Barely a month before the new season starts, it was announced earlier this week that Super League’s executive chairman had stated his intention to stand down from the role he had held since June 2018.
The former Everton FC CEO had been brought in shortly after Super League controversially moved away from the sport’s governing body to try and take control of its own commercial interests.
However, the Yorkshireman, 57, had encountered myriad difficulties, not least negotiating a new broadcast contract but also in securing a £61m private equity deal only to see many clubs then veto the idea at considerable expense last month.
In an exclusive interview with The Yorkshire Post, Pearson said: “I think that it is a disappointing end. Robert obviously felt the PE deal he got for clubs was of the requisite size and standard and therefore probably felt his position was pretty untenable after he failed to get a unanimous verdict from the Board in relation to that offer. Obviously, his relationship with some of the members wasn’t as strong as it needed to be.
“It is unfortunate as he has worked very hard and very diligently to try and take the game forward but obviously we stand here three years further down the line and we still have an awful lot to achieve.”
Asked whether he thought Elstone – who was paid a significant six-figure salary – would be replaced, Pearson added: “With the present climate as I see it, in relation to everybody having to cut costs accordingly, it would tend to suggest that some kind of hybrid structure with the RFL will be, in my opinion, the structure that’s probably debated next.
“With the difficult state of affairs the game finds itself in financially, there is probably no alternative but to explore a new structure that incorporates the RFL and a pooling of the commercial properties that both Super League and the RFL own.
“I know that Ken Davy at Huddersfield (Giants), who is somebody that we all trust, has come forward with a plan that was put forward before the Board.
“Ultimately it was rejected but it might be that a newer version of that plan, that takes into account the pooling of commercial resources, may reappear as a viable plan.
“It may get different reaction next time around because of the state the country currently finds itself in (with the pandemic).”
All 12 Super League clubs have a vote in many of the major decisions in the competition which, Pearson concludes, is not viable.
“Robert was having to spend more time than he should have been doing on the political side of keeping 12 pretty opinionated individuals together on a unified course,” he said.
“And, in the end, I think it just proved too much.
“It is a structure that perhaps doesn’t lend itself to the implementation of policy quick enough.”
That said, Wigan Warriors owner Ian Lenagan, who led the breakaway in 2018 and oversaw the appointment of Elstone as chief executive, insists it is not a time for major change.
He wants to see a successor appointed to continue the work of Elstone, illustrating how opinions are so divided.
Whether Super League wants to cede some power back to the RFL also remains to be seen.
But Pearson contested: “I read about people wanting power.
“It’s not that people want power. It’s just that they do want an input into a unified approach.
“There have been times in the past, prior to three years ago, where the Super League clubs did feel marginalised and in the dark about what was going on.
“It was a desire about having a say in their own future that brought this structure about.
“It’s not been accepted by everybody right from the start and that didn’t help.
“But, in the end, 12 opinions is too much for a CEO to probably handle and put into a plan for going forward.
“Perhaps a streamlined number of clubs – say three or four – and some RFL input might be the way to go.”
Pearson maintained that the elite competition needs to retain some control, whichever way the sport heads.
“Super League is the driving force of rugby league, no matter what everybody says about the Championship and the community game,” he added.
“Super League possesses the owners who are putting the money into the clubs.
“I’m not saying they don’t do that at Championship level but it is quite a big responsibility at Super League level.
“To have that responsibility you want some kind of say into what is going on.
“Before, the RFL really had Super League in control and didn’t have to worry about what individual Super League clubs felt.
“It was very different. Perhaps it has just swung too far the other way as 12 is unwieldy.
“There was a lot of aspects in Ken’s paper which did make sense.
“Perhaps we can revisit it and find something that works for everybody as certainly, having disparate views on one board, is not good for the game.
“It needs to be unified and we need to find a way of doing it somehow.”
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