Luke Beveridge’s lonely post-game experience begs the question: are press conferences still relevant?


There has been no hotter AFL property than Luke Beveridge in terms of media interest this season – with the exception of probably Harley Reid.

There have been countless articles, radio segments, television discussions, interviews and podcast rants about whether he is the right man to lead the Western Bulldogs.

But when he walked into his post-match press conference after the loss to the Sydney Swans, it was a lonely experience. Only one journalist was there, so he must have been surprised at the sudden loss of interest in him.

It wasn’t like there was nothing to ask about; pushing the ladder leaders and current flag favourites to within 14 points and playing some good football at stages.

There were individual performances that could have been commented on, general improvements, game strategy and even an injury update on Aaron Naughton.

It has been reported that the Swans opened their dressing rooms up while Bevo was due at the press conference, and reporters had to choose one or the other.

Therefore, it wasn’t a matter of disrespecting the Bulldogs coach by not attending, it was just that journalists at the ground could probably do their job better and get more content by seeking individual player interviews – and then watching the recorded press conference online through the club’s social media channels later.

What looked awkward was when virtually all the media chose the same path – as Beveridge made a point to thank the one journalist who attended. He sustained the ‘press conference’ for over eight minutes.

Firstly, I think the scheduling clash needs to be investigated and measures put in place to ensure there is no clash for media wanting to attend both.

But more importantly, it raises another issue – do press conferences provide any actual value in terms of the content they actually provide for supporters? Or is it a mere formality with AFL ticking a box to say they are transparent with the public, and journalists asking questions for their own sake?

The fans are the ones who the press conferences are meant to be for, not the reporters – the media will report on whatever is said, no matter how bleak the substance.

Just 24 hours later came one of the season’s most controversial on-field moments, Fremantle coming back to draw after the umpire paid a dubious ‘delay of game’ free kick against Collingwood.

If ever fans would have wanted to hear honest opinions and comments from a coach, it would have been Craig McRae, but all he provided was:

“I’m looking forward to what the AFL tell us about that because I wasn’t aware that was a free kick. But maybe it clearly is because they don’t pay things that aren’t there. I’m looking forward to seeing what they say. It will be what it will be. It doesn’t help us, does it?”

That quote tells you nothing. No emotion, nor anything that showed any human feeling towards a huge moment in the game that engrossed a large number of fans, especially because it was potentially game-deciding on the primetime stage of Friday Night Football.

The Pies coach did what he had to do. By the terms of his contract, he’s not allowed to say anything that would bring the game into disrepute and give fans ammunition to vent anger at the AFL, its image and its sponsors. So it’s better to say nothing.

It does little to sweep the incident under the carpet, given the TV commentary shows and social media soon after the game were scathing at umpire Mathew Nicholls, and fans were still outraged and debating it the next day.

“That is where common sense absolutely needs to come into it. That changed the game.”#ArmchairExperts

— 7AFL (@7AFL) May 24, 2024

A few weeks earlier, Chris Scott quite intelligently and constructively broke down problems he saw with the holding-the-ball rules and the interpretations, in what some labelled a five-minute rant. He then had to meet with the AFL later in the week to ‘clear the air’, even though the official line was the meeting was routine.

But how are coaches meant to honestly tell fans their concerns for the path the game is heading in, if they are just going to be silenced and labelled as ‘whingers’?

In the Carlton-Gold Coast game, both coaches had a shot at the officiating, without really having a shot at the officiating – if you get what I mean. A frustrated Michael Voss said:

“So we’ve got a couple of things to follow up just to make sure we have clarity as well that we’re seeing it the same way. I don’t sit up here and ever do that because I feel like most of it’s all in our control, and I still firmly believe that, but also it’s our responsibility to get clarity when we’re unsure. And we’re unsure so we’ll get the clarity. We’ll do the right channels as well because this isn’t about just focusing on that (bad calls and non-calls that stood out), it’s about taking our time, have a look through the vision, let’s be really clear and we’ve always had really good discussions so I can’t see that changing. We’ll just probably seek a little bit more feedback this week than what we normally have.”

That’s him trying to say “the umpires dudded us today”, but instead, it came across as 20-30 seconds of ambiguous, fence-sitting drivel – to avoid sanction, and in the hope enough people read between the lines.

Some wouldn’t have watched the game closely, and don’t scoff, there are a lot of people who only consume the game through highlights, live scores, social media posts or flicking between TV channels, particularly when the AFL schedules two games at the same time.

They wouldn’t know exactly what the Carlton coach was referring to – so how does it help anything?

Part of being a top-level coach is knowing how to phrase controversial remarks, even though many take a Sergeant Schultz approach, or sound like they are attending a Royal Commission: “I know nothing” – or I didn’t see it.

So, again, what do fans actually get out of these 10-minute stage-managed experiences, given coaches are effectively censored with the threat of fines from revealing what they really think?

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

It’s not like the fans don’t have a choice either. In the early days, press conferences were the main, and sometimes only, way players and coaches spoke to their fans.

But, in the modern day, there’s so much media covering the game, including independent podcasts, that the dry and predictable press conference grabs with no personality actually provide little interest.

The AFL, along with other sports, have taken an approach where their brand image is more important than the integrity of the competition.

Therefore, it’s more important to silence an aggressive coach after a controversial loss than to actually fix problems that the coaches, who are actually smart minds in the game, raise.

The press conferences are a part of trying to get controlled content into the 24-hour media cycle.

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In addition, the mainstream media coverage of the game is more concentrated than ever, and finding that point of difference in a one-on-one exclusive interview is more important than the choreographed press conference.

Even the game’s biggest “news breakers” like Tom Morris, Mark Robinson and Caroline Wilson barely attend press conferences because they get their stories from other sources, and they know the AFL-sanctioned events won’t be much help given the tight leash the governing body and the clubs hold.

This year the AFL expanded the access to players in the rooms, meaning that all players named in the 23 must be available for post-match interviews with media following each game.

If that’s the case, journalists are going to choose that every day to get their content – and AFL coaches talking to an empty room or a single AFL staffer may become a more common experience.

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