The current Chief Executive of Everton FC, Robert Elstone, is reportedly nearing a deal to take over the Rugby Football League in the summer. Apparently, the only thing that remains to be agreed is his release date from Everton, with the football club keen to keep hold of Elstone until the end of the footballing season. That means that his start date with Super League would probably be the beginning of June.

League Express have reported that Elstone’s appointment would lead to him being the appointed director for all 12 Super League clubs as they lobby for greater power in the game.

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The newspaper's online website, totalrl.com, has also clarified that Super League currently pays an annual sum to the RFL for the provision of services, including marketing and administration, that the RFL carries out on behalf of the elite competition.

Under the stewardship of Elstone however, this system could be reversed, with the former Castleford Tigers board member requiring a team of support staff that could see several RFL staff members becoming employed directly by Super League (Europe) Limited.

Elstone will be expected to manage that transition, and he would likely be at the centre of any key talks regarding the league structure, which is likely to remain as it is into 2019 at the very least. But, with his appointment looking increasingly probable, just what can Rugby League expect from Elstone and how will his past business dealings benefit the sport?

Early career

Robert Colin Elstone was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire and attended the University of Hull. Elstone became a qualified accountant and his first foray into the business world was when he was appointed a financial controller at a Barnsley-based lead-processing plant.

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From here, Elstone's career bloomed and he became a part of the sporting world when he was appointed as the Executive Assistant to the Chief Executive of the Rugby Football League. Whilst in this role, Elstone was a crucial figure in the creation of Super League in 1996, helping to brand the new concept.

Increasing reputation

Elstone was so successful in this initiative that in 1997 he moved to Deloitte Touche - one of the largest professional services network in the world - for his first spell with the high-profile Leeds-based company. Here Elstone built a reputation for himself as the industry's first ever sports business consultant, establishing a significant foothold in new territory and acting as a successful advisor to leagues, clubs and sports related organisations on a range of strategic and commercial activities. His numerous achievements with Deloitte include the foundation of the Scottish Premier League (SPL) in 1998 whilst he was also responsible for assessing and relaunching a commercial strategy for Italian football giants Juventus and the restructuring of Greek professional football.

In 2000 he moved to BSkyB as the Director of Football Business Affairs and worked closely with a number of Premier League clubs following Sky's acquisition of equity (between 5 and 10%) in four leading clubs - Chelsea, Leeds United, Manchester City and Sunderland - where he advanced significant amounts of money to become their exclusive commercial agent for four years. In fact, Elstone and his team were so successful that they brought in £20m of sponsorship and were at the heart of one of the biggest sporting changes in the modern era.

Move to Goodison Park

Elstone ended his spell at BSkyB in 2004, returning to Deloitte as the Director of the Sports Business Group that he had helped develop. The footballing scene beckoned once more however, and Elstone made the switch to Goodison Park as Deputy CEO in 2005. Following the resignation of Keith Wyness in August 2008, Robert was appointed Acting CEO at Everton. Then, after impressing in the role, Elstone became the club's permanent Chief Executive in January 2009.

Over the course of 13 years, Elstone has introduced a number of key organisational and structural developments that have led to improved financial performance and greater stability at the club. His business acumen has also driven substantial commercial progress in retail, sponsorship – Everton's record deal with SportPesa in May 2017 for example - and ticketing, whilst his determination in the Merseyside club's hunt for a new stadium has been impressive to say the least.

Experience in Rugby League

Not only was Elstone a key component in the foundation of the summer game back in 1996, he has also been a non-executive director at Castleford Tigers - a position he stepped down from in January 2007, citing family reasons. As a lifelong fan and former board member of the Yorkshire club, Elstone knows the ins and outs of what makes a Rugby League club tick, giving him the knowledge of how to take the game forward to benefit those at the heart of the game - the supporters.

Though football has often been the priority for Elstone in business, Rugby League remains his main passion. For example, when Everton entertained Apollon Limassol in their first home game of the 2017-18 season's Europa League group stages, Elstone chose to watch the nailbiting Super League semi-final showdown between Castleford and St Helens instead. His decision proved to be a wise one as his boyhood club triumphed in a thriller - 23-22 - to reach the Grand Final, while Everton struggled to a 2-2 draw with the Cypriot minnows. But, inevitably, eyebrows were raised in some Everton quarters at the decision - proof that Elstone has Rugby League firmly in his heart.

First jobs

With three decades in business under his belt, Elstone has an essential understanding of how to brand and reinvigorate a sport that is severely lacking in marketing and sponsorship. Plus, his previous relationship with Sky can only be of advantage to Rugby League; the sport's deal with the commercial giant ends in 2021 and Elstone will front the sport's attempts to extend and expand the lucrative deal if he does indeed become CEO.

Besides haggling for a new Sky deal, among Elstone’s first jobs will be to sort out the transition to any new structure, with plans to extend to 14 clubs or cut to 10 on the table. The latter has particularly riled a number of supporters and it will be up to Elstone to find a solution that has the best chance of moving the sport forward whilst also taking into account the views of the often-ignored fans. The fact that, at Everton, Elstone put into practice a number of fans' initiatives suggests that he is wiling to listen to the sport's supporters - something which the old guard of the RFL were accused of failing to do.

Whilst Elstone's departure from football will be a blow to Everton’s new £500 million new stadium at Bramley Moore dock in Liverpool, his arrival in Rugby League could turn the game on its head - and this time for the better.