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National Press Club push on international vision

  • Wednesday, August 19 2015 @ 11:00 pm ACST
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General News

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan spoke for around 30 mins today at Australia's National Press Club in Canberra, the nation's capital.  His focus was on the AFL's signing of an historic $2.508 billion 6 year media rights deal, and the four key beneficiaries to be fans, grass roots community football in Australia, the AFL clubs and (perhaps not by chance) lastly the players - which is not to say they will be anything but richly rewarded, but the AFL knows the AFL Players Association will be coming at them hard over the next 12 months.

But at the conclusion of Gillon's speech a remarkable thing happened.  To be honest, as Chief Editor of worldfootynews.com and knowing how difficult it has been to obtain statements of vision for international football from the highest ranks of the AFL over the past decade, it was like we had plants in the audience - to my knowledge we did not!

Areas touched on included the International Cup and expansion into China, India and New Zealand.  In all, not much detail, but in some ways exciting signs of possible commitment at the highest levels.

The international related quotes are below but at time of writing, in Australia at least, the video of the full speech and questions can be viewed here on ABC iView.  In particular jump to 51:40 and watch right through to the final question.

Mischa Schubert (National Press Club), "You spoke a little about this being the Australian game but in a globalised world in which lot's of other sports are also competing for people's attention, I'm just wondering if you can outline your vision for what kind of global ambitions you might have to expand the game into international markets and whether that's sort of thinking around major drawcard marquee games in key iconic stadiums around the world and showcasing some of our game as Australians to the world or whether also there's any realistic thinking being done around global expansion in a competition sense as well?"

Gillon McLachlan, "Our international strategy has... I think been confused and we haven't been able to land as clearly on that as we'd like.  We have investment internationally for various reasons.  For talent reasons, for expatriate reasons, for commercial reasons, so there's different reasons we have an international presence and invest internationally.  I think they've confused the conversation... we need to keep investing across all those different areas but the specific point about... ok... what international market is the market for us if we are going to expand internationally?  Our view now clearly is that's New Zealand.  It's obvious geographic and timezone proximity, the fact that they have ovals, the fact that they have a sporting minded culture, the fact that they have one dominant code in Rugby Union but an opportunity... there's no clear second spot... and so we think there's a huge opporunity there.  The challenge for us right now, and St Kilda are making big in roads there, that there isn't an oval that we can get our hands on that is suitable in Auckland.  Auckland's where we think we need to be, we've been playing out of Wellington.  There will be we think in 2018 an oval coming online.  It might surprise you, there are 30,000 people playing Australian Rules football in and around Auckland, which I mean I think that's a stat that people will be surprised at but we're making small inroads, there's a president of AFL New Zealand, we have I think two people working full time over there and our view is if you were to prioritise a market, if you were to have a 15-20... a generational view it's New Zealand".

Steve Lewis (Director, National Press Club), "Is there, and looking ahead to the Rugby World Cup, would you see something down the track, maybe in a decade, a decade and a half, where there was something that resembled some sort of international competition involving Australia, New Zealand, PNG and perhaps other countries, I mean is there scope for instance to expand into places like America and Asia?".

Gillon McLachlan, ""It's a great question, we actually do have now an International Cup, it's played every 3 years.  It was last played last year, so we had teams from Canada, Ireland, Japan, from all over the globe, Australian Rules is being played everywhere.  And they were all locals, they weren't expatriate Australians playing in those teams.  The standard in the final which was between Papua New Guinea and New Zealand (editor: actually it was Ireland, ironically Gillon was actually there and presented the trophy) was extraordinary and I'm not quite sure how some of those Papua New Guinea guys haven't appeared on AFL lists, because it's incredible the speed and athleticism. 

"So there is communities out there that are playing, we have a World Cup (sic), the energy and the vibe around that few weeks was unbelievable and brutal, there was about 3 ACL injuries and 5 broken legs.  So part of our international strategy is to make sure we keep pouring the fuel on and nuturing that and getting the organic growth that's happening in all of those markets and make sure we get faster growth".

Peter Philips (Director, National Press Club), "On the question of international expansion by AFL, you'll recall that in 2010 as part of the World Expo celebrations in Shanghai in China that Melbourne Demons, Brisbane Lions played an exhibition game of AFL there, at the time there was enormous momentum established for the projection of AFL into China.  Has that just stopped, is it off the list entirely or is there in the planning in the thinking of the AFL still a possible move into a possibly closer engagement with China in relation to AFL.

Gillon McLachlan, "Yeah it's a good question.  Two things I'd say to that. The first one is as I said to Mischa, I think our international strategy has been disjointed and I don't think we've had a clear... there's been piecemeal approach to different markets, so I think it's been disjointed at the AFL and we haven't been coordinated like we need to be with the clubs.  The second part I think talks to China specifically.  Now I've talked today about where our future is, with essentialy the new Australia.  The challenge is that migration is so diverse, and there's lots of slivers from lots of different communities and countries.  But there's two clear outliers to that.  There's India and there's China.  So in all of that story we need to prioritise India and we need to prioritise China as the keys to our future and that means we have to have obviously a discussion with the Chinese migrants but also look back up into China and also with India".