The Footy Power 50
The most powerful man in footy .... Andrew Demetriou. Photo: Pat Scala
Power is an undeniably ephemeral and fleeting beast, as difficult to define as "prior opportunity" and as hard to hold on to as Cyril Rioli. Yet if there is one thing revealed by The Footy Power 50 - our ranked list of the most influential men and women in football from both on and off the field - it is that power is at least easy to locate. In the world of Australian rules football, influence has an address: 140 Harbour Esplanade, Docklands, otherwise known as AFL House.
More than ever before, football is "a run game". Year after year, the league executive and the AFL Commission expand the head office purview, concentrating and consolidating authority over everything from amateur leagues to Auskick - centralising the decision-makers as they do so. Of the 50 slots on our list of movers and shakers, only three are occupied by players, and six by coaches. Eleven are senior club officials, while a whopping 18 report to AFL HQ.
So. How did we come up with these numbers?
First, The Melbourne Magazine consulted with football experts from both clubland and inside The Age to develop an initial list of more than 100 potential nominees. In some instances, we grouped people together as a single nominee (usually because they represented a similar kind of influence or the same set of interests). A trio of official AFL doctors was ranked as a single nominee, for example, as was a pair of television network powerbrokers. Most of the nominees, however, were individuals.
When the shortlist was gathered and assembled, we gave it to a panel of 12 football experts from The Age. Each expert was then asked to assign a score between zero and 20 to represent the power of each nominee (with 20 representing absolute power and zero, unsurprisingly, meaning no power at all). To come up with that figure, we asked them to think about the different ways in which power is wielded by the nominees:
• Do people value their opinion and care what they have to say?
• Do they have the ability to change the way the game is played on the field?
• Do they affect the way footy is consumed and enjoyed by the public?
• Do they contribute to scrutiny of the game by pursuing issues and agendas?
• Do they have day-to-day influence over operational decisions in the industry?
These questions were only a guide, however. Ultimately, our experts were instructed to supply ratings that reflected who they considered to be the most powerful figures in football. The ratings were then added up, with the final totals resulting in the ranked list printed overleaf. Also note that the Footy Power 50 is by no means the consensus opinion of a panel working together. They did not meet to thrash out the issues or debate the relative merits of every nominee - the list is the calculated, cumulative result of an individual and confidential voting process. In several cases, as a result, our experts apportioned scores quite differently. Also note that the process allowed them no opportunity to argue the case for one nominee over another.
It will come as no shock that competition boss Andrew Demetriou is perched on top, but there are surprises to accompany such anti-climaxes. It might interest you that Swans champion Adam Goodes (ranked 10) is the most powerful player. And that Essendon's senior coach, James Hird (38), is outranked by his assistant, Mark Thompson (36). Or that Gary Ablett jnr doesn't make the list at all.
You might learn a few new names, too. Ever heard of Christopher Lynch (9), David Matthews (14) or Ken Wood (19)? These are the people, according to our methodology, who control the game as much as - actually, more than - Kevin Bartlett (28), Mick Malthouse (30) or Stephen Kernahan (35). The list upholds the view that power represents more than the mere authority to dispense orders; it also indicates the willingness to give them. That power serves the desire for tradition as much as the drive toward change. That it is possessed by both athletic ball carriers and corporate ball breakers.
The exercise itself reveals that power in footy - as in life - is a melange of rank, influence, connections, profile and gravitas. Like the turning point in a tight one, it is not easily marked or measured, but you know it when you see it.
The power panel
To develop the list, we consulted football experts from The Age sports department - a group of 12 senior writers, columnists and editors: Caroline Wilson, Greg Baum, Martin Flanagan, Jon Pierik, Sam Lane, Peter Hanlon, Jake Niall, Martin Blake, Emma Quayle, Michael Gleeson, Rohan Connolly and Alex Lavelle.
