On March 1, 2006, Eddie McGuire bade farewell to television audiences as he finished his final on-camera appearance hosting Who wants to be a Millionaire? While he continued to smile into the camera, it was clearly a difficult moment, as his voice quivered, fighting his emotions. For Eddie McGuire, a man who has spent 24 years in front of the camera, it was more than a significant moment.
“You walk off the set and it suddenly hits you that after 24 years on air, this is it, and it impacts on you that a significant chapter in your life has closed.” Australian television audiences will notice the absence of Eddie McGuire.
He is a well-recognised personality around the country. Nicknamed “Eddie Every-where” because of his ubiquitous TV exposure, he has had enormous coverage in numerous television roles during his career, first as an Australian Football League (AFL) commentator then host of Melbourne’s The Footy Show and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? plus MC of all the big award events, like the Allan Border Medal and the Logie Awards in between. On top of these commitments, he is president of the Collingwood Football Club and a savvy businessman.
From an early age Eddie McGuire demonstrated an entrepreneurial flair. At age nine, he sold his parents’ lounge suite to neighbours for $10, delivering the couch himself on his billycart—and then charged for delivery! He began his media career at age 13.
His first media job involved collecting AFL statistics (then known as VFL) and collating them in time for inclusion in the evening edition of the Herald newspaper in Melbourne. Even at this early stage Eddie had the reputation for always going the extra mile. While most reporters would simply collect the statistics for each of the games, Eddie would look for more information and newsworthy material. “I used to sprint down to the change rooms, get in, get the medical reports, get the tribunal reports and run back to the Herald offices while the journalists were filing their stories. Right from the beginning, I set myself the task to be better than the other journalists,” recalls McGuire.
From his humble beginnings as a statistician, people noticed his penchant for work and Channel 10 offered him a journalistic role. Working as a reporter, McGuire laboured to change the way Channel 10 covered its football news by becoming more news oriented rather than just part of the sports report. His creativity in this area led him to the opportunity to develop The Footy Show on Channel 9, which became a long-running hit.
McGuire prides himself on the fact that he’s never replaced anybody in a job.
He has always filled a new role that has come from his own ideas or hard work.
That was until this year, when McGuire took over from David Gyngell as chief executive of Channel 9. He understands well the challenges that his new role presents. “It’s a big decision to make the move [to management].
… But in this business, particularly, you rarely get the chance to call that shot, and I’ve been blessed that I have. I’m probably the first CEO to come into this network when the situation is so tough.” Indeed it will be tough. The advertising revenue for the network is down, the all-important morning programs and current affairs shows are losing viewers, and the 6 pm news slot in Sydney—the biggest market—is being beaten.
When asked about the difficulties, McGuire is philosophical. “Experience is what you get five minutes after you needed it,” he says. “But you’ve got to get in and have a go.” His strategy is to look to find “provocative, entertaining TV” as well as making working at the network fun. Of course, there’s no easy formula.
Finding the right choice of shows to air as well as juggling personnel and budgeting issues is a real challenge.
McGuire, however, has a great reputation and experience in turning difficult situations into positive outcomes.
He is especially proud of how he helped turn around the Collingwood Football Club, which was losing millions each year when he took on the presidency in 1998. McGuire’s workload is punishing. “My assistant rings first thing in the morning and says, ‘Here’s the day.’ I jump in the shower and everything I’ve got to get done starts going through my head. There’s been a couple of days when I’ve opened up the diary and I’ve thought, I’m not going to get through this. It is not going to happen. I back the car out and stop in the driveway and have another look at the diary and think, Right, let’s go. You’ve just got to keep going.”
Sam Newman, McGuire’s long-time co-host on The Footy Show, is astonished at how hard his colleague works and how much he attempts to fit into his day. “Eddie staggers me! I just don’t know how he does it all. His energy and work ethic is amazing. He is either opening something, hosting something, addressing a forum, a football club meeting, a presidents meeting for the AFL, taping The Footy Show, taping Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? writing a newspaper column or running his production company. I suggested to him he needs to set aside time to recharge his batteries.Holidays for Eddie would probably mean only being on the go for 40 hours a week.” Despite being so busy in his professional life, he still treasures his family life and is protective of their privacy. He is married to Carla, and has two young boys—Joseph, five, and Alexander, three.
He purposely kept his hours flexible while working on his TV programs so he could spend time with his family. “If I’m calling games, I try to make sure that I’ve got the mornings to spend and then get home, as much as possible… . My father and mother were always there for …parental support and advice and guidance and love.” There is nothing McGuire enjoys more than spending time with his two boys kicking the football or taking them to watch a game.
Some people believe that McGuire has been lucky to get the opportunities he has had. McGuire disagrees, “[People] are waiting for an opportunity to come along wrapped up in a ribbon… . Everyone is preoccupied waiting for their big break. It’s like the lotto. How many people have won lotto and gone on to be Kerry Packer? None. There’s no big break, or very rarely. It’s using the opportunities that present themselves and then running them to the ground.” He strongly believes that it is all about the themes of “doing it better” and “doing it smarter.” At age 41, McGuire is young to have achieved everything he has. He grew up in a lower socioeconomic suburb of Melbourne and has climbed the ladder of opportunity to be considered one of the most elite media personalities on Australian television.
So what is in store for the future? Some have suggested he enter politics.
He showed a real skill for it as one of the delegates to the Republican Convention in 1998. He says that while he can see himself being involved in politics, he doesn’t think it will happen in the short term. Again, his sense of family values is one of the underlying reasons. He says, “I think the pressure on the family is enormous, and I’m just not sure that I’m prepared to put in danger the wellbeing of my family for politics.” McGuire is finding that he can achieve great things without being involved politically. He says, “Being at Collingwood gives you an opportunity to do a lot of things that even politicians can’t, and that’s why we’ve really gone out of our way to become the number-one philanthropic club in Australian sport and become a leader. So we can actually make an impact in society, and we’re able to do that without going through all the party politics… . But without wanting to sound like Mother Teresa or St Vincent de Paul, you actually do these things because you want to contribute.”
McGuire is candid when asked about his accomplishments. “I’m certainly not the best-looking bloke on television. I certainly haven’t got the best voice. I’m probably not the smartest. The way I figure it: If I work harder than the person who is better than me, I’ve a chance to beat them. If I work better than the person I’m as good as, I’ve a chance to beat them. And if I work harder and better, then I’ll flog ’em! That’s been my motto all the way through and it’s the way that I go about doing things.”
His favourite quote can be found hanging on the walls of his beloved Collingwood Football Club. It comes from a famous speech by former United States president Theodore Roosevelt. It reads: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Even though Eddie McGuire is no longer in front of the camera, he is certainly still in the arena.