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How Elstone failed to unite Super League

When Robert Elstone was appointed Executive Chairman of Super League back in 2018, he was tasked with bringing the clubs together and form a united front separate to the RFL.

Just under three years later, he announced his intentions to step away from his role. We look at what happened during his time, and where it went wrong for him.

When he was appointed, he announced major changes ahead of the 2019 season. This saw promotion and relegation return, as well as a top-six playoff.

Also introduced for the 2019 season was loop fixtures. The introduction of these have always split opinion. Not everybody is granted the same advantages, some have more home games, some have more away games, and against tougher opponents.

Despite some opposition, loop fixtures would remain ahead of the 2020 season.

Also ahead of the 2020 season, the enigma of the Toronto Wolfpack presented a new challenge. Elstone said early on that the Wolfpack would need to provide assurances that they could sustain in the highest tier.

In November 2019, Elstone then personally welcomed Toronto in the Super League and recommended the city and the experience to all rugby league fans.

Just two months into the 2020 season, the coronavirus pandemic hit and forced everything to stop all over the world. Super League was no exception.

Early on during the pandemic, Elstone announced he and other executives would be taking a pay cut of up to 40-per-cent to help the sport survive.

Everything was set for the August restart. But then Toronto pulled out of the competition in July, citing financial difficulties brought about by the pandemic.

It was decided their fate would be in the hands of a vote, which surely was never going to work. The clubs who would have finished around the Wolfpack were always going to vote against them.

In that vote, the Super League Executives only had one vote. Their word was basically useless next to the clubs, which was a serious problem in governance.

By all accounts, what finished the Wolfpack was the publishing of a report commissioned by Elstone, which questioned Toronto’s value to the compeititon, and the logistical issues around having a Canadian team.

Just after the restart came the most baffling thing of all. A deal with Papa Johns Pizza Delivery Service. It later transpired that clubs would not be recieving any money for this deal.

Instead, they would be getting free pizza at the end of every match, supplied by the takeaway company.

It was basically free coverage for them, as their name was put up on the highlights videos on the social media feeds.

Surely the last thing clubs needed at a time like this was a meaningless sponsorship deal that did nothing to enhance income during a difficult time?

There is still one outstanding piece of business before Super League decides its next move, and that is the TV deal.

By all accounts, it may not be a good deal either. Clubs are reportedly preparing themselves for a lower deal than what it is now.

Because of the pandemic, that is not a great surprise. But it would be a somewhat fitting end to what has been a disappointing period for the game.

Overall, you would have to say Elstone has under delivered on his promises from when he came in initially. Whilst there were some things out of his control, he did not help the situations that were under his control.

The big question is what next for the Super League and how it is governed?

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Dan

    February 13, 2021 at 10:39 am

    Elstone proves you can’t make a difference in sports administration unless you are in charge. Only owners of sports can make the bold decisions needed to move things on. Barry Hearn in snooker or Bernie Ecclestone in F1. Difficult and unpopular decisions need to be taken. A paid executive can’t do that.

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