SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: NRL CEO Todd Greenberg speaks to the media during an NRL press conference at NRL headquarters on March 24, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: NRL CEO Todd Greenberg speaks to the media during an NRL press conference at NRL headquarters on March 24, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Greenberg: Why I will not quit as NRL boss

Todd Greenberg insists he can survive a furious backlash from players and financially crippled clubs to remain at the helm of the NRL.

Rather than quit and walk away from the biggest financial mess in the code's history, the NRL chief executive wants to oversee the recovery and drive the cost-cutting changes to ensure the survival of all 16 clubs.

 

BUZZ: We have criticised you for being too close to the players. You've now lost their confidence.

GREENBERG: I'd say the opposite. This challenge has brought the players and the game closer. The relationship with the Rugby League Players Association hasn't been great since we brought in the no-fault stand down rule last year. It's been very frosty between Ian Prendergast (former RLPA CEO) and myself.

The last couple of weeks have been difficult, but I've spoken individually to more players than I ever have. It's given them a huge insight into the challenges. We've shared everything, some of the most sensitive financial information.

 

Greenberg has come under heavy criticism. Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images.
Greenberg has come under heavy criticism. Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images.

BUZZ: Are you sure this is the case? I'm told they're off you.

GREENBERG: This could have all gone pear-shaped but we kept it on track. We've put down the weapons and we are working together. We've got tremendous trust now with Clint Newton as head of the RLPA. We've had great discussions with the players.

 

BUZZ: Todd, in the fair-dinkum department your costs are out of control. Seriously, $183 million or $500,000 a day. It's black and white. Horrendous overspending. Please explain.

GREENBERG: I'm not asking you to be a mathematician or an accountant but this isn't true. It takes only two clicks on our website to get into the annual report. So for starters, to say we're not transparent is wrong. It's a public document.

I'll explain in more detail. In 2012 the independent commission was established and in 2016 I started as CEO. In 2012 the total revenue was $181 million. In 2019 it was $528 million.

People can say it's the TV deal, but we've done very well with non-broadcast revenue, which is sponsorship, corporate hospitality, Magic Round, taking Origin interstate and things like that. In 2012 it was $80 million. Last year it was $203 million.

 

BUZZ: Todd, but that's revenue. What about the costs?

GREENBERG: In 2012 when the game made $80 million in non-broadcast revenue, they had sponsorship costs of $39 million. Last year we made $203 million in non-broadcast revenue but spent $103 million. In both those years it was around 50 per cent.

If our team sells Holden a $5 million sponsorship, we've still got to give them a corporate box, hospitality, signage and all those things. You look after them. If we'd taken cost out, would we have made as much revenue? That's the point. You have to spend money to make money, but obviously we'll have to be more focused about costs in future across the whole business.

 

BUZZ: It still doesn't add up.

GREENBERG: Think about events like Magic Round. We fly all the clubs into Brisbane. We pay their accommodation. We pay eight teams to move their home games. It's expensive.

 

BUZZ: What about your administration. It's now more than $20 million a year.

GREENBERG: Back in 2012 the administration costs were seven per cent of the revenue. Now it's only four per cent of total revenue. That's lower than most other sports.

I'm not suggesting for one moment that we don't need to cut costs. I'm just putting some perspective and balance into the argument. We're not spending like drunken sailors.

(A check of Cricket Australia's annual report reveals the sport spent seven per cent of their revenue on administration.)

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BUZZ: Fair enough. But where does all the rest of the money go?

GREENBERG: The clubs got $228 million. The states got $48 million and we put $40 million into junior development, plus we banked a $30 million profit.

Are the costs too high? Yes, and we will have all those conversations. We need to look at the right model for distributing the funds, too. Should we be saving more? Of course we should be. We're learning from the issues we're dealing with right now.

 

BUZZ: So how you are going to cut costs? That's what we want to know.

GREENBERG: Every single part of the game - football, welfare, integrity, admin, development, clubs and states. We're all going to have to reset the cost base. NRL HQ, footy departments in clubs, and the players. Everyone. That's what we're working towards. We've got some hard decisions to make.

 

BUZZ: So you're tough enough to sack 40 people?

GREENBERG: I think it will be more than that. It's a terrible time but I've never been more committed. I've said that to (Australian Rugby League Commission chairman) Peter V'landys.

There has been plenty of talk of friction between Greenberg and V’landys. AAP Image/James Gourley.
There has been plenty of talk of friction between Greenberg and V’landys. AAP Image/James Gourley.

 

BUZZ: What's your relationship like with Peter V'landys? There's been talk of friction in the relationship for some time.

GREENBERG: I could show you my phone from the last few weeks. Peter and I are talking to each other a dozen times a day. We're getting outcomes because we get on. I've got enormous respect for him and I'm learning a lot from him. I'm a CEO going into my fourth year. He's been in it for 30 years, so I'm looking forward to being mentored by him. I want to learn and continue to get better.

 

BUZZ: You have looked a bit rattled lately.

