NRL chief executive Dave Smith.

The NRL is a secure business with a secure financial future, CEO Dave Smith said today.

Addressing the Business of Sport Summit in Sydney, Mr Smith said there was a close link between strong governance and delivering a strong on-field product.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, sport employs more than 134,000 Australians and generates nearly $13 billion in income.

The NRL has annual revenues of around $350 million making it one of the biggest sports in Australia.  Last year a surplus of nearly $50 million was recorded.

Mr Smith said part of its success could be put down to the increased emphasis on governance since the Australian Rugby League Commission was established three years ago.

"Good governance is a must. It is a condition precedent to success," Mr Smith said.

"That is true of business in my past experience, and it is equally true of sport. 

"In some respects, I'd suggest it is even more important in sport given the uniqueness of the interests at stake and the pressures decision makers face on a daily basis.  

"Sport is about passion and emotion, but governance structures must ensure that decision making is professional. 

"Every sport needs the passion of its fans, its players and its volunteers but I suggest every sport needs its administrators to balance passion and responsibility."

Mr Smith said $28 million of last year's surplus had already been reinvested back into the game.

Nearly two thirds went to the NRL Clubs and affiliated States. 

He said the NRL has also set up a sustainability fund to give the game protection in the event of unforeseen setbacks in the future. 

"Running the business well has allowed us to invest," he said.

Mr Smith said the NRL was one of the closest competitions in the world with 10 different clubs wining the Premiership since 1998. 

And, in the same period, all 16 teams have finished in the top four.

But Smith said that for the NRL to broaden its appeal to the community it needs to meet the expectations of the community.

"The great thing about sport is that it is about so much more than the bottom line," he said.

"We might not have shareholders, but we have a huge roll of stakeholders who are the true owners of our sport.  

"As leaders in sport we have a big responsibility – not just to the bottom line but to something much more – to our communities. 

"That's the great challenge, that's the great opportunity and that's what motivates me."