On the footy field, governance is an important determinant of success

By Alex Malley

New Zealand Warriors chief executive Jim Doyle. Photo / Greg Bowker
New Zealand Warriors chief executive Jim Doyle. Photo / Greg Bowker

When things go wrong on the footy field, most fans blame the players and then the coach. Sometimes it's the other way round depending on the team and the circumstances.

But there's a case to be made for another more deserving target of sports fan's ire when results don't go their way: the board and executive management.

Football clubs may inspire passion and loyalty, but in many other ways they are just like any other business. Their leadership defines the organisation's culture, for good or bad. If it's a bad culture, then that 'tone' filters down through the whole organisation, playing group included.

Sometimes players' public misdemeanours are a direct reflection of a club culture that does not demand accountability from its employees.

Other times, bad leadership provides so many distractions that staff are not concentrating on their core roles. It's even worse if there's a public crisis and the club's woes become a newspaper headline.

Good governance matters and if you get it right, the chances for better results on the footy field are significantly improved. Get it wrong and your beloved team is likely to be languishing towards the bottom of the ladder.

One team that's regularly been at the wrong end of the ladder in recent years is the Warriors, perhaps the most exciting and frustrating team in the NRL. Exciting because of the scintillating style they play; frustrating because they all too frequently fail to live up to the capability within the side.

I don't need to enumerate the Warrior's travails at management and board level over the years. Certainly the dispute between co-owners in 2014, played out in the media, was unhelpful. In those unsettled circumstance, it's hardly surprising the focus was not on the footy field.

The ownership schism has now been excised and Jim Doyle, one of the sharpest sports business brains on both sides of the Ditch, has been brought in to manage the club.

Doyle is a serial entrepreneur, helping bring Navman to market, and as chief executive saved New Zealand Rugby League when it was tearing itself apart. He also had an impressive spell as chief operating officer at the NRL.

While the Warriors' performances have been inconsistent - running the gamut from woeful to wonderful - there's been a lot to admire about the governance.

When I saw chairman Watson fronting the media to defend coach Andrew McFadden after a poor start to the season I was encouraged. This was a leadership team that was focussed and which had each other's backs.

Stars were dropped to the reserve team to illustrate that everybody is accountable and nobody is bigger than the game. The club's strained relationship with promising but mercurial centre Konrad Hurrell was resolved when Jim Doyle announced he was being released from the club with immediate effect.

That good leadership of a sports team can translate to good results on the field is one of those axioms that is difficult to prove and the Warriors illustrate that even the best governance is no guarantee of success. Only time will tell but winning four of their last six games, and only two golden point field goals short of six on the trot is encouraging.

The changes off the field are giving the players on the field every opportunity to succeed. The great work that's taking place at the junior level shows a commitment to player development which is all about ensuring a pipeline of future talent is coming through. All in all, it could just be that the team has now turned a corner.

If they don't make the finals from here, then I respectfully suggest that in this singular instance, we really should blame the players, not the governance.

Alex Malley is chief executive of CPA Australia

- NZ Herald

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