Wollongong Hawks' financial struggles a sign of NBL future?

This is a guest submission by Jared Arlington. We would like to thank Jared for his determination regarding this situation and for allowing us to publish his piece on our site.


He doesn't mince his words. Wollongong Hawks owner James Spenceley is putting the pressure on the profitable business community of Wollongong to step up and sponsor the National Basketball League club he took ownership of less than 12 months ago.

After the shock announcement on the club being placed into voluntary administration, Mr Spenceley has been very vocal on the lack of sponsorship dollars the Wollongong Hawks have been able to draw in. He is pointing directly at profitable Wollongong businesses, who seem unwilling to part with their hard-earned cash to ensure the city they operate in have a professional basketball team to support.

Speaking to the Illawarra Mercury, Mr Spenceley said;

“We actually got less sponsorship this year than we did last year. We’ve been trying for four to six weeks, now talking to all the big businesses and none of them have been prepared to offer us some sponsorship dollars which is disappointing.’’

“I’m still committed to getting the team on the court next season. It’s not me walking away, but I’m not going to pick up all the bills. Businesses in Wollongong have to get behind the team as well. It’s Wollongong’s team.’’

“I’m here to help turn the team around but it’s bloody impossible to turn the team around if your sponsors and people are backing away faster than they’re coming in. I’m putting my money where my mouth is and it’s time for the businesses that make their money in Wollongong to do the same.’’

Mr Spenceley this morning reiterated those statements when he spoke to the Morning Glory team on SEN. (You can listen to the whole interview here.) View image | gettyimages.com The worrying sign for the Wollongong Hawks has been the obvious lack of transparency between the owner and head coach Gordie McLeod. Rumours ran rampant all season regarding the hands-on influence James Spenceley had in selecting certain players for McLeod’s roster, frustrating players and coaching staff. The poor handling and backlash of the release of Dave Gruber and James Spenceley’s public and fiery late night Facebook messages associated with that announcement on the official Wollongong Hawks Facebook page.

Then just last week, a well respected journalist added fuel to the fire late in the season of the possibility of Gordie McLeod leaving the Hawks nest at the end of this season which in turn forced the Wollongong Hawks management to go on the front foot and commit to their support as Gordie McLeod as Head Coach for the 2015/16 NBL Season.

Gordie McLeod was left shocked and frustrated yesterday regarding the decision to put the club into voluntary administration. For McLeod to speak so candidly and openly about this, speaks volumes to the dire straits that the Wollongong Hawks are in for during the next 28 days of voluntary administration.

The club’s general manager Kim Welch pointed to their major sponsor Wollongong Coal as a reason as to why voluntary administration had become an option, but just overnight the Illawarra Mercury was able to speak directly to Wollongong Coal’s CEO Jasbir Singh and he denied the loss of Wollongong Coal’s major sponsorship as the reason why the club has gone into voluntary administration. In fact, he was very clear that a mutual agreement had occurred in December for the major sponsorship to be withdrawn.

Who is to blame? Is there a bigger picture here?

No one can deny the commitment James Spenceley has made in ensuring the National Basketball League operated this season with eight clubs, when he took on ownership of the Wollongong Hawks. With an apparent lack of corporate support in the Wollongong region and attendance dropping to an all-time low in recent years, Spenceley has some hard decisions to make for the future of his club in Wollongong.

View image | gettyimages.com

Will this be the last time we will see the Wollongong Hawks in the NBL? Is James Spenceley committed to owning an NBL licence for 2015/16 and beyond? How will his final decision impact the NBL and Brisbane Bullets revival? There are many questions still left unanswered and this is precisely why the decision to put the club into voluntary administration is the right decision for now.

Where to for the National Basketball League though? The competition must have eight teams to be competitively viable. With the rumours of the Townsville Crocodiles on the brink, this could leave only six teams remaining, with one being based in New Zealand.

There is a systematic, recurring problem here. We cannot doubt that the National Basketball League is a world class competition, featuring world-class players and coaches. Unfortunately, it has not captured the imagination of major broadcasters in Australia and they have not seen any value in committing major dollars to ensure they have the exclusive rights to broadcast the NBL.

Without a significant revenue stream coming from a major National Basketball League broadcast deal, the plight of the Wollongong Hawks will become a continuing common occurrence for future seasons. If there is another NBL season after 2014/15.