1 - Andrew Demetriou
Chief executive officer, AFL
As a moustachioed and olive-skinned footballer of the 1980s, Andrew Demetriou was known to his North Melbourne and Hawthorn teammates variously as “Kapil”, “Gomez” and “The Sheik”. One wonders whether his VFL-era contemporaries would dare address the AFL chief thusly today. His very position as CEO of the league grants him obvious power, but his ranking as our number one is as much a reflection of his comfort wielding the sceptre as wearing the crown. Demetriou, 51, is the game’s top dog, a shrewd negotiator and aggressive expansionist, and also probably the first AFL executive to pursue real reform in the areas of social responsibility, drug use, and women in football. Renowned as a bold and hands-on leader who uses policy to drive the game in different directions, his path to the top began with a post-playing career as managing director of the Ruthinium Group, a manufacturer of acrylic teeth. In 1998, he returned to footy, becoming CEO of the AFL Players’ Association, and then general manager of football operations for the AFL in 2000. He ascended to the CEO’s throne in 2003 and since then has negotiated two massive broadcasting rights agreements with the stated aim of ensuring the stability (and profitability) of the 18-team competition. The upshot of his reign is that the game has never been financially stronger, its profile never higher, its integrity never more fiercely protected. It’s little surprise The Power Index website placed this “AFL Czar” as the single most powerful person in Australian sport, above even the Federal Minister for Sport.
2 - Mike Fitzpatrick
Chairman, AFL Commission
Only one expert rated somebody as more powerful than Demetriou — and they went for Fitzpatrick. Chairman of both the AFL Commission and the Hall of Fame, this 1975 Rhodes scholar has impeccable footy credentials (twice a Blues premiership captain) and commercial credentials to match. A vice-president of the AFL Players’ Association (AFLPA) in the ’80s, Fitzpatrick, 59, joined the commission in 2003 and has since become a “forceful presence” with a deep interest in the way the game is played.
3 - Gillon McLachlan
Chief operating officer, AFL
McLachlan (older brother of AFL Game Day host Hamish McLachlan) is the clear 2IC in the league executive. When he became chief operating officer in 2008, the former strategic planner was given the job of executing the AFL’s ambitious 18-team expansion plan. The 38-year-old now controls the draw — deciding where every team plays — and is overseeing a huge injection of resources into AFL Media (which recently brought AFL Films in-house and took back control of the AFL Record).
4 - Eddie McGuire
President, Collingwood Football Club
There is a certain power to permanence. McGuire, as our most ubiquitous football and media figure, is almost part of the landscape. His doorstop quotes don’t just become headlines — they often become the front page. Made president of the Magpies in 1998, he has since led Australia’s biggest sporting brand back from AFL basket case to league superpower. There are few people in the country who the 47-year-old can’t reach. Where exactly does his power lie? Like Eddie himself, everywhere.
5 - Adrian Anderson
General manager, football operations, AFL
Anderson, 40, has been the league’s football operations GM since 2004, when the AFL rejected more than 200 applicants for the open position (and calls to appoint someone from clubland), instead approaching the sports and media lawyer (who met Demetriou through prior work with the AFLPA). The public point man for footy’s every controversy, he had a big hand in the new Tribunal and Match Review Panel system. He’s also on the Laws of the Game committee, governing rule changes.
6 - Brian Cook
Chief executive officer, Geelong Football Club
Often seconded to AFL sub-committees and working groups for his commercial expertise, Cook, 56, made his mark first as CEO of West Coast (1990 to 1999) and is now with Geelong (1999 onwards). Both clubs were travelling poorly when he arrived and both are now powerhouses - due, in part, to his shrewd dealings to maximise stadium returns. Before Demetriou became league CEO in 2003, Frank Costa suggested Cook for the job, saying, "If the AFL doesn't have a look at him, they're crazy."
7 - Bill Kelty
AFL Commission member
If you were embroiled in a protracted, public battle with a union over a new collective bargaining agreement, wouldn't you be happy to have Kelty, 64, on your side? The AFL certainly was last year when the players demanded a bigger slice of the TV rights pie. Kelty, once of the Federated Storeman and Packers Union and the ACTU, joined the AFL Commission in 1998, which also makes the well-connected political figure the longest-serving member of that exclusive power structure.
8 - Kim Williams & Rod Law
Chief executive officer, News Limited and general manager, Fox Sports Melbourne
Williams, 59 and News Limited CEO, was the deal-maker who won Foxtel their massive live games quota last year, while Law, 38 and the head of Fox Sports Melbourne and director of their AFL coverage, is the man tasked with turning those rights into a pot of gold through their new AFL-only channel. Late last year, the pair kicked an early goal, landing Eddie McGuire as the face of Fox Footy in a rare talent-sharing arrangement with Channel Nine.
