NRL CEO Dave Smith’s sudden resignation yesterday appears to have been met with unbridled joy from the News Corp presses.
The league loving Daily Telegraph is today leading with “NRL chief’s shock departure leaves a right mess”, while over at The Australian its headline screams “Outsider Dave Smith Won’t Be Missed By Some In NRL Land” and includes a comment from an unnamed club boss: “I have heard the term rugby league IQ used a lot over the past 12 months and mostly it has related to there being a lack of it within the NRL administration.”
There has been some speculation that Smith had been pushed out of the job due to the fact that he never negotiated a rights deal with the News-owned Foxtel, instead hitching the game’s wagon to a lucrative deal with Channel Nine. This reportedly infuriated everyone from Rupert Murdoch down at News who began using its considerable media might to ridicule Smith.
Rather than pay tribute to the departing Smith – who says it was his decision to quit – The Tele said in today’s editorial: “Since the free-to-air rights deal was announced, there has only been one meeting between the NRL and its key pay-TV partner”. It reports that Smith will leave the job by the end of November and “will receive a hefty six-figure payout in 40 days’ time, on his last day at the NRL’s helm, after three tumultuous years in charge”.
At yesterday’s resignation announcement, Smith said of his leaving: “The time is right, it is time to hand over.” On the ongoing rights saga he added: “I have every confidence we will achieve an amazing rights deal, and I would not leave the job if I did not think that was the case.”
However, all this downplays Smith’s significant achievements in his three year tenure as CEO. For starters, he doubled the asking price for the rights and has seen TV audiences soar. The NRL grand final and three Origin games are now the most watched and lucrative events on Australian TV. Smith was also instrumental in the NSW state government promising billions to rebuild NRL stadiums. He invested heavily in the grassroots of the game, players’ salaries have never been greater and it’s understood that practically all of the 16 clubs (bar a couple) are in now in the black.
Meanwhile, respected league scribe Roy Masters’ column in today’s Fairfax Media leads with the headline, “Dave Smith was the scalp Rupert Murdoch wanted”.
Masters writes: “Smith’s critics, particularly those at News Corporation, will boast that Rupert Murdoch got his scalp, only two months after Smith had negotiated a $925m free-to-air TV deal with Channel Nine, cutting Fox Sports out of Saturday and Monday nights NRL programming.
“Murdoch did seek a head on a plate. He could not sack one of his own because that would be conceding Fox Sports had not kept its eye on the secret negotiations over TV rights taking place with Nine at a Sydney eastern suburbs hotel.”
Murdoch was supposedly so pissed off with Smith and the Nine that B&T wrote at the time: “News is reportedly so furious about the NRL deal it has already threatened to turn its league-loving tabloids in Sydney and Brisbane – The Daily Telegraph and The Courier Mail – into proxy AFL mouthpieces. Although, how you’ll convert league-infatuated audiences is an entirely different matter altogether and any move could seriously backfire on already struggling print circulations. It could also prove very good news for the unaligned Fairfax Media.”