June 23, 2024

After the crowds disperse and Leichhardt Oval empties, the accumulated rubbish is cleared out of the ground through the VIP area, marking the end of the day’s events at the historic venue.

The run-down state of the facilities mirrors the struggles of Leichhardt Oval’s home team, the Wests Tigers, whose roots date back to the inception of the NRL. The club has been mired in turmoil for many years.

Over the past two decades, the Wests Tigers, born from the merger of the Balmain Tigers and Western Suburbs Magpies in 1999, have experienced a steady decline. Their last premiership victory was in 2005, and their last appearance in the finals series was in 2011. Despite backing from prominent figures like billionaire developer Harry Triguboff and International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates, the club’s administration has been lacking.

The nadir came last season when the Wests Tigers finished at the bottom of the ladder for the second consecutive year. A review, led by former NRL chief financial officer Tony Crawford and businessman Gary Barnier, resulted in the entire board being dismissed and the resignation of long-serving chief executive Justin Pascoe.

Beneath the surface issues uncovered by the review, such as poor recruitment, retention, and coaching, were deeper problems including cheap sponsorship deals, misleading membership figures, and a lack of strategy to expand the fan base. These challenges have contributed to the club’s financial struggles, posting a $2.2 million loss in its latest financial year and having the lowest membership and corporate revenue among Sydney-based clubs.

Now, the task of halting and reversing the decline falls largely on one man: Shane Richardson. With a track record of turning struggling clubs around, Richardson aims to implement changes including relocating stadiums, securing new sponsors, and rebuilding the fan base, particularly in Sydney’s south-western suburbs.

Known for his no-nonsense approach, Richardson is determined to prioritize the club’s business interests over social engagements with players. His focus is squarely on revitalizing the Wests Tigers and steering them back to success, even if it means breaking from conventional NRL initiatives like the ill-fated venture in Las Vegas.

In Richardson’s view, it’s about ensuring the club’s long-term viability and success in the game of rugby league.

Former NRL chief executive David Gallop reflects on the Wests Tigers’ last premiership win, recalling the immense excitement that permeated Balmain following their victory. He emphasizes the significance of the salary cap in ensuring a level playing field and maintaining competitiveness across the league.

Since parting ways with premiership-winning coach Tim Sheens, the club has undergone significant changes, cycling through seven coaches and appointing former star player Benji Marshall as head coach last year. Despite these efforts, the club’s membership numbers, a crucial link to its local community, have declined.

Upon Shane Richardson’s arrival, discrepancies in membership figures were revealed, prompting a correction. The focus now is on increasing paying membership, aiming for 13,000 by 2025. Richardson stresses the importance of the club’s identity as a community-driven entity, aiming to foster a sense of belonging among supporters.

To achieve this goal, Richardson plans to build a comprehensive database encompassing all club interactions, from match attendance to merchandise purchases. Shaun Mielekamp, the new general manager of community, is tasked with expanding the fan base, particularly in Sydney’s burgeoning southern suburbs.

The strategic plan includes targets to boost membership and sponsorship revenue, with Richardson aiming to reduce reliance on external funding sources. Plans to attract new corporate sponsors are already underway, with interest from prospective partners.

Overall, Richardson’s aim is for the Wests Tigers to operate sustainably and independently, with a strong financial footing and a robust community presence.

Richardson reveals that two sponsors are interested in joining the Wests Tigers, emphasizing the need to upgrade sponsorship to reflect the club’s true potential, even during challenging times.

John Coates, a staunch supporter of the Wests Tigers, commends Richardson’s focus on nurturing homegrown talent and sees immense potential in Sydney’s south-west region.

Despite its rich history, Leichhardt Oval, the club’s spiritual home, has seen limited use due to facility concerns. Richardson threatens to move games away from Leichhardt unless the NSW government provides funding for stadium upgrades, highlighting the need for larger venues to accommodate growing crowds and corporate interests.

However, Richardson’s future remains uncertain as he is on a six-month contract and is attracting interest from other clubs, including the Rabbitohs. His departure could jeopardize the club’s long-term plans, particularly regarding governance reforms and strategic direction.

Addressing governance concerns, Richardson insists on the appointment of independent directors to ensure transparent decision-making. Without clarity on this matter, he hesitates to commit to a long-term contract.

Despite recent on-field setbacks, Richardson remains focused on the broader challenges facing the club, acknowledging that off-field issues pose the greatest obstacles to its success.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *