Illawarra Hawks NBL owner dismisses Hawthorn AFL club move

Owner Simon Stratford has moved to shut down speculation the Hawks could move to Melbourne and join forces with AFL giants Hawthorn, insisting the future of the NBL club remains in the Illawarra.

Rumours and uncertainty have continued to surround Illawarra’s long-term future in the NBL, after the club changed ownership midway through the campaign. 

Stratford became the sole owner of the Hawks when Sydney-based businessman James Spenceley opted to sell his 51 per cent share in early December.

STAYING PUT: The Hawks celebrate their win over the Bullets last season. Picture: AAP Image/Dean Lewins

STAYING PUT: The Hawks celebrate their win over the Bullets last season. Picture: AAP Image/Dean Lewins

The agreement was only revealed last month.

General Manager Kim Welch then resigned at the end of the season to take up a new position in Perth.

Since then, Illawarra’s future in the league has been brought back under the microscope.

The league’s last remaining foundation club has battled for survival on several occasions throughout its 40-year existence and could risk losing their NBL licence if a suitable ownership arrangement isn’t reached. 

A number of AFL clubs, including the Hawthorn Hawks, are believed to be keen on joining the competition, and the NBL has made no secret of its desire to have another club in Melbourne. 

However, Stratford is adamant any new franchise won’t come at the expense of Illawarra. 

“There are a number of rumours bouncing around about clubs from other codes looking to buy an NBL license and that one of those licenses may be ours. This is the last thing that I would want to see happen,” he said in statement obtained by the Mercury.

"We have not been here for 40 seasons to see it all be taken away. 

"This club was here before I came to town, and my goal is to see it carry on in the Illawarra long after I am gone.

"I have been having regular communications with the NBL around these topics and have assured them that relocation is not something that I am interested in."

It is understood the Hawks currently still have a significant debt, however the Hawks have denied it comes to as much $350,000. 

Stratford is actively looking for more investors to come on-board, to ensure the Hawks remain in the competition for more than just the short term. “My goal is to continue to see this club grow from strength to strength in the Illawarra and have the Hawks continue to represent the region proudly on a national sporting stage,” he said.

“Finding the right ownership structure is extremely important.

“I am having conversations with potential business partners and other parties interested in investing in the club, and I am confident we will find the right model to help the club prosper within the next few weeks. 

“The next task at hand will be to find a new general manager to guide our vision through the day to day.  This club means a lot to so many people so it is not a task that I am taking lightly.

“But I am confident that with the right people in place we will see the Hawks soar again.”

The Hawks also have almost an entire roster to sign during free agency.

Only centre AJ Ogilvy has a contract for next season, with an option in his favour. 

Illawarra coach Rob Beveridge is still under contract.

Beveridge was also named coach Scotland’s men’s coach for the upcoming Commonwealth Games.

STRATFORD’S FULL STATEMENT

I wanted to update you on the current progress behind the scenes of the Illawarra Hawks Basketball Club.

As you are all aware we have endured some immense changes within the organisation in the past few weeks. One of these was sudden and unexpected, while the other I had been working through behind the scenes for some time. Currently I have been trying to get my head around the business to find an ownership structure which will help keep this club sustainable for years to come.

Three seasons ago I started on this adventure as a partner in the club, since then I have become passionate about the team and made some lifelong friends in the region. A region where I now own a home!

My goal is to continue to see this club grow from strength to strength in the Illawarra and have the Hawks continue to represent the region proudly on a national sporting stage.

Finding the right ownership structure is extremely important, I am having conversations with potential business partners and other parties interested in investing in the club, and I am confident we will find the right model to help the club prosper within the next few weeks. The next task at hand will be to find a new General Manager to guide our vision through the day to day. This club means a lot to so many people so it is not a taks that I am taking lightly. But I am confident that with the right people in place we will see the Hawks soar again.

There are a number of rumours bouncing around about clubs from other codes looking to buy an NBL license and that one of those licenses may be ours. This is the last thing that I would want to see happen. We have not been here for 40 seasons to see it all be taken away. This club was here before I came to town, and my goal is to see it carry on in the Illawarra long after I am gone. I have been having regular communications with the NBL around these topics and have assured them that relocation is not something that I am interested in.

The staff and I know we have a lot of hard work to do, but that is something that we are not afraid of. The coaching staff have been reviewing the season just past, and have begun planning our assault on the next NBL season. Our front office staff are looking at ways to continue to build on the recent growth in membership and exploring opportunities to make our game night experience even better for our great Hawkheads.

I appreciate your patience as all this has been going on and we will provide more information as we progress through the process.

Kind regards,

Simon Stratford

Managing Director

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