The Australian Professional Leagues (APL), the commercial and marketing body for soccer in the country, has announced its chief executive Danny Townsend has stepped down with immediate effect to lead SRJ Sports Investment, the sports investment arm of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF).
The APL which oversees the men’s and women’s A-Leagues, has not appointed a direct successor to Townsend but has announced James Rushton, managing director of the APL’s digital arm KeepUp, will lead the APL going forward alongside commissioner Nick Garcia.
Both will report to the APL board and newly appointed independent chair Stephen Conroy.
Rushton, meanwhile, will continue to be responsible for the ongoing development and delivery of APL’s digital strategy.
Conroy said: “Danny [Townsend] leaves the game stronger than ever and with a talented and committed executive team in place. We wish him every success in his new role.
“As the organization moves into its next phase of development, we welcome the joint leadership of two highly experienced global sports executives and passionate football fans, in Nick Garcia and James Rushton. Each of their appointments was the product of extensive search processes that resulted in what is an incredibly strong APL executive leadership team.
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“The focus of the whole organization remains on delivering a successful A-League Men and A-League Women 2023-24 season.”
Townsend was appointed to the role in December 2021, joining the APL after four years as chief executive of A-League club Sydney FC. At the time, he had been juggling his responsibilities with the A-League side alongside a temporary managing director role at the APL for a year before turning his focus entirely to the APL.
His tenure involved unbundling the A-League competitions from governing body Football Australia and guiding the leagues through the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as securing a new collective bargaining agreement and a five-year rights deal with Paramount.
He also oversaw investment into the leagues from private equity firm Silver Lake.
To capitalize on Australia’s hosting of the FIFA Women’s World Cup earlier this year, he also oversaw the launch of three new teams to the women’s A-Leagues and began the process to expand in Auckland and Canberra in 2024-25. The league also plans to expand further for the 2025-26 season.
Townsend said: “We’ve made incredible progress over the last three years, and I am extremely proud of what we have achieved as independent leagues.
“I will always feel privileged to have had this opportunity to serve the game I love. I very much look forward to seeing it continue to grow at pace.”
Rushton, meanwhile, joined APL earlier this year after spending three years as acting chief executive of international sports streaming giant DAZN. He shared chief executive duties with Shay Segev in 2021 before Segev took over the role completely last year.
Garcia, meanwhile, was announced as APL’s commissioner in June, having acted as chief executive of Osprey Rugby in Wales. He previously had roles at the CSM sports marketing agency and soccer’s multi-club ownership group City Football Group.
Townsend will now turn to his new role as chief executive of SRJ Sports Investment where he will lead the fund's strategic direction and drive the organization’s growth in the local and global sports investment sector.
SRJ was launched in August by the Public Investment Fund to accelerate the growth of the sports sector in Saudi Arabia and the MENA region.
It most recently signed an investment agreement with the Professional Fighters League to acquire a minority equity stake in the PFL and launch regional league PFL MENA to nurture the local and regional talent pool in martial arts.
Bander Bin Mogren, chairman of SRJ, said: “We are delighted to welcome Danny as the CEO at SRJ Sports Investments. His impressive achievements in the global sports industry position him as a strong leader.
“Danny will help drive SRJ’s ambitions to deliver long-term impact through strategic, sustainable investments. The Board of Directors are confident in Danny’s leadership and strategic vision for the organization, and we look forward to achieving great success together.”