Robert Elstone’s resignation as Super League executive chairman leaves the sport with another major decision to make over its governance.
Elstone arrived from Everton amid signifiant fanfare in June 2018, with the aim of improving the competition’s commercial performance and securing its crucial next TV deal.
But his two and a half year reign has been characterised by criticism from some quarters and division among clubs, who retained the majority of power despite his appointment.
The latest example came when they were split on Elstone’s proposal to bring private equity investment into the competition, following the lead set by their rugby union counterparts.
Several clubs opposed and the decision also left Super League with a six-figure finders fee for a deal they did not take up.
A number of those same clubs had pushed hard for Elstone’s appointment in 2018 amid a civil war in the sport that saw the competition break away from the Rugby Football League on commercial matters.
Leeds boss Gary Hetherington was a sole opposition voice within the top flight back then, and there is now expected to be a move for the top flight to fall back under the RFL’s watch.
But other Super League clubs remain convinced that taking control of their own affairs is beneficial, despite the fact that a new TV deal with Sky has still not been signed and is expected to be considerably lower than the current one, which expires this year.
That split characterises the sport’s inherent problems, with crucial decisions being made by a host of parties all with their own individual interests.
Few issues illustrated that better than Toronto Wolfpack’s expulsion from Super League at the end of last year, after they had initially withdrawn from the competition citing financial and logistical problems during the global pandemic.
Their prospective return to the competition and ultimately their future was decided by their peers, who voted 8-4 against them coming back with one club abstaining, the RFL also having one single vote.
Now those clubs must decide whether to maintain their element of autocracy – which came at a significant cost including Elstone’s salary – or look to return to the umbrella of the RFL.
A competition statement read: “Super League can confirm that it has received notice of executive chairman, Robert Elstone’s, intention to leave his position. The matter will be discussed by the Super League board and no further comment will be made at this time.”