WHO ARE the people who shape the modern AFL?
Over summer, senior writer Ashley Browne again extensively surveyed the football industry to find out who pulls the levers to make the game as strong and powerful as it is.
Once again, a wide spectrum of the industry was surveyed, including players and coaches, club and AFL management, journalists and broadcasters, player managers and other key stakeholders directly and indirectly involved in the game.
This is the second year of the survey and once again more than 100 names were thrown up altogether. This year, there are 15 new faces in the top 50, reflecting teams on the up and those whose influence has grown.
Please note that the survey was conducted over summer, before Mike Fitzpatrick retired as AFL Chairman and Mark Evans moved on from heading up the League's football operations to become chief executive of Gold Coast. There have subsequently a raft of changes at the executive level of the AFL.
We start the countdown on Tuesday with those ranked 50 to 31 and will continue on Wednesday and Thursday when the top 10 will be revealed both on AFL.com.au and the round one edition of the AFL Record.
Once again, some of those with a common interest and have been ranked together.
So without further ado, let the countdown begin ...
50. Trevor Nisbett
West Coast chief executive
Last year: 40
It's a matter of 'when' not 'if' the deal gets done that will bring West Coast and Fremantle across from Domain Stadium to the 60,000-seat new Perth Stadium as the anchor tenants from next season. And Nisbett, who is entering his 18th season as the boss of the Eagles and the most powerful football administrator in Western Australia, will be a key driver. And once the deal is done, attention will turn to the 2018 fixture and who will host the opening game at the new stadium, which is expected to be a derby clash. Nisbett is renowned at the AFL for keeping a keen eye on the fixture release every year and the fixture team will be bracing for his response if the Dockers are determined as the home team.
49. Peggy O'Neal
Last year: 17
Footy's first, and still only female club president is coming off a bruising 12 months where the team's underperforming spilled over off the field with suggestions of unrest and board challenges from various groups. Focus on Footy anyone? Her 'softly, softly' approach has worked until now, but what happens if the Tigers are slow out of the blocks and another year out of the finals looms likely? Another complication for the Tigers is star midfielder Dustin Martin putting off contract talks until the end of the season. The best thing the Tigers did was bring the experienced Neil Balme in as head of football. Over many years in similar roles at Geelong and Collingwood, he is the sane voice of calm and reason and provides the perfect antidote for when things become a bit fraught.
48. Ross Lyon
Last year: 29
Fremantle tumbled from premiership contention to a four-win season in the space of 12 months and how Lyon builds his team up again shapes one of the storylines of the season. Lyon has a contract through until 2020 so it need not be a short-term fix, but there will be some pressure on Lyon to make sure the team is super competitive next year when playing in the new Perth Stadium. Lyon has enjoyed a good off-season with the Dockers now a destination club for West Australians such as Bradley Hill, Cam McCarthy, Shane Kersten and Joel Hamling. And the Dockers are now based in Cockburn Central, which will be the best training facility in the AFL, at least until the next one opens.
47. Stephen Silvagni
Carlton list manager
Last year: -
The Blues have handed the keys to one of their favourite sons with one simple instruction: 'don't break anything'. His rebuild of the Carlton playing list continues at pace, and has included several players from Greater Western Sydney, where he was the list manager from its inception until 2015. Silvagni has the vision for how the list should look and coach Brendon Bolton is tasked with coaching them. They're receiving good grades so far, despite some poor performances this pre-season, but this is a process that is going to take several years and supporters are demonstrating patience, a quality heretofore unheard of at Carlton.
'SOS' has a big job ahead of him at the Blues. Picture: AFL Photos
46. Garry Lyon
Last year: -
"SEN," the advertisements tell us, "is back in the game" and is placing its faith in a Lyon-led ratings spike, although the drop from a 3.8 share to 2.5 made for an inauspicious start. It has been a tumultuous 12 months for the former Melbourne champion as he battled mental illness, but he is back on the air this year and back on SEN, anchoring both the breakfast show and the beefed-up Friday night football coverage, which clearly has Triple M, his former radio home, in its ratings sights. He also returns as host of Nine's Monday night Footy Classified, and Access All Areas each Monday on AFL.com.au. There is none better at analysing a game of footy as it unfolds than Lyon, and from that point of view, he makes a welcome return.
