-FIELD SUCCESS
When Eddie sells sponsors the Magpies big picture they are assured they are the most blessed of all football sponsors. By many criteria they are, but by the one criteria above all others that you must ultimately be measured, Collingwood are, to use a John Elliott word, tragic. Collingwood cotinue to run hot and cold on the field and they are no certainty to make the finals. Yet pre-season they were expected to be almost certain to make the final eight. If the Magpies are fair dinkum they need to do more than just fall into the finals this year, otherwise they continue to flatter to deceive.
Collingwood more than any other AFL clubs lives off the reflected glory of past deeds and tradition. But the Magpies greatest tradition since 1958 has been as losers with just one premiership in that time (1990). But Eddie each season has been selling the hot air of potential, of a club once again going places. Off the field they are kicking big goals, but if you can’t beat most of the competition until now, do the fans care if you have $5 million in the bank (Essendon)? Still things could be worse, they could be Carlton who look to have years of rebuilding ahead of them now before they will become a force again.
Eddie frequently likes to reminds the media when announcing the arrival of another sponsor at Collingwood, that nobody (arguable) gets more marquee value out of AFL exposure than being a sponsor of the “good old Collingwood”! Not only might you be just lucky enough to cop the odd plug on the all conquering Footy Show with Eddie in the chair, or other sundry ways and means of getting additional exposure beyond what you are actually paying for, but a sponsor can also take comfort in knowing Eddie is always going to be break out the machine gun when his club’s sponsors interests are affected by tardy TV coverage!
That’s why you have seen him going to town and really giving it to the AFL and Channel 9 in the last couple of weeks about how shafted he and his club and his sponsor’s feel? Except that hasn’t happened. He’s been prattling on just about every issue under the sun other than TV rights. Why isn’t the Collingwood president or his CEO like Essendon CEO Peter Jackson, declaring his club is being severely disadvantaged by lack of Friday night footy up north on free-to-air in prime time? Did these same Collingwood sponsors think they were buying into a whole new era of AFL broadcasting, only to find showcase Friday night footy isn’t what it’s cracked up to be?
EDDIE DROPS THE BALL
In fact the Collingwood president is more likely to toe the AFL party line now trotted out with the use of selective statistics to show that even while the ratings peak aggregate viewing audience has declined this year, the AFL is telling us we have never had it better under the new broadcasting deal. But irrespective of selective AFL data, Friday night AFL is a disaster and what is Eddie doing about it? If he can find the time and inclination to sort out greedy players, their managers and their association, surely he can get on the case with Channel 9?
Instead of a new era when the deal was announced that was going to help eventually to drive a stake deep into the heart of Rugby League, Channel 9 is protecting Rugby League by burying the AFL every Friday. It was always gong to be so. But are Eddie and Collingwood outraged? Who knows? But if he can bag the AFLPA and by extension the players as greedy, why shouldn’t you take aim at Channel 9? Or maybe he has and we just don’t know about it? However, when that network is also your prime employer you can appreciate it’s tough to tough to tell the boss to lift their game.
But that’s why you ordinarily have tough talking independent club president’s to stick it up anyone who threatens your patch. But if you are Eddie and somewhat conflicted by your work, its virtually impossible to operate your club without fear or favor as a truly independent minded president. Sure there are tens of thousands of the Magpie army who Eddie cares so much for who are effectively locked out of access to earlier Friday night pay TV coverage. But should we expect him to risk his employment by telling Channel 9 to stick their TV coverage where the sun doesn’t shine? Hardly, so let us just chalk that one up as a conflict of interest where he’s on a hiding to nothing.
WIMBLEDON AND WORLD CUP WOES LIE AHEAD FOR NINE
So we figure that when it comes to Friday nights, Eddie has dropped the ball, jammed the machine gun and forgotten to play the man. It would appear the only bullets he’s firing on this subject are blanks. The sad reality is that his principal employer is playing hide the sausage with Friday night AFL. By Senator Richard Alston’s reckoning there’s every reason to feel Channel 9 is hoarding the said product. But perhaps the good senator’s office will be even more interested (the AFL further appalled) when the Channel 9 hoarding moves into warp speed in June and July, as things start taking a decided turn for the worst. Two into one live prime time on Channel 9 on Friday night, don’t go. Try three into one?
