NRL CEO David Gallop’s power has long come with one big caveat: whatever you do, don’t piss off the bosses. Until recently, that is.
Long-ruled by a combination of long-lunching powerbrokers and News Limited heavies, a new independent commission looks set to deliver Gallop increased power over the biggest game in Queensland and NSW.
Tall, tan and thin, with distinctive grey hair, sharp features and a nasal voice, Gallop has been the NRL’s main man for nearly a decade now. Growing up in Canberra, Gallop was born into a rugby union family and excelled at cricket at school and university. But it would be the working class game where he would make his name.
The son of a Supreme Court justice, Gallop initially worked as an associate with the Sydney law firm Holman Webb. It wasn’t long before he got involved with rugby league, working for Rupert Murdoch as News Corporation’s in-house counsel during the Super League upheaval of the ’90s.
When the NRL was created out of Super League war ashes, Gallop was appointed the league’s director of legal and business affairs. He was CEO four years later. He’s regularly been branded a News man ever since.
But News Limited, long the paymasters of the code, and the ARL will soon relinquish their control of the game for the first time since those bitter days. It’s something many in rugby league have wanted for some time.
But don’t go asking Gallop whether an independent commission will solve all of rugby league’s ills. “No I’m indeed on the record as saying it’s not a panacea for everything,” he told Sunday Profile of the commission last year. “And I’m concerned that people see it as that.”
Still, Gallop and the clubs (they’ve already sought to use their new-found power to win more money) are primed to be the benefactors of the new commission, slated to launch at the beginning of this month. It marks a big change for rugby league after years of clashes between News, the ARL, the NRL, the state organisations and the clubs.
“Under the old structure he [Gallop] had difficulties because of the different processes. Now he’s got the opportunity to fulfil his ambitions for the game,” inaugural commission chairman John Grant said recently. “I don’t see myself as becoming the spokesperson for the game, that’s the CEO.”
One of the first things the new commission will address is next year’s all-important TV rights negotiations; a process the NRL hopes will reap a minimum of $1 billion for the game. If they can achieve a figure higher than the AFL’s recent $1.253 billion deal, it will be a big win for Gallop.
Sports rights agent Ian Frykberg, who will be negotiating for Foxtel, believes the NRL will be much better off under the new deal. The current deal is worth about $500 million over six years. “The NRL will achieve a figure which is substantially higher than their current figure,” Frykberg tells The Power Index.
It seems increasingly likely the NRL will achieve the $1 billion-plus deal it craves. Especially when you factor in the rise of the NRL as a game made for television.
Of the top 100 programmes broadcast on pay TV last year, around three-quarters were NRL broadcasts. State of Origin is also a free-to-air ratings powerhouse, while the NRL grand final attracted more viewers than the AFL.