Super League boss resigns weeks before start of critical season for the sport

Super League chief executive Robert Elstone
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Super League boss Robert Elstone has tendered his resignation just weeks before the start of a crucial season for the sport.

The former Everton FC chief executive has told rugby league chiefs that he intends to stand down as executive chairman after two and a half years in the role.

The board of Super League – which kicks off a new season in 44 days – said it will hold discussions before commenting on Elstone’s decision.

The rugby league season typically kicks off in February, but the start was delayed in the hope of allowing fans into grounds. The sport relies heavily on matchday income for revenue and 2020 put huge strain on clubs’ finances.

Elstone was brought in to lead Super League in 2018 as part of a move by some club owners to gain greater control from the governing body, the Rugby Football League, and to grow the competition’s commercial revenues.

His £400,000 salary reflected their aspirations, although Super League’s lack of size and the thinness of its resources for marketing and business development make it difficult for any individual appointment to bring about significant change.

Commercial progress hasn’t materialised as the club owners had hoped. The new Sky TV deal for 2022-24 is reported to be around £10m-a-year lower than the £40m annual sum from the current deal.

A search for private equity investment led by Elstone has also left the sport with a finders’ fee of £750,000 after the clubs voted to reject the proposal.

The competition’s footprint has also shrunk after Canadian club Toronto Wolfpack were kicked out and replaced by Leigh Centurions, after financial issues caused by the pandemic.

Elstone survived a vote of no confidence last November, before the private equity fiasco, and had been under pressure to step down.

A statement said: “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.”

It is a critical season for the sport as it looks to recover from the Covid-hit 2020 season and builds towards hosting the Rugby League World Cup, which for now remains scheduled to take place this autumn.

Elstone, 57, a lifelong Castleford Tigers fans, spent 13 years at Premier League side Everton, initially as deputy chief executive before replacing Keith Wyness in 2008.

He has worked in sports administration for two decades.

Having studied Economics at Hull University and captained its Rugby League team to success in both the Universities’ Cup and Championship, he qualified as a chartered accountant with Deloitte.

He had two spells at Deloitte where he advised sports’ governing bodies and clubs. He also worked for BSkyB as a director of football business affairs.

Early in his career he worked as executive assistant at the Rugby Football League, alongside chief executive Maurice Lindsay, and later became a director of Castleford Tigers.