Wigan Warriors owner against Super League reunifying with the RFL
Wigan owner Ian Lenagan wants to see changes made to the structure of Super League in the wake of the departure of executive chairman Robert Elstone but railed against calls to reunify with the Rugby Football League.
The resignation of Elstone – less than three years after being head-hunted to lead the breakaway from the governing body – came on the eve of the 2021 season and at a delicate time in negotiations with Sky over a new television deal.
Lenagan, who addressed a number of key issues at a press conference at Wigan’s pre-season media day, admitted Elstone faced a thankless task under the existing structure and was never likely to get a proposed £65million private equity deal through as it needed the unanimous approval of the 12 clubs.
“I’m disappointed for him as he didn’t succeed as much as he’d have liked,” he said.
“I have to say a board of 12 opinionated chairmen is a very difficult task master and I have no doubt we’ll be discussing that structure and others in the next month or so.
“There is room for improvement. In particular, I and a number of other chairman don’t like clubs voting for something that affects them.
“You can’t have clubs voting on whether Toronto should be in or out, for example, like turkeys voting for Christmas.
“We can’t afford to pay a chairman and a chief exec but we have to decide how to make it realistic for the executive to be able to make decisions and carry them out.”
Lenagan criticised his arch adversary, Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington, who opposed the breakaway in 2018 and wants to see Super League come back under the umbrella of the RFL.
“Gary Hetherington has never hidden the fact that he wants Leeds to be centre of the universe and for the RFL, who used to be in Leeds, to be the centre of his particular universe,” Lenagan said.
“I think he’s wrong and I suspect there’s a lot of other people who think he’s wrong.
“I don’t even know what the RFL want yet. If I was the RFL I’m not sure I’d be wanting to run a professional league when it’s been run very well for the last two-and-a-half, three years, much better than it was before.”
Lenagan sits with Hull chairman Adam Pearson on the Super League broadcast working group and admits that, despite a 24 per cent increase in television audiences over the last two years, clubs are bracing themselves for a reduction from the current deal that runs out at the end of the season and is worth around £40m a year.
“We’re pleased to have received a decent response to our tender,” he said.
“Whilst we want a larger figure you have got to recognise the reality of the economic climate and broadcasting climate.
“The discussions with Sky are taking place at the moment positively and we’re looking forward to going into the next two or three years of the next deal, not with as much as we would like but enough for rugby league to survive and move forward.”
Lenagan, who is hoping crowds return in significant numbers by June, says his club are in a good financial position, partly due to the furlough scheme and £1m in Government loans, but believes the game as a whole has not been treated fairly.
The RFL secured two separate loan deals, worth a combined £28m in 2020, and Lenagan is hoping for more to come from the Government in the summer.
“I’m not criticising the RFL but I don’t think rugby league got anything like the amount it should have done when you look at how much somebody like Sale got compared with Wigan,” he said.
“I hear comparisons of £6m compared to a million and I can confirm the latter.” We took the first loan, we will take the second loan and we will be paying those back over the next 10 years.”