9 - Christopher Lynch
AFL Commission member
He just stepped down as CEO of Transurban, was CFO of BHP Billiton before that, and is currently on the Rio Tinto board. A corporate heavyweight, Lynch has a footy background, too, playing for North Broken Hill, Geelong (five games), Werribee, and others. Although largely unknown to the public, the highly rated 58-year-old AFL commissioner speaks well to power and is said to have brought a new level of financial expertise to the commission since his 2008 appointment.
10 - Adam Goodes
Co-captain, Sydney Swans Football Club
This dual Brownlow medallist and Indigenous Team of the Century member is the most powerful player in the game, according to our poll. It's easy to see why. Goodes is the current games record holder at the Swans with more than 300 and counting (including the 2005 premiership). The indefatigable 32-year-old star is an icon player in a still-developing and extremely important market. He also works with former teammate Michael O'Loughlin on a variety of indigenous youth programs.
11 - Chris Judd
Captain, Carlton Football Club
Judd, like Goodes, is a universally respected dual Brownlow medallist and premiership player. For the past few years, the Carlton captain has almost single-handedly dragged the Blues up the ladder while incubating a young midfield. Grown men used to leave work early to see him play as a teenager for Caulfield Grammar, but last year we took note when the 28-year-old asked pointed questions of Demetriou over collective bargaining. Judd doesn't say a hell of a lot, but his words count.
12 - Alastair Clarkson
Senior coach, Hawthorn Football Club
Of the current day coaches, Clarkson is the standout as an innovator - known in particular for his creation of the rolling zone tactic that came to be known as "Clarkson's Cluster". Others mimicked the idea but, importantly, Clarkson, 44, used it to win a premiership in 2008. Not one to stagnate, the former Melbourne and North Melbourne player has reinvented the Hawks game plan since then, and although the Hawks stumbled early in 2012, they remain a premiership threat. His tenure will spawn senior coaches - Richmond's Damien Hardwick is already a protege, and others are sure to emerge. (Also a member of the AFL Coaches Association advisory group.)
13 - Tim Worner & Lewis Martin & Bruce McWilliam
Channel Seven executives
Martin (pictured at right), is managing director of Channel Seven Melbourne, has the AFL's ear, and personally signed their new commentators for 2012, including Mick Malthouse. McWilliam, a former Packer lawyer, is now commercial director of the Seven Network and worked closely with Martin and Tim Worner, Seven's CEO, to draft and negotiate Seven's share of the new broadcasting rights agreement (including the controversial concession to exclusively reveal teams during its Thursday night news).
14 - David Matthews
Chief executive officer, Greater Western Sydney
This long-time high-level AFL administrator (previously the league's national and international development manager) was seconded in late 2011 to Rooty Hill in New South Wales, briefed with fixing problems at the fledging start-up club Greater Western Sydney (GWS). Matthews, 41, took over in an interim role but already the Giants board is hoping to retain him long-term. Should GWS succeed, his steadying influence will be crucial. (He is also said to have been the man behind the Hunt/Folau signings.)
15 - Andrew Dillon
General manager, national and international development, and general counsel, AFL
Dillon, 41, is the go-to guy finalising free agency rules - a crucial shift in the game looming this year - but has also taken over from Matthews (above) as game development boss. That means the mild-mannered lawyer is responsible for two very big, very busy portfolios - akin in politics to being Attorney-General and Minister for Education. He is also examining public exposure to live betting odds, and reviewed the priority-pick system.
16 - Kevin Sheedy
Senior coach, Greater Western Sydney FC
The coach of GWS and the face of the AFL's move into its toughest frontier yet, "Sheeds", 64, recently pointed out that when he arrived at the Giants two years ago, the club had no president, no chief executive and no team. From that moment on, he was ambassador for the brand and mentor for the players. Time will tell if this enemy territory incursion will be a success but, for the moment, the AFL's biggest spruiker up north is a back‑pocket plumber with a big megaphone.