Every year while Channel 9 continue to retain the Wimbledon rights, and you also have Rugby League, how can there possibly be room for AFL as well? If being number two at 11.10pm is a problem, where does Wimbledon get scheduled if AFL still comes to air at the same slot? Either way there are going to be some very unhappy sports fans that will find either tennis or AFL number three.
But if you thought Wimbledon was a doodle how about the World Cup? Fact, on Friday June7, when the Kangaroos will be battling Richmond at Colonial Stadium, it’s almost odds on that both AFL and Rugby League games will be clashing live at around the same time (9.30pm?), with the Group F clash of what could be the most anticipated single game of the World Cup preliminary round. England will play sworn enemy (on and off the pitch), Argentina. Already the English media have built it up as the greatest clash in the whole Cup. Given their captain might well have been deliberately put out of the tournament by a terrible tackle by an obvious Argentinean hit man, they might be right. David Beckam was ferociously sliced and diced playing in a Champions League cup game for Manchester United in Spain that has left him very doubtful to take his Cup place as England captain. Regardless of Beckham playing or not, it is Falklands time again and by the time the game comes around you could be forgiven if all of England is on war footing for this one. That makes it a huge game here in Australia also.
So what does Channel 9 do that night? I wouldn’t put my money on the Kangaroos before midnight if I was you, and if you are a Tigers fan in Noosa, perhaps you should ask Senator Alston’s office for their thoughts? Standby for some major political posturing as the time draws closer and the Packer sports stackers are dealing with a three-way broadcast split. All of which is to just further hammer home the point that Channel 9 should never have been let anywhere near the AFL’s prime Friday night fixtures, and if you expect Eddie Inc to go to the mat on this one with the Packers, you don’t know Eddie and you certainly don’t know the Packers!
EDDIE REVERSES OUT OF FOUR CORNERS
For proof that Eddie Inc.’s fundamental logic can be fairly fluid you need look no further than his appearance on the recent Four Corners AFL probe. Eddie had little problem sweeping aside the issue of conflict of interest, although he found the going tougher when forced to deal with the obvious conflict represented by him having the same legal advisor as the AFL.
But when Four Corners turned to the politer issue as to whether the AFL could continue to sustain 10 clubs in Victoria, Eddie was in no doubt that market forces would ultimately determine the survival of clubs. If at the end of the day any clubs were not financially sustainable then basically it was a fact of life. This is not a new position for Eddie as Age journalist Greg Baum recently pointed out (April 11th). Just six months ago McGuire along with the other top Melbourne-based clubs were very unhappy about the move by the AFL to help shore up the finances of the strugglers (basically Melbourne clubs) if it meant it was simply throwing good money after bad. They argued because these clubs were more likely than not badly run, better they should go than swallow up hard won money that would be better used by those clubs who were productive and would not waste it. Much better to just put them out of their misery.
Two nights later on Foxtel, AFLPA president Brendan Gale explained how certain club delegates within his union during the last round of CBA talks which saw the union accept a pay demand of 7% instead of the 10% it sought, intimated that when the next negotiations commenced after the end of this season, there was a feeling that this time the union would be more aggressive in its demands. The CBA has one more season to run beyond this year but is always finalised well ahead of the final year for continuity, not to mention allowing plenty of time for all necessary wrangling.
But imagine our amazement when just days after Four Corners, Eddie’s belief in market forces completely evaporated. Gale’s intimation that the union might have to take a more robust approach into the next CBA negotiations because his members believed market forces demanded they get an increased slice of the pie, the metaphorical baseball bats and machine guns came out of nowhere. Out of left field came the Collingwood boss bristling that if the AFLPA wanted to employ a baseball bat, he would come equipped with a machine gun because unless the clubs banded together, then some Victorian clubs would go under (the very same he was less concerned with six months ago). Only this time it was less a question of bad management than protecting these poor clubs from the evils of the kind of market forces that are core to the arguments of the AFLPA and indeed part and parcel of the real world. The world Collingwood in recent decades has had a lot of trouble living in as it fed itself on the delusion of somehow it was Australia’s greatest sporting club.
EXPLAINING EDDIE’S INCONSISTENCIES
So what should we make of these Eddie Inc inconsistencies. Eternally vigilant to protect his Magpies nest, but not pouring the vitriol on Channel 9 over Friday night TV? Proponent of economic rationalism and the law of the jungle for AFL teams one day, while raging against market forces driving player payments the next? Surely compelling evidence of the “man with two brains” syndrome?