45. Andrew Fagan
Adelaide chief executive
Last year: -
Fagan endured something of a baptism of fire when Crows coach Phil Walsh died suddenly towards the end of his first year in charge. Fagan kept a cool head through a deeply distressing period and the club's handling of such an unprecedented event was seen to be first-class. Fagan's next challenge was the establishment of Adelaide's AFLW team and the Crows put behind them the logistical difficulties of having nearly half the squad located in the Northern Territory to be immediately successful. The selection of Bec Goddard as coach might just be a masterstroke. Fagan is very much your new-style CEO, eschewing the plush corner office for a hot desk and his iPad.
44. Leon Cameron
Greater Western Sydney coach
Last year: -
The Giants didn't throw away a premiership last year (although imagine if Callan Ward wasn't concussed and Steve Johnson hadn’t been suspended for the preliminary final) but what 2016 did demonstrate is how close GWS is to that first flag. It will be a game changer for the sport when the Giants do break through and the strategy behind growing the game in the burgeoning west of Sydney includes a flag or more. And that's where Cameron comes into play. He has built a side with dash and dare in the backline, a strong and quick midfield and scoring options galore close to goal. The Giants might not have captured too many hearts but they're great to watch. They're shaping as a footy juggernaut and Cameron is firmly at the controls.
43. Lindsay Tanner
Last year: -
This is no fly-by-nighter looking for something to keep him relevant post-politics. The former Federal Labor MP and Government Minister became an Essendon supporter when he first moved to Melbourne in the 1970s, living near Windy Hill and regularly attending training and matches. In a bit more than 12 months as president of the Bombers, Tanner has shown himself to be whip-smart, a good negotiator and a seasoned media performer. Times have been tough at the Bombers but Tanner's time has been marked by a quiet resolve to rebuild the club without resorting to bluster. Tanner doesn't chase headlines, but the club is remarkably open and transparent, more so than any time in the post-Kevin Sheedy era.
Lindsay Tanner has led the Bombers through turbulent times. Picture: AFL Photos
42. Major General Simone Wilkie
Last year: -
Brings a fresh dimension to the AFL Commission with her distinguished military record that includes a United States Bronze Star (Iraq) and a Commendation for Distinguished Service (Afghanistan). She's a key driver for AFLW around the Commission table and played a big part in Gillon McLachlan's decision to bring forward the start of the women's League from 2020 to this year. "She's passionate about it and she's very hands-on," noted one AFL staffer.
41. Patrick Keane
AFL media manager
Last year: -
One of the longest serving staffers at AFL House, Keane serves a few key roles. He is the first port of call if an official comment is needed from the AFL and if the League needs to get its message out there, Keane moves swiftly. He also controls media accreditation for the League and put simply, nobody gets inside an AFL venue to cover footy and have access to media facilities without his say-so.
40. Luke Hodge
Last year: -
Hodge stepped down from the Hawthorn captaincy in January after a magnificent six-year stint that included four Grand Finals and three premierships that leave him firmly in the discussion for the greatest captain ever. He will still be Hawthorn's spiritual leader through 2017, which will likely be his last as a player and much of the next few months will be determining what comes next – media or coaching. If it's the former, then he's had to deal with plenty of headlines in the last 18 months including a drink-driving booking on the eve of the 2015 finals and his team-imposed suspension from Saturday's season-opener after not telling the club why he missed a training session.
39. Gary Pert
Collingwood chief executive
Last year: 38
Pert is in charge of a huge enterprise, which in 2017 has men's teams in the AFL and VFL, an AFLW team and a team in the new Super Netball competition as well. It speaks volumes for Collingwood's clout that few eyebrows were raised about both the AFLW and netball teams despite the fact that the two sports would now appear to be engaged in a hot competition for players and sponsors. Of more interest is Pert's role as a board member of SEN Radio. He spearheaded the station's negotiations for a slice of the AFL's radio rights at the end of last season and the corridor conversations with Magpie president Eddie McGuire must be interesting given that SEN is going after the footy audience of Triple M, where McGuire is the breakfast radio host.
Gary Pert is the boss of the Collingwood juggernaut. Picture: AFL Photos
38. Peter Campbell
General Manager, AFL Media and Broadcasting
Last year: -
The AFL's in-house media business is doing well. The League's online sports products, including AFL.com.au and the official AFL Live app are going gangbusters and by any measurement are the most popular online sports sites in the country, while the AFL Record continues to thrive in a challenging environment for print media. Campbell, the former head of sport for Foxtel, recently oversaw the launch of new apps for the AFL and the 18 clubs and sits at the table for the AFL's media rights negotiations, and has had broadcasting added to his suite of responsibilities during the recent AFL executive restructure given he negotiated three AFL rights agreements when at Foxtel. But he also straddles the sometimes challenging relationship between the AFL, which is very protective of its brand, and the League's own website, which needs a strong degree of editorial authenticity and independence if it is to remain a trusted and popular source of AFL news and information.