17 - Ross Lyon
Senior coach, Fremantle Football Club
When Lyon, 45, switched from St Kilda to Fremantle late last year, one pundit called his actions "deceitful, duplicitous and distasteful". Others said it was the most decisive play in Docker history. Whichever way you saw his move out west (at Mark Harvey's expense), his skills as a coach (including introducing the forward press) are beyond doubt. One expert said St Kilda's strangulation of the opposition in 2009/2010 "could be the best coaching performance of the last 30 years".
18 - Matthew Finnis
CEO, AFL Players' Association
The players' union boss has been described as "militant", but this softly-spoken commercial lawyer is also chairman of Ladder (a youth homelessness initiative), a director of Surfing Australia and Surf Life Saving Victoria, and founding director of HeartKids Australia (supporting children born with congenital heart disease). Only 37, Finnis is best known now for his deft (and defiant) handling of the collective bargaining deal negotiations with the AFL last year.
19 - Ken Wood
Manager, TPP assurance and advice, AFL
The epitome of power without glory, Wood is the AFL's invisible man. Otherwise known as the league's "investigations manager", he is really their total player payments police, deciding which third-party deals - Chris Judd's "environmental ambassador" gig with Visy, for example - get cleared, and whether club investments are kosher or rorts. He's also on the AFLPA's agent accreditation board. Wood almost never talks to the media, but constantly talks to clubs. They take him very, very seriously.
20 - Trevor Nisbett
Chief executive officer, West Coast Eagles FC
Nisbett has been with West Coast since 1989, where he was football manager for 10 years. Taking over as CEO when Brian Cook and Mick Malthouse left in 1999, he has since seen even more premierships and Brownlow medals come the club's way. The Magpies may be the most powerful club in footy and the biggest show in town locally, yet West Coast are perhaps the richest AFL outfit in Australia. Nisbett, 54, is close to Demetriou but, in one sense, he has clout because the Eagles do.
21 - Stephen Gough & Ian Collins
CEO, Melbourne Cricket Club and CEO, Etihad
Those who operate stadia have significant standing and that makes Gough, 59, and Collins, 69, crucial. Both are former Carlton men (Gough a CEO, Collins a president) but their power now lies in controlling Melbourne's two footy grounds. Gate receipts remain a huge source of club income and friction. (Melbourne, notably, relies heavily on its MCC deal; St Kilda rues its financial return from Etihad.)
22 - Craig Kelly & Dan Richardson
Chief executive officer and manager of talent representation, Elite Sports Properties
Collingwood hard man Craig Kelly, 45, has been at the coalface of player management since the 1990s and has influence well beyond player contracts (helping engineer Collingwood's succession plan, for instance). Kelly himself is no longer accredited, so his lead agent, Richardson (son of Barry Richardson), 41, is the details man, and also sits on the agent accreditation board.
23 - David Smorgon
President, Western Bulldogs Football Club
President of the Bulldogs since 1996, Smorgon suggested to The Age last year that he was working on a succession plan for his presidency, which could lead to the AFL's first woman president. Right now, though, the 65-year-old is the main club figurehead speaking up for the small AFL teams. Not everyone gets a Christmas card from Prime Minister (and Dogs fan) Julia Gillard, but Smorgon does.
24 - Gerard Healy
Host and commentator, Fox Footy and 3AW
Healy's reach begins as a cross-platform media presence, most notably as host of the well-regarded Fox Footy TV show On the Couch. An AFL Hall of Famer, he is often sounded out for league committees and is connected at club level, too. Influential behind the scenes, Healy, 51, was a major player in getting Ben Cousins to Richmond.
25 - Colin Carter
President, Geelong Football Club
The Perth-born Carter, 68, first joined the Cats board in 1988 but left in 1993 to become a member of the AFL Commission. An expert in sporting governance, he returned to the Cattery in 2008, and was made president last year. An impressive replacement for Frank Costa, Carter's stated aim for the Cats is to avoid bottoming out - a difficult task with a draft and salary cap in place.
26 - Leigh Matthews
Commentator, Channel Seven and 3AW
When "Lethal" speaks, people listen. And why wouldn't they? He won four premierships as a player and another four as coach. He was an inaugural "Legend" in the AFL Hall of Fame, "Player of the Century", and a member of the Laws of the Game committee. Dermott Brereton perhaps summed him up best in saying the game is a jungle, and Leigh Matthews has "no natural predator".
