Peter V’landys and Todd Greenberg on collision course after apparent role switch

Prior to his FFA role, Gallop was CEO of the NRL for a decade. If his former sport heard his warning, it has not been heeded.

When ARLC chair Peter V’landys jetted to California last month to speak to News Corporation chief Lachlan Murdoch and the Silicon Valley tech titans, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg was in the UK attending the World Club Challenge match. They had effectively swapped roles.

V’landys, by positioning himself as the chief negotiator of TV rights and expansion plans, has become the code’s CEO; Greenberg, by representing the NRL at a match between the Australian and European club champions, as well as sipping afternoon tea with high commissioner George Brandis, had assumed the ceremonial role of a chairman.

This role reversal dates from the moment the professional football codes first drafted independent directors to their boards.

Sport and business have been on intersecting paths since football players were paid to be full-time and clubs became privately owned.

Tug on the multi-coloured braces of a corporate chief at his AGM and a sporting metaphor snaps out; footballers keep score, not on the board, but with their bank balances.

It’s reached a point where some codes are perceived by their fans to be too much of a business to be a sport (AFL), while others are seen to be too much of a sport to be a business (soccer).

When the CEO’s position at the ARL’s new eight-member independent commission became vacant, they dispatched one of their own to do the job.

The ARLC constitution allowed inaugural chair, former Kangaroo John Grant, to assume “additional duties” and he was de facto CEO for a couple of periods.

But, to be fair, when David Smith was finally appointed CEO, he was delegated the responsibility of executing the most recent $1.9 billion broadcasting deal.

Chairman V’landys, however, declared from his first day that he would deliver a record broadcasting deal for the code.

His flight to Los Angeles has been reported to be primarily about seeking Lachlan Murdoch’s permission to expand the NRL to 17 teams by including a second Brisbane club.

Speculation over the future of Greenberg will continue while V’landys considers whether to renew the CEO’s contract.

Broadcasters have been agitating for a fourth Queensland team because it will lift TV ratings in the north. Queenslanders switch to games involving the Broncos No.1, Cowboys 2, Melbourne Storm 3 and Titans 4.

But northern support for the Storm has diminished with the exit of Maroons Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk and will fall more with the inevitable retirement of Cameron Smith.

If V’landys gives the parochial north another team to cheer, will the drop in revenue from a weekly bye in a season of the same length be compensated by the rise in TV ratings and therefore revenue for a new team? Basically, will Lachlan and Channel Nine bake a broadcasting pie which awards 17 clubs a bigger slice than the share the 16 receive in the current deal?

A successful business would approach the challenge differently: assess the needs of the 16 existing clubs and determine whether expansion is viable.

Raelene Castle, CEO of Rugby Australia, is making the same mistake. She is seeking a record TV deal to honour promises to clubs but an alternative would be cutting back on bloated contracts to overweight players and accepting a lesser free-to-air TV deal which delivers new eyeballs.

Similarly, V’landys is chasing an historically higher TV deal to satisfy his constituents and his reputation, rather than deliver a future strategy for the code.

Speculation over the future of Greenberg will continue while V’landys considers whether to renew the CEO’s contract.


Perhaps V’landys will eventually decide on the only man he believes capable of doing the job: himself.

It will require some rewriting of the ARLC constitution but when he left the tarmac for his Californian trip, he crossed Gallop’s demarcation line between board and management.

V’landys will probably prove to be a brilliant negotiator for the code but when his plane touched down in Sydney, he invited his critics to declare: the ego has landed.

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