Duality isn’t the best form of governance

This article featured in League Express on 3rd February 2014 alongside Martyn Sadler’s article revealing the details of the new broadcasting contract with Sky Sports.


Wigan Chairman IAN LENAGAN explains why he has reservations about the way the RFL’s new contract with BSkyB was negotiated.


I believe it is a dreadful commercial decision to be agreeing in 2014, with 3 years still to go on Super League’s current deal, a new deal for Super League TV rights for the 5 future years 2017-2021 at only a 30% increase and without going out to tender and allowing BT Sport to compete

There are other very welcome elements for Championship and Championship 1 TV rights and for Community Foundations, but the deal for Super League TV rights is only increased by 30% for the 5 future years 2017- 2021 compared with the current remaining 3 years deal for 2014-2016.

Publicly available figures show the Football League achieved a 37% increase for an extension from their existing 3 years to 5 years (not 8 years!). They made available extra TV games where Super League has offered a complete restructure of Super League.

Super League should have achieved considerably more than that from committing the next 8 years, or should have extended for 2 years only, leaving us then able to renegotiate leading up to 2016 for 2017-2021 in what appears to be an increasingly competitive market in favour of sellers.

To make it absolutely clear, Sky is a great broadcaster for Rugby League and I would hope they would have won any tender because of what they do for Rugby League. They have been wonderful partners for the game over many years and none of my comments are aimed at them. As another club owner hinted, they have achieved a great TV deal for their shareholders

However, for the RFL to recommend the selling forward of Super League for 8 years with the clubs given only 24-hours notice of the meeting, a limited amount of time to discuss the details and to be forced into an immediate take-it-or-lose it vote, is a complete failure of corporate governance by the RFL and a condemnation of the way Super League is managed by them.

Such a key decision should have been discussed in detail over a reasonable period of time with support from an independent TV expert as all other negotiating rights-holders do.

Whilst I understand fully the financially desperate position of some clubs and well understand them voting for any deal which in the short-term helps their difficult circumstances, it is the responsibility of the Governing Body and the Board of Super League to make sure the right decisions are taken in the interest of Super League and the game as a whole.

Unfortunately these two entities are largely the same people (the dreaded duality seen only in Rugby League with Chairman and Chief Executive of both bodies being the same individuals).

Also in my opinion, the Chief Executive in particular is too closely involved in driving through his personal view of the restructuring of the Super League competition rather than the inclusive and open-minded approach which a Chief Executive should lead with.

Decisions taken in haste have a habit of being repented over a long period. I for one regret immensely that, under the pressure of time and a stated desire for some unanimity, I voted Wigan in favour of accepting the deal because it was clear that financially-challenged clubs would support it.

I awakened the next day and regretted immensely my voting which – given time to consider properly – would have been strongly against this particular deal since I believe Super League could have achieved a different and more structurally sensible deal with Sky preferably.

I also resent being coerced into taking an immediate position on something that is so vital for the future of the game.

We are now shut out from any increases in the value of broadcasting rights over an 8-year period. BT Sport are very serious competitors and they are in it for the long term. And yet Super League did not even go out to tender to give them the opportunity to bid for the rights. To go with another five-year contract, 3 years hence from now, without giving anyone else a chance to bid for the rights is surely crazy commercially.

I am not suggesting that this TV Rights decision should be reversed or challenged, since the clubs (including Wigan) voted democratically for it.

However, I hope that clubs, fans and players will recognise that the process followed by the Governing Body throughout this whole episode – whilst resulting in welcome and much-needed money for Super League and Championship – has been seriously flawed and should result in a major review of the management structure of Super League and the dual involvement of The RFL in that management.