Wests model to help rebuild Knights into NRL force
DEAR MEMBERS: Wests will send out a letter to members outlining their case to take over the Newcastle Knights … “Cities need to have a flagship. You need a hero to cheer for and villain to boo at. If Newcastle was to lose the Knights it would diminish Newcastle as a city,” Wests chief Phil Gardner said.TUBEMAKERS Recreation Club was a failing business on Industrial Drive when Wests took over in 2001.
The adjacentsteelworks hadclosed two years earlier, with it wentaworkforce and the lifeblood of the licensed club. The future appeared bleak.
Now, it’s a thriving leagues club and entertainment precinct witha major hotel, state-of-the-art gym and aquatic centre as well asthe Knights’ headquarters.
The facility is ahive of activity.Money-maker.
That is what Wests do. They take over businessesthat are on the bones of their backside and make them successful.
The Knights are on track to collect a third consecutive wooden spoon, the lowest ebb in a proud 30-year history that delivered premierships in 1997 and 2001.
They have been treading water since theNational Rugby League assumed ownership in 2014 after thedemise of Nathan Tinkler.
But ifWests’ proposed takeover of the Knights is endorsed by its members, clubsupremo Phil Gardner is confident–garneringthe expertiseof the licensed club juggernaut combined with a $13 million annual grant from the NRL –that the battlerscan again fly high.
The ingredients for success are there.TheKnights boast the fourth-highest average home crowd (16,606) in the competition, despite winning just four games in two years, and have a developing rosterwith plenty of tomorrows.
The Westsblueprint isproven.The group, which consists of six major businesses and employs more than 1000 staff,made aprofit of $23.2millionlast year.
They also have a strong and proud history in rugby league and have supported the Knights to tune of about $17 million since 1998.
Gardner, who has been Wests’ chief executive for 22 years, is adamant the Knights can be a “break-even” operation withinfive years.
Regardless, there would be no “downside” to Wests’120,000 members.Beer prices won’t all of a sudden go up and Wests will continue to support other sporting and community projects.
“Part of our ethos is that we put ‘x’amount of our profit into sport or charitable groups,” Gardner said. “The long-term view is that we want to do more.We are hoping the members will see this as a great benefit to the community. People who aren’t rugby league supporters can still see the benefit of the Knights to the town.
“Cities need to have a flagship. You need a hero to cheer for and villain to boo at. If Newcastle was to lose the Knights it would diminish Newcastleas a city.”
Wests will not paya license fee to the NRL or any outstanding debt,however they have committed $10 million towards a Centre of Excellence at District Park, which is likely to be matched by the state government.
“No money Wests puts in will be going out of Newcastle,” Gardner said.“Newcastle has always needed a top-end sporting facility. It would be home tothe Knights and also be used by sports across the region. It would be a legacy facility for the whole community.”