George Killebrew Out as MLR Commissioner

By Alistair Kirsch-Poole
Feb 24, 2023 - 12:15pm

George Killebrew has resigned from his role as Commissioner of the MLR. This news doesn't come as a surprise to many in the know, as rumors have been swirling about his potential departure since last summer. In recent weeks, reports suggested that Killebrew had already left his role, making this announcement a mere formality. He has been replaced by deputy commissioner Nic Benson in an interim capacity.

Killebrew first took the role in 2019, succeeding founding commissioner Dean Howes. He came with a significant amount of hype, having previously been a successful executive at the Dallas Mavericks.

His tenure as head of the MLR was in many ways a success. He oversaw numerous new initiatives, including the creation of the MLR Draft, the introduction of The Rugby Network, new broadcast deals with Fox Sports, and new national sponsorships with major brands.

However, the end of his tenure was marred by the ugly proceedings around the suspension of the LA and Austin teams from the playoffs and the collapse of those teams for unrelated reasons. The owner of both teams, Adam Gilchrist, proved to be a divisive force within the league, creating and widening ruptures between different ownership groups.

On top of that, there is a significant amount to criticize in how the league offices handled the affair. It took the league two years to uncover major salary cap violations at the two teams, raising questions about their capacity to effectively govern the competition. Furthermore, communication around what was happening was generally late and insufficient, even for key stakeholders. Even now, very little has been said publicly about what actually happened and why.

Whether Killebrew was pushed out for these reasons is something we will likely never know. Regardless, though, the areas where his administration fell short are also areas of opportunity for a new commissioner coming in. Who the league chooses as the long-term replacement will tell us a lot about what the owners view as the most important issues facing the league.