27 - Sam Mostyn
AFL Commission member
Once an adviser to Paul Keating, Mostyn, 46, was the first woman appointed to the AFL Commission when she joined in 2005. Also a member of the Australian Government Independent Sport Panel, in her seven years with the commission the former management consultant has been a fierce advocate for the league's Respect and Responsibility program and a force in the push for GWS.
28 - Kevin Bartlett
SEN pundit, rules committee member, AFL
During 403 games for Richmond, Bartlett won five premierships and kicked 778 goals, and has parlayed that exceptional career into a new life on radio SEN, where his ability to mobilise opinion is strong. "KB", 65, is a selector for the All Australian team and the AFL Hall of Fame, but his most powerful role is as the long-standing public face of the AFL's Laws of the Game committee.
29 - Gary Pert
Chief executive officer, Collingwood FC
A champion full-back with Fitzroy and then the Magpies, Pert, 47, is currently CEO of Collingwood and generally the voice of considered reason emanating from the Westpac Centre. The AFL needs big clubs on its side to make certain decisions fly, so why is Pert down at 29? Because of the one Magpie above him. After all, how much power can you have with Eddie McGuire in frame?
30 - Mick Malthouse
Commentator, Channel Seven and 3AW
Malthouse, 60, is sure to be one of the figures of the year in 2012. The media hangs on the retired coach's every word, particularly when those words put him at odds with Collingwood (as they did earlier this season). When your opinion causes a club to go into crisis management mode, you know you have power. (He's also an important mentor to coaches Mark Neeld and Guy McKenna.)
31 - Paul Connors
Founder, Connors Sports Management
A savvy player agent and headache for club list managers, Connors has been in the game a while. In the 2001 "super draft", he represented key trio Luke Hodge (pick 1), Luke Ball (pick 2) and Chris Judd (pick 3). He still has them, too. Remember 2007 - Judd shopping for a club in Victoria? One paper said Connors, now 42, held "the whole world in his hands". (He also represents Adam Goodes, ranked 10.)
32 - Ian Anderson
Chief financial officer, AFL
After an early career in roles with Arthur Andersen and Smorgon Consolidated Industries (among others), Anderson, 50, joined the AFL in 2000. Central to league strategic financial planning (and all major contracts), he is by no means a meek number-cruncher. He was reported to have clashed with former GWS executive Dale Holmes last year before Holmes's removal from the job.
33 - Andrew Catterall
General manager, strategy and marketing, AFL
As well as being the AFL's general manager of strategy and marketing, Catterall, 38, plays a large role in club support, which has meant a lot of time spent with Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney, among others. He is also the man promoting new incentives for fans including free blankets to seniors, playgrounds, prayer rooms and coffee stations; and is backing the recent push to buy the .afl domain.
34 - Liam Pickering
Former player agent, commentator, Fox Footy
The former Geelong midfielder and player agent quit sports management giant IMG last year, but has not yet declared his intentions (and is bound by a 12-month no-compete clause). Why is that important? Because the stable the 43-year-old managed last year included one or two pretty handy players, "Buddy" Franklin, Gary Ablett jnr and Scott Pendlebury among them.
35 - Stephen Kernahan
President, Carlton Football Club
Kernahan became Carlton's club president reluctantly, as interim leader in 2007 then permanently in 2008, while the late Richard Pratt fought cancer. Now he heads a group of former Carlton teammates including Brett Ratten (coach) and Andrew McKay (head of the football department), who won the 1995 premiership. The Blues are united, and "Sticks", 48, is the glue.
36 - Mark Thompson
Senior assistant coach, Essendon FC
As the architect of Geelong's golden age, Thompson's impact on footy is still being felt. Lieutenants Brendan McCartney and Brenton Sanderson are now senior coaches. Ken Hinkley may yet be one. And "Bomber", just 48 years old, is back at Essendon as "power assistant" and mentor to James Hird.
