GILLON McLachlan will be standing down as AFL chief executive at the end of the year.
AFL Commission chairman Richard Goyder told the 18 club presidents and CEOs on Tuesday morning that McLachlan had made the call to leave the post, after eight seasons in charge.
McLachlan has committed to completing the complicated processes attached to new Collective Bargaining Agreements for the women’s and men’s competitions, as well as finalising new club-funding models and a fresh broadcast deal, which expires at the end of 2024.
He will also provide a recommendation to the Commission on the proposal for a team in Tasmania.
An emotional McLachlan thanked his family - wife Laura and their children Edie, Cleo, Sydney and Luna - for their support during his time at the helm, and said it had been "an honour and a privilege to serve this game".
"It's the best game in the world. That's why everyone loves it so much," he said, pausing to regain his composure.
"The responsibility has never been lost on me and I feel good that the game's in better shape now than when I took over, but the scoreboard will be for others to judge.
"I'm leaving now because it feels right: right for the AFL, right for me, right for my family. It's clearly more complicated than that but actually, in simple terms, it's not. The AFL's in incredible shape on whatever metric you assess it."
McLachlan also thanked the friends he had made throughout his time in the game, both at League headquarters and the broader industry.
"I could never have imagined, when I started, that the friendships I would take from the AFL would be by far the most significant thing in my time here," he said.
"It's not just at the AFL, it's across the clubs and our commercial and broadcast partners. The greatest game in the world is so because there's a bloody lot of passionate, mercurial people in and around and I think footy brings out the best in them."
Goyder hailed McLachlan's achievements in expanding women's football, his improvement of the inclusiveness and culture of the League, and his "unrelenting focus" on keeping the game accessible and affordable for fans.
"From my point of view and the Commission's point of view it would be correct to say that we're not happy with that decision but we are completely supportive of it, if you get that sense," he said.
"Gill has always said to me that he wanted to go at the top of his game, at the time of his choosing and when the AFL was in as good a shape as it can be.
"And I think that's fair play and the Commission thinks that's fair play and certainly fair for him and his family.
"He's done an outstanding job."
His departure will leave a massive hole for the game, particularly as it emerges out of two COVID-impacted seasons.
The AFL Commission will run a detailed process to identify his replacement, who will be just the AFL's fourth CEO in 26 years.
Commission chairman Goyder would not commit to a timeline for naming McLachlan's replacement, but confirmed the League would work with an external executive search firm.
Within the AFL executive, Travis Auld, who has worked closely with the clubs and in constructing recent TV deals, will be a leading candidate, while Western Bulldogs president Kylie Watson-Wheeler and Richmond CEO Brendon Gale are also expected to be people of immediate interest.
McLachlan joined the AFL in 2003 as general manager of commercial operations, and became the League's chief operating officer in 2008. He was promoted to deputy CEO under former boss Andrew Demetriou in late 2012, before taking charge on April 30, 2014 following Demetriou's resignation.
Under McLachlan's guidance, the League established the NAB AFL Women's competition in 2017, three years ahead of its original plan. In its six seasons to date, the AFLW has sparked exponential growth in women's football participation around the country and all 18 AFL clubs will have AFLW teams for the seventh season.
In 2016, he oversaw the signing of the most lucrative sports broadcast rights deal in Australian history – a six-year contract with Seven, Foxtel and Telstra worth more than $2.5 billion.
Throughout 2020, that deal was revised and extended for another two years with all three partners, providing financial stability for the game as it continued to recover from the shock of the pandemic.
AFL chief executive officers
1986-96 – Ross Oakley
1996-2003 – Wayne Jackson
2003-14 – Andrew Demetriou
2014-22 – Gillon McLachlan