Then there’s the instructive lesson in how the AFL’s quintessential media personality and club president, also happens to share the same business lawyer with the AFL. If the AFL principal legal adviser is conflicted is it any wonder we want to help Eddie more effectively deal with the question: Which brain is addressing which issue when he speaks?
THE TIM LANE SAGA
Perhaps the single most vexing episode in Eddie confronting his conflict of interest can be found in the events surrounding Wednesday, March 27. Just one day prior to the opening bounce of the 2002 regular AFL season and the debut of the Channel 9 match coverage, recalcitrant ABC commentator Tim Lane bailed from sharing commentary duties on Friday nights with the Collingwood boss. The opening game on the Thursday that week was because of Easter. This very late and rather spectacular withdrawal from the Channel 9 front line, excited a great deal of media interest as the most searching examination yet regarding an AFL club president also being Channel 9’s lead footy commentator. Lane explained his rationale and the media couldn’t get enough. Finally it seemed someone was prepared to draw a line in the sand.
How did the network manage to get itself into such a pickle? The network under its former Sydney based CEO David Leckie, agreed it didn’t want Eddie in that position either, rejecting McGuire’s pleas to be given the key commentary role. So Lane successfully sought and received a contract that came with a Collingwood president exclusion clause, which merely reaffirmed the decision of Sydney management then to keep Eddie out of the conflict firing line.
Next thing you know there is a changing of the guard and former Melbourne Nine boss and long-time Eddie mentor, Ian Johnson, is seconded from running Crown Casino to head up the network. From that moment, Eddie’s desperate desire to be calling Friday night footy was back on, and as Lane was to find out, his contract no longer operative.
When the Channel 9 season launch was held the change in management perspective regarding Eddie’s conflicting Collingwood hat, was finally let out of the bag. Eddie was indeed back in town right in the thick of all the Friday night footy action. Lane it seems along with everyone else in the media in attendance that day was shocked at this development. At this point neither Eddie or Johnson was even aware of the Lane exclusion clause, so that day eventually became a big surprise for them too. Ever since then Lane wrestled with the dilemma this created. In the end despite management and Eddie’s entreaties (they weren’t moving), Tim Lane resolved he had to pull the pin.
“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 and I wasn’t prepared to do that,” Lane informed the media on the afternoon of March 27.
In all the many discussions in the media in recent years, none had ever so directly placed the issue of Eddie’s conflict of interest on the agenda quite like Lane’s decision to walk away from his Channel 9 commentary duties. After Lane’s media door-stop, that very same evening in what was truly a big week for football, eager media watchers tuned into the Footy Show to see Eddie defend what many already saw as indefensible. Eddie then countered that after 20 years as a journalist he had no doubt he could act without bias in calling matches involving Collingwood and that he would do so without fear or favour and free of conflict of interest.
EDWARD THE CONFESSOR!
In line with that defence Edward “the confessor” via his Footy Show soapbox went on the front foot and proceeded to give viewers, live audience and his own panel, a reasonable impersonation of someone trying to present a balanced summary of what had transpired that day. After the “warm up” he went for the jugular. Naturally Eddie while not wanting to disparage a man he admired and looked forward to working with as a colleague (indeed it was Eddie’s idea to get the ABC guru into the frame with Channel 9), he was nevertheless just a wee bit indignant. In fact he was upset that his ability to be both a club president and objective media person should again be questioned.
“I’m not going to put my own reputation at risk, I’m not going to put the reputation of the Nine network, nor the Collingwood Football Club, nor anybody else who works with me,” Eddie argued.
But then Eddie, as he frequently does to hammer home his main point, turned the argument around 180%. To him the issue was not so much about him having a conflict of interest but the real issue was that Tim Lane just wasn’t prepared to be a team player. Maybe it was less about Lane not wanting to work with him than Lane just couldn’t get his rather single level head, around totally embracing Channel 9? Maybe Tim Lane was splitting hairs when he explained he personally didn’t have a problem working side-by-side with Eddie as an AFL club president doing commentary on Collingwood games, but his ABC listeners might?