37. Kevin Bartlett
SEN broadcaster, former Richmond champion
Last year: 19
The former Richmond champion is no longer on the rules committee – thanks to a coach-led putsch a few years back – but his opinion still matters thanks to his 9am-noon radio show Monday-Friday on SEN that commands a large and loyal audience. SEN's programming has chopped and changed over the years but Bartlett's show has remained a constant and his opening salvo, 'KB's Take' at the top of the show can be an agenda-setter in the game. Two things remain dear to his heart – the look and feel of the game and Richmond and he'll unload on both when the mood takes him.
36. Andrew Newbold
Last year: 18
Newbold figured highly here last year on the back of being president of a rich and powerful club coming off its third straight flag. But his abrupt departure from Hawthorn, only to resurface on the commission a couple of months later suggested a succession plan might be in place for him to replace Mike Fitzpatrick as chairman sometime in the next year or two. As it turned out, Richard Goyder took the role, but Newbold remains important around the Commission table because of his experience at club level.
35. Leigh Matthews
Broadcaster, commentator, influencer, Brisbane Lions board member
Last year: 11
Matthews still makes more sense when talking football than just about anyone else in the game. It still baffles that Channel Seven cannot find a place for him in their Friday night coverage that otherwise features a cast of thousands. 3AW on Thursday nights and Saturdays and Seven on Sundays are the beneficiaries of nearly 50 years of playing and coaching brilliance. Matthews remains on the board of the Brisbane Lions but recently stepped down as vice-chairman and football director after a less than stellar few years in which two of his handpicked choices for coach (Michael Voss and Justin Leppitsch) didn't work out and the Lions have remained mired to the bottom. Matthews also endured a torrid time following a tweet that seemed to call into question the funding of AFLW out of the profits made from the men's competition, however he later clarified that by saying he was questioning the push for equal pay when the women's League had yet to generate any revenue.
Two of the game's greatest players, Leigh Matthews (left) and Kevin Bartlett. Picture: AFL Photos
34. Ken Wood
AFL Total Player Payments manager
Last year: 39
AFL insiders enjoy a chuckle when they note that Wood has made this list, while his boss, integrity manager Brett Clothier misses out. Still, with his responsibility for the salary cap and contractual requirements around the trade and draft periods, Wood is an important, although low-key cog in the AFL wheel. "He flies under the radar but he's an important person here," noted one AFL executive. "The dodgy deals don't get past him." Wood has more or less held the same role with the AFL for many years and has been surrounded by the same staff members for much of that time.
33. Lance Franklin
Last year: 48
After missing the 2015 finals series because of mental health issues, Franklin re-emerged last year feeling invigorated and played clearly the best of his three seasons with the Swans and the second most dominant of his glittering career. He played all 26 matches for the Swans, kicked 81 goals and helped carry the side to another Grand Final, where was he hampered by an ankle injury suffered early in the first term. Franklin is now entering the fourth season of his monster nine-year, $10 million deal with the Swans and while it has yet to deliver a flag, he has played an instrumental role in the club contending each year and remaining front and centre of the ultra-competitive Sydney sporting market. As long as he plays, the Swans are a hot ticket in Sydney and must-watch TV for the rest of us.
32. Adam Goodes
Retired Sydney champion
Last year: 22
It is a measure of Goodes' standing in the game that despite keeping a deliberately low profile in 2016, the first year of his retirement, that his standing in the game is still regarded so lofty. He traveled extensively last year and spent the remainder of his time working on his foundation, in game development in New South Wales and pursuing business interests. Those close to Goodes say he has no plans to ramp up his involvement in the game, but with Mike Fitzpatrick stepping down from the AFL Commission next month, Goodes will doubtless be touted as a potential replacement and conversations will be had.
31. Damian Barrett
Last year: -
Football media is evolving at a rapid pace but Barrett correctly sniffed the wind a few years back and reaped the rewards. He left the relative sanctuary of the Herald Sun to join Craig Hutchison at Crocmedia and he is now a key figure across a number of platforms including TV (The Footy Show and Footy Classified), radio (Triple M pre-game on Fridays and Saturdays), AFL.com.au (Access All Areas and Sliding Doors) and now, a weekly podcast with Hutchison (The Sounding Board) which is devoured by football insiders and outsiders each week. Barrett is one of the premier news breakers in football and people in the game have come to dread his number flashing on their phones, but his opinion also carries serious clout.
Damian Barrett is one the sport's best news breakers. Picture: AFL Photos