GREENBERG: It's been hard and it's been challenging but I'll keep doing what I think best for the sport.

 

BUZZ: Tell us about your salary situation. Last weekend there was a report you were going to take leave without pay. Then you were going to take a 25 per cent pay cut. Then the players demanded you take the same cut as they do and you bowed to their pressure. What's the truth?

GREENBERG: I said last weekend I'd get paid nothing if I wasn't working. Just like 95 per cent of other staff at the NRL, who will eventually go onto leave without pay. Then the commission on Monday approved 25 per cent pay cuts for myself and the executive team.

Then I was talking to Clint and the players and I was listening carefully to what they were telling me. I was trying to demonstrate to the players that when I talk about a genuine partnership, it became a tangible way to demonstrate that. It was a way of showing them we're in this together.

 

BUZZ: So clear this up, what exactly are you getting paid now?

GREENBERG: I get one more month's pay and that's it for the season. I'm in exactly the same boat as the players. If we get back on to the field again, we'll get more revenue and more pay.

Salaries across the league will be cut. Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images.
Salaries across the league will be cut. Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images.

 

BUZZ: If, say, the salary cap drops by 10 per cent next year, will you do the same?

GREENBERG: We didn't discuss anything about the next year or the future. We just agreed to the issues we are confronting together right now.

 

BUZZ: The clubs seem to think it's the NRL that has been mismanaged.

GREENBERG: It's got to be a united front. The game's collective challenge is to reset the entire cost base from the bottom to the top. We've all got a role to play to get that outcome.

 

BUZZ: How many people do you employ?

GREENBERG: Just over 400. About 200 of them are development officers on the road every day.

 

BUZZ: That's far too many people.

GREENBERG: There's no doubt we've got to pull it back. We're already doing that. Only five per cent of our staff are still working. There's no question we're going to look different in 2021.

 

BUZZ: What will be salary cap be next year?

GREENBERG: I don't know. Over the next few months we'll look at what the revenues will be like next year and work from there on how we handle the distributions to all areas of the game.

Greenberg believes this is the sternest test rugby league has ever faced. AAP Image/James Gourley.
Greenberg believes this is the sternest test rugby league has ever faced. AAP Image/James Gourley.

 

BUZZ: Do you ever think about quitting and walking away?

GREENBERG: This is the biggest challenge our game has ever faced. I'm absolutely fully committed to it and I'm buoyed by the messages of support this week. The phone calls and messages from people in and around the game.

 

BUZZ: Mate, you're about as popular as ScoMo during the bushfires.

GREENBERG: You don't do this job to win a popularity contest. You've got to have pretty good resilience. There's one call I got yesterday from (former rugby league boss) John Quayle that meant a lot to me. He said it was 'a much bigger challenge than we face in Super League. You're the right man for the job, keep standing up straight and keep doing what the game needs.'

It was important to hear those words. I can't tell you how many messages of support I've had from club CEOs and chairs. We're always going to butt heads but it was encouraging feedback. I've given an assurance to the commission that we'll roll up the sleeves, work hard and come out the other side.

 

BUZZ: Can all 16 clubs survive this crisis?

GREENBERG: We have to change our spending habits and put more money in the bank. The NRL can have a leaner structure and so can the clubs. They can all survive. We're treating all of them equally but they've got to make some smart decisions with their own finances.

 

BUZZ: You won't bail them out again?

GREENBERG: Peter V'landys has made that very clear to them. There are no more distributions. It's up to the clubs now.

 

BUZZ: Is expansion still on the table?

GREENBERG: The commission has been so focused on coronavirus. I wouldn't think it's off the table. It might actually create more revenue for the game. It a conversation we have to continue. We'll look at all opportunities.

Could the future of NRLW be in doubt? Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images.
Could the future of NRLW be in doubt? Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images.

 

BUZZ: I'm really passionate about the NRLW. Surely the women's competition is safe this year, despite the fact clubs are complaining about the costs of fielding teams?

GREENBERG: We've got to find more money to help the clubs. In our innovation group we're talking about the NRLW and having something to take back to the broadcasters. If the clubs say they can't afford it, we're going to have to figure out if we can do it and pay the bills. We will need a commitment from the broadcasters or it's pretty hard to run it.

 

BUZZ: But Todd, it's had extraordinary growth. So much progress has been made in women's sport. Look at the cricket girls at 80,000 fans at the MCG a few weeks ago.

GREENBERG: I agree. It's another reason why our costs have gone up. Last year we spent $5 million on female rugby league. We're going to do everything we can to keep the NRLW going.

 

BUZZ: I don't want to go into individuals but … what about people like Mal Meninga, who is on big money to coach Australia in two or three Test matches a year?

GREENBERG: This is all part of the discussions. No one is going to be protected. I've given a commitment to the commissions that we're going to look into all areas of the business. At the NRL we have to lead by example and we're all in this together.

 

 

Originally published as Greenberg: Why I will not quit as NRL boss


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