Viewers that night could be forgiven for thinking it was irrelevant Lane had a contract that said he wouldn’t call any Collingwood games with Eddie before Channel 9 reneged on that. Hence as Eddie saw it, poor old Tim being incapable of fitting his non-commercial ABC square peg into the round hole that passes for the extremely commercial Channel 9. Lane didn’t want to travel interstate (one match as it turned out) and wouldn’t appear in publicity shots wearing Channel 9 garb out of respect for his ABC employers. What Eddie didn’t mention was that Lane had imposed the same “branding” restrictions when he did a season of “Talking Footy” with Channel 7, and hardly a surprise therefore to Channel 9 or Eddie.
But Eddie of course did not make totally clear Lane’s distinction (albeit subtle) regarding public perception of Eddie’s conflicting roles as club president and game day broadcaster. In fact Lane is on record as saying he believes Eddie could produce a balanced commentary. Lane’s problem remains the fact that the football public believes Eddie has a conflict. Therefore if the public believes it, Lane risked bringing his own independence and that of the ABC into question by calling with Eddie. By partnering McGuire he would be viewed by the public as endorsing such conflict. Perhaps that had even occurred to Eddie originally in inviting Lane to join the Channel 9 Friday footy team? If so it backfired big time.
Deeply embarrassed that this whole “conflict” issue took on extra legs after Lane’s dramatic exit, Eddie turned The Footy Show into Media Watch. Debating the Lane issues real and otherwise, his self-serving justification was breathtaking in its audacity. Perhaps calling on his two brains (flicking off the over-ride switch) to deal with such complex rights and wrongs for both parties and weighing up all relevant considerations, Eddie felt Lane was being both premature and possibly unfair. Eddie suggested Lane could have at least allowed him the chance to prove in the first couple of weeks that he could be an unbiased caller). It seemed lost on Eddie at the time that this wasn’t Lane’s problem with him. Eddie even went so far as to suggest they could have appointed a kind of independent committee of review that could have ruled on his neutrality or otherwise after he’d done a couple of Collingwood games.
As a bemused Gary Lyon watched Eddie interview/cross examine himself, with little interruption between the two brains, even Sam Newman was impressed by what can only be described as a virtuoso performance of self-justification. Rarely has any TV personality been given such a unique platform to put things straight on such a major controversy affecting them directly. The usual aggressive questioning from the Footy Show crew (Sam Newman particularly) evaporated and even Newman recognised a red light on this topic and mostly said very little. The mood was best captured when Eddie finally ran out of puff justifying himself and asked for some views of the panel. Having watched the virtual press conference unfold before his eyes, Lyon showing the courage of his playing days wryly observed that he thought Eddie had done a very good job of asking himself “all the tough questions”!
But here’s where it gets really interesting. In hammering home his point about Lane not showing that old corporate team spirit that’s so admired by the Collingwood president, it would seem he engaged his two brains in a massive conflict of logic. In attempting to nip the conflict debate in the bud and giving any credibility to Lane’s problem, Eddie argued that if Tim didn’t feel at home among the Channel 9 corporate culture, a culture as Eddie explained that demanded total commitment, Tim was better off at Aunty and Eddie would get on with giving Channel 9 nothing less than his typical 100%,
JUST HOW MUCH 100% LOYATY IS THERE TO GO AROUND?
Which in a sense seems fair enough if they’re the rules and what’s expected of you if you join the Channel 9 juggernaut. Not hard to understand why the station’s highest profile personality should passionately believe that all Channel 9 employees always put the network first. Except for one significant fact. Wasn’t that also the Collingwood president talking, if not the Collingwood brain? Which brain should we believe or follow? Is he looking out for Collingwood when he talks TV or is he looking after Channel 9 when he talks about the interests of the Magpies and AFL? How do you give 100 per cent to your club and your employer when they are both to be found in the business of trying to sometimes kick in each other’s head’s. Look no further than the Friday night Rugby League v AFL drama to how Collingwood and Channel 9 can have competing agendas.
