The current round of re-negotiations of radio rights has resulted in an unusual lack of unity among football's elite, with AFL officials calling names of those who call the games. Politics may make for strange bedfellows, but big business sees you kicked out of bed for farting - even when you both just chowed down on the same enormous and dangerously-spicy vindaloo.
As usual, The Age led with notification of the outbreak of hostilities:
AFL clubs unhappy with the standard of football commentary have complained to the competition's governing body about negative, self-indulgent and poorly prepared commentators.
They believe the culprits are trashing the AFL brand, and its chief executive, Andrew Demetriou, said last night he had taken the clubs' concerns on board.
He told The Age he would be raising it with the game's broadcasters, all entering new agreements with the AFL from 2007. (The Age, 11/8/2006)
The clubs beating up the commentators? You could imagine the bind this puts poor old Eddie McGuire in. On the one hand, he's a club president and has to present a unified front to the AFL. On the other hand, he's paid to make money for shareholders in commercial media - plus they're all his mates and he wants them to like him and keep inviting him to their boozers. What to do, hey Eddie? The answer: keep uncharacteristically quiet. Let's all hope he approaches his other conflicts of interest (and crises of conscience) with similar aplomb.
Anyway, it's great to see that the AFL has recognised it's brand is in jeopardy. You know, with all the court cases, drunken attacks, driving offences, drug abuse and what not. What's worrying - profoundly disconcerting, really - is that they reckon the source is the poor quality of game commentary on commercial radio. Right. Is this deflection? A chance to screw the broadcasters for a better price? Or is it an effort to signal that they will accept lower prices from licencees in return for "proper" (ie more favourable) comment? Disturbing, no?
But let's look a little more closely at the specific allegations made against the current crop of callers:
[Malcolm] Blight was one commentator singled out for not always having done his pre-game homework.
However, it was a discussion about Rex Hunt and how his personal problems had hijacked 3AW's coverage of round-eight matches.
This prompted what became, according to Mr Demetriou, a "passionate discussion".
Several clubs also pointed to some hypocrisy among commentators when discussing the personal lives of footballers.
"It began with Rex Hunt, but it became a pretty general and passionate discussion, with quite a few clubs worried that commentators from time to time trashed the brand," said Mr Demetriou, who himself last season upset the Sydney Swans by criticising their style of play.
"That was the general consensus. Seven or eight clubs raised concerns.
"They felt that commentators too often talked about themselves and not about the game. Clubs felt they were being bagged unfairly, and that the umpires were too often castigated. Just when we're taking one step forward, then it's two steps backward.
Fremantle chief executive Cameron Schwab confirmed that his club had led the charge on raising concerns with the AFL commentary.
"How the game is presented has a huge bearing on how people perceive the game," said Mr Schwab.
"We don't want to sanitise football commentary, but too often it's self-indulgent, matey, and displays a lack of homework.(The Age, 11/8/2006)
Naturally, a bunch of opinionated, overpaid, over-inflated, middle-aged men weren't about to take this lying down. No siree, they were in the papers the very next day. Channel Nine's Gary Lyon led the charge:
... Lyon said a deterioration in the standard of the game had forced commentators to be more creative with their callings.
"We get a lot of people that say they love the fact that we can have a laugh and joke," he said.
"Maybe one or twice we might have stepped over the line, but I reckon on 95 per cent of occasions we respect the game, which is the most important thing."
Lyon said clubs needed to take responsibility for improving the quality of football.
"If the game was great, there wouldn't be an issue, you'd just call it and be entertained, but the unfortunately, the game in a lot of instances is crap. It's not much fun to call." (The Age, 12/8/2006)
Ah, so it's the game's fault that they have to resort to such shenanigans in order to make the whole thing bearable.
So, to recap, the AFL and the clubs are upset that AFL commentators:
- Don't do their homework. (Ie are ignorant, lazy and misinformed.)
- Are hypocritical.(Ie condemn bad behaviour while doing it themselves.)
- Trash the AFL brand. (Ie cause the AFL brand to be worth less money.)
- Too often talk about themselves. (Ie instead of the game.)
- Bag clubs unfairly. (Ie don't hold all clubs to the same standards.)
- Too often self-indulgent. (Ie gratifying themselves, not listeners.)
- Too matey. (Ie too many in-jokes and point-scoring.)
- Malcolm Blight
- Gary Lyon
- Rex Hunt
- Sam Newman
- Brian Taylor
Nah. For years, the AFL has promoted a culture of scorn, arrogance, contempt and aggression. They made money out of it. Defended it in public. Foisted more and more of it on us. And now they have to listen to all that ill-informed bile directed at themselves.
I can't be the only person enjoying the sweet, sweet deliciousness of the irony of the AFL having it's horribly ill-conceived bastard children turn on it like that.
Hey Andrew Demetriou! Andy! Hear that? That rustling sound? That, my friend, is the sound of your chickens coming home to roost.
This isn't strictly relevant to my point - that most commentators are former footballers and hence it's a bit rich for the AFL to complain about their lack of professionalism - but is still bloody funny. It involves former player and fisherman Rex Hunt. Here's Rexy-baby out of the blocks:
"The AFL appears to not only want to control the game, which I don't think they are at the minute by the way, but they appear to want to control what is said and broadcast and printed about its so-called product," a fired-up Hunt said yesterday.
"... I have a responsibility to the game. That may be well, but I don't have a responsibility to tell untruth to say the game is marvellous when it's crap."
Hunt said some of the games played this season had been "cheap, nasty and downright boring". "Some of the chippy, crappy stuff is an insult to the people who pay for the game."
Hunt believes the AFL will try to control what commentators say about the game. "It is clear in the negotiations between the broadcasting people for radio that the AFL want a certain criteria. I'm concerned for the game and the next crop of broadcasting puppets … who has to try for six hours to talk up a game that has become boring and far-fetched from the good old-fashioned spirit of Aussie rules.
"I'm sad to say that after nearly 40 years in the game and 27 behind this microphone, I honestly believe that 3AW is a real chance to lose the football to a station that will be dictated to by the AFL. The saddest thing of all, of course, is that the game we all love will be no longer be the people's game, it will be the AFL's game and woe betide anyone who has the hide to criticise it." (The Age, 13/8/2006)
At this point, 3AW station management took Rex aside and slapped him around a bit. They are in the middle of negotiations for the rights to call AFL matches and Rex's outburst was hardly helping. A contrite Rex had to slink off to AFL House, cap in hand, tugging his forelock and generally offering to be a good "broadcasting puppet" (his words, not mine):
CONTROVERSIAL Melbourne 3AW football caller Rex Hunt has accepted he was incorrect in suggesting the AFL was trying to censor him.
After being summoned to a meeting yesterday with AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou, Hunt said: "I was mis-informed and assured the AFL was not trying to gag me.
"They took offence that I said they were trying to control what was said."
"I was given a rap over the knuckles by station management, which I accept," Hunt said.
"I look forward to working for 3AW and the AFL for the next three years because we are confident the new radio deal will see our partnership continue. (The Australian, 16/8/2006)
Before you feel too sorry for Rex - a chronic sufferer of foot-in-mouth disease - for all that gagging, humiliation and dressing-down in public, please keep in mind that he may have a different reaction to such attention.
Good on ya, Rex. Keep on swingin', mate!
Word Count: 1639