The unexpected loss of major sponsor Wollongong Coal has forced the Wollongong Hawks into voluntary administration, leaving the club on the brink of extinction just one season after being bought by Sydney multimillionaire James Spenceley.
Monday’s shock announcement followed a dismal season on the court in which the Hawks collected just the second National Basketball League wooden spoon in their 36-year history.
It leaves the club only 28 days to find additional sponsorship or be wound up.
When Mr Spenceley took ownership of the club in June last year, it was supposed to usher in a new era of stability for NBL’s perennial battlers but the loss of its major sponsor – just 18 months into a five-year deal – has blown a $1.8million hole in the club’s budget.
Mr Spenceley strongly refuted suggestions he was looking for a way out of the club but warned he could not be expected to personally foot the bill.
‘‘I have a budget that I was working to for the Hawks and unfortunately it just doesn’t extend to the $1.8million hole over the next couple of years that the Wollongong Coal sponsorship [loss] leaves us in,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s purely financial. The guys had a tough season on the court but they never gave up and won more games at the back end than the front end and I think we were all looking forward to next season ... 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.’’
Mr Spenceley has committed to personally paying the wages of players, coaches and staff during the administration period but said the future beyond that time would depend on whether the club could attract Wollongong’s corporate dollar to make up the shortfall.
‘‘We actually got less sponsorship this year than we did last year,’’ he said. ‘‘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 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.’’
The Hawks have endured a constant battle for survival in recent years and Mr Spenceley said it was ‘‘unfair’’ to expect Hawks fans to again save the club, putting the onus on the Illawarra’s business community to get behind the team.
‘‘I don’t think the fans need to dig into their pockets; all we can ask the fans to do is turn up to the games,’’ Mr Spenceley said. ‘‘It’s not fair on the fans to keep digging into their pockets when the businesses that make money in Wollongong aren’t prepared to put it up.’’
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