37 - Nathan Buckley
Senior coach, Collingwood Football Club
In a tough initiation to coaching - injuries, form and a war of words between predecessor (Malthouse) and president (McGuire) - Buckley remained unflappable. Greg Baum wrote: "... alone of the signatories to the pact that propelled him into the job, his dignity was intact."
38 - James Hird
Senior coach, Essendon Football Club
Although Essendon hasn't looked like winning that elusive 17th flag for a while, Hird, 39, brings hope. When Matthew Knights was sacked in 2010, the Dons' favourite son was greeted like a saviour, walking into the senior coaching job with no apprenticeship served. That's power.
39 - Garry Lyon & James Brayshaw
Co-hosts, The Footy Show
Both Lyon, 44, and Brayshaw, 45, have extensive media roles outside of The Footy Show, and they also hold sway at two proud but struggling Melbourne clubs. Lyon, a Demons powerbroker, stepped in last year to steady the ship for the red and the blue, while Kangaroos president Brayshaw fights doggedly to keep an improving North Melbourne relevant (and solvent).
40 - Linda Dessau
AFL Commission member
A Justice of the Family Court of Australia, Dessau joined the AFL Commission in 2008. This year she noted: "We have 100,000 women playing and officiating the game of football ... it makes no sense to ignore women in making any decisions about the game."
41 - Chris Langford
AFL Commission member
Langford, the second-longest-serving member of the AFL Commission, was appointed in 1999 and is based in Sydney, providing valuable input on New South Wales issues. As the most contemporary retired player on the commission, he also has a strong say in football issues.
42 - Richard Goyder
AFL Commission member
MD of corporate behemoth Wesfarmers, Goyder, 52, joined the commission last year. The first Sandgroper on the board since 2000, he is already giving WA footy a voice, lobbying for fairer fixturing for West Coast and Fremantle (given their onerous travel obligations).
43 - Greg Swann
Chief executive officer, Carlton Football Club
At the start of this year, Brett Ratten said he expected the Blues to make the top four. Last month it was the CEO's turn for great expectations. Swann (who was also the Magpies' CEO during their resurgence) said he expects Carlton to post a $2-million profit in 2012.
44 - Steven Trigg
Chief executive officer, Adelaide FC
A former SANFL coach and Adelaide media boss, Trigg was made Crows' CEO in 2001. The past year was hard but the 49-year-old was measured, which reflects the club: even when the football public in South Australia tend towards the hysterical, the Crows never do.
45 - David Evans
Chairman, Essendon Football Club
Since he became Essendon chairman in 2009, Evans, 48, has made a series of bold moves to end stagnation at Windy Hill. Knights was fired, Hird hired. Thompson was recruited, plus fitness guru Dean Robinson. He has also raised $18.5 million for a new $25-million facility.
46 - Dr Harry Unglick & Dr Peter Harcourt & Dr Hugh Seward
Executive, AFL Medical Officers Association and AFL medical commissioners
When the AFL is worried about caffeine pills, concussions and soft tissue injuries, who advises them? Seward is the AFL's chief medico. Unglick and Harcourt are the only men privy to which players get multiple positive drug strikes. The doctors are in.
47 - Paul Bassat
AFL Commission member
The other new commissioner appointed last year (along with Goyder), Bassat, 43, co-founded the world's biggest job search website, Seek. He stepped down as joint-CEO last June with a reported $120 million, and brings obvious digital media expertise to the AFL.
48 - Buddy Franklin
Coleman medallist, Hawthorn Football Club
A tall who plays small, the unorthodox superstar Lance "Buddy" Franklin, 25, has the power to show that the game still thrills. Arguably football's most exciting player - an audacious tower of strength, skill and swagger - he is the man on every AFL billboard.
49 - Paul Roos
Commentator, Fox Footy
Sydney is never an easy opponent, due in large part to the "Bloods" culture bequeathed by Roos, 48. At times an outspoken critic of the AFL, he recreated the Swans as an independent club - no longer league lovechild. He's also involved in the Swans' AFL Academy.
50 - Sue Clark
Cultural strategy and education manager, AFL
"The woman with footy's hardest job." That was the headline used to describe what Clark, 45, faces trying to create attitudinal and cultural change in the AFL. Among other jobs, the ex-cop investigated the St Kilda schoolgirl and Fevola-Bingle controversies.