The truth is Eddie is SO conflicted that almost anything he says at some stage is going to come back and bite him on the bum. As the ultimate political creature, his spread of conflicting interests will always leave him vulnerable to contradiction and hypocrisy. Already wearing the mantle of possibly Australia’s most conflicted person, we am now convinced the entity most conflicted by Eddie Inc is Eddie himself. Because deep down the pragmatist and journalist in Eddie McGuire, knows the impossibility of his situation. He needs to understand how he is now getting in over his head and something has to give. Maybe last weekend he gave some hint of what may go first when he suggested that if the AFL maintained its stance on additional zonal concession to Brisbane and Sydney in the next draft, he would have to think about his future at the helm of Collingwood.
Despite seeing the first tangible signs of a weakening Collingwood resolve, that still doesn’t stop Crikey from asking Eddie the tough question. What’s it to be Eddie? Is it good old Collingwood forever? Or is it nothing less than 100 % for Channel 9 in everything?
EDDIE INC SHARES AFL LAWYER
On Four Corners Eddie gave an insight into how he saw no problem between himself and the AFL sharing the same lawyer: This is part of what Eddie told journalist Ticky Fullerton when defending such potential conflict:
“The best example of that, was the Collingwood Football Club were about to sue the AFL who’s legal advisor is Jeff Browne at a time when I was negotiating a contract with Channel 9, with Jeff Browne as my lawyer. At the same time that the AFL and Channel 9, were trying to do business for each other. Now we could all stand around in a circle and tap each other on the shoulder and say “lay off” to each other as it went round. But ultimately each deal was done according to the positions that everyone was in,” Eddie reasoned.
“We punched up the AFL or got stuck into the AFL over this, this thing. AFL were probably dirty on Channel 9 – were trying to do a deal on Channel 9, who were dirty that I was at Channel 9, and Nine was saying “shut up” and all the rest of it and nothing happened. We all punched on and here we all are. Everyone had a win. I know it’s complicated, but I suppose it gets down to the people. If you’re doing it for the right reasons, then it all, it all works out on the day.”
Jeff Browne in the Herald Sun on April 13 put his own view as to how he believes he can perform a feat of non-conflict that leaves many lawyers in Melbourne at the very least bemused at sharing such two high profile clients whose business interests would appear to cross over from time to time.
“I understand conflict of interest very well. I advise people on it. I know the rules myself. And no one applies the rule more strictly than I do,.” Browne told the paper. Additionally he also observed that in relation to his role with the AFL: “I’ve never tipped off anyone about anything to do with the AFL in my life. If I’m engaged by them, as I am, I advise them, that would be my sole responsibility to them and I would not compromise that.”
Clearly Browne does not accept that retaining the AFL, as a long-term major client should really preclude him from also accepting other clients such as Eddie who deals with the AFL on commercial matters. Yet isn’t that the very nub of his potential conflict?
How could a lawyer representing the AFL as its chief legal adviser, also concurrently represent a client who headed up an entity prepared to sue the AFL (Collingwood), and who via McGuire’s club and personal Internet interests was also at an earlier time in dispute with the AFL? The same Internet interests (Sportsview) which were firstly in competition with the official AFL web site, and then later were subject to further legal disputes and negotiation with the AFL and its pending Internet partner Telstra?
Don’t such disputes variously cut across either or both Eddie’s personal and club business affairs, and often in commercial conflict with the AFL? Can something be more black and white?
WHEN IS A FOOTY SHOW APOLOGY AN APOLOGY?
Last Thursday week (April 11th) Sam Newman broke an insider AFL political story on the “Footy Show” to the general surprise of all. Sam is not a noted newshound.
But he was claiming it as an exclusive even if the tip came via his mate Gerard Healy. He informed us he had the inside dope on AFL Investigations Officer Rick Lewis who was going to get the sack the following day or so it seemed.
As it turned out Lewis was stood down from his duties for two weeks the next day after the AFL had launched an own investigation into why the AFL tribunal had despite TV footage to the contrary, not been able to find enough evidence to satisfy it to rub out West Coast Eagles Phil Matera for striking (ironically) Collingwood’s Tarkyn Lockyer. It was Lewis’ job to provide certain evidence to the tribunal originally which was considered lacking. It just strikes Crikey as ironic that in the week when Four Corners should cast its gaze over Eddie sharing lawyer Jeff Browne with the AFL, when it came to a typical Footy Show style AFL inside story, Newman was the messenger that week not McGuire. Then to top that off, the story was inaccurate to the point of clearly needing an apology or clarification last Thursday. Go figure?
One thing you can be certain of is that usually when Eddie breaks a story it is rarely far from the truth which is a tribute not doubt to the both quality and range of his sources, so it was most unusual to see Sam come a cropper with his scoop.
In fact Crikey remembers only too well how prescient Eddie was in both breaking news and predicting the swings and roundabouts of the whole North Melbourne-Fitzroy-Brisbane merger saga. It could be argued McGuire’s sources helped play no small part in that attempted North-Lions merger failing, which very much suited the AFL. Thus were the hapless Lions steered into the welcoming arms of Brisbane, the AFL’s preferred “takeover”, which benefited the AFL’s northern strategy to bolster Brisbane.
My how the worm has now turned regarding Brisbane’s continuing AFL helping hand, because who is leading the charge against the Lions and AFL, and even threatening going to court if the AFL tries to implement a special zonal draft concession to both Brisbane and Sydney at the 2002 national draft?
As for Newman’s unfamiliar foray into the news business he will be more inclined to pass next time he’s offered a choice AFL morsel. Given his emphatic sacking story obviously must have been a cause of some distress to the “suspended” Lewis, there was bound to be some residual fall out for Newman and the Footy Show.
Sure enough two Thursday nights ago Newman delivered what could loosely be termed an apology to the “suspended” Lewis. Ordinarily you can be fairly certain a legal correction is being made at the insistence of the aggrieved party. But such was the levity with which it was treated by Newman in explaining he got it wrong the previous week, he was not only telling viewers what a great bloke Rick Lewis was, he also lead the audience in giving Lewis three cheers. Cleary this was the Footy Show’s own unique version of “we were wrong”.
Sam’s stumble only reinforces out view about the quality of Eddie’s sources so naturally if any Crikey readers think they have some insight into this phenomenon, we’re all ears!
IS EDDIE INC UNIQUE IN WORLD SPORT?
It is salutary to think that without exception none of Crikey’s panel of international sporting experts can provide any other example of a major media organisation around the world that would accommodate Eddie’s conflicts of interests with such apparent indifference.
While we’re not exactly sure Channel 9 is doing handstands at having their leading Melbourne TV personality heading up a club that most of their Victorian viewers at least love to hate, to Eddie’s total credit, his popularity with the public as can only be measured by the ratings for his shows, proves he’s probably the network’s biggest personality and the new Ray Martin. So whatever his perceived conflicts and baggage as regards his viewing public, there is no perceptible backlash yet. In fact it’s hard to see the Footy Show losing its vast appeal before Sam can no longer bother to turn up. As a double TV act McGuire-Newman is the best in town since Kennedy-Newton. Credit where credit is due.
Eddie’s great talent and ability to turn on the charm factor, be nice to kids, love his footy, help charity and many deserving causes including rival clubs like the Western Bulldogs survive, try and make an Australian a millionaire once in every blue moon, is not the McGuire we have under the Crikey microscope. It is the numerous fingers he’s either had or continues to have in multiple AFL business pies from Internet to footy tipping, being a highly pro-active and very political Collingwood president, and last but by no means least, chief anchor of the major AFL TV network, not to mention Triple M caller and Herald Sun columnist.
So Crikey naturally asks how can one man spread himself across so much media, be involved in numerous AFL type business while receiving legal advice from the AFL’s own retained legal adviser, and profess not to be in the conflict business. Does it reassure Tim Lane to think that this would not happen in American major team sport in a million years? Did you happen to notice just how quickly Michael Jordan announced he had relinquished his minor share holding in the Washington Wizards once he confirmed he was coming out of retirement to play for the team in which he held a stake? Why? Well he didn’t need a team of lawyers let alone the NBA’s own lawyer to point out that his on-court fortunes totally impacted on the off-court fortunes (share value) of the Washington franchise.
Merely by playing, good, bad or indifferently, he was able to directly influence the value of the team such was his impact. Nobody doubts the moment he retires he will have the option of immediately reacquiring his interest in the team and who knows at what concession, but like Caesars wife, he has been seen to do the right thing and is consequently untarnished by even the remotest accusation of any business conflict.
As the Lane conundrum has shown, Eddie doesn’t see a conflict between his role as an AFL club president and any or all his media and business interests. He will assure you until he’s black (if not white) in the face that it’s honestly not a problem. Honestly, how could you doubt him?