Parramatta are about to complete another year smeared in red ink but the financial impact of finally securing a major sponsor is more than matched by the symbolism in the eyes of chief executive Bernie Gurr.
Gurr yesterday confirmed the Eels had ended their painstaking search for a new backer after signing a two-year deal with property development company Aland.
The deal has come too late to prevent the football club suffering another mega-loss — a year after the club recorded a deficit of more than $11 million in the wake of the salary cap scandal.
However, it means the club will have a major sponsor on the front of their jersey for the first time in more than 12 months. Gurr suggests that, as much as anything, this reflects the amount of work they have done to repair their battered image in the wake of the salary cap scandal.
“It is two things,” Gurr said. “It is financially very important and I am very comfortable with the financial deal we have done. Number two, symbolically. Parramatta has had that much negative symbolism and negative perception in the last six, seven, eight years. All those issues of factionalism and perception — that was highlighted with salary cap issues and director issues. All those things added up.
“Symbolically now to get that behind us … this is a very good indication we have taken a pretty big step past that because we had significant reputational damage.
“We had continual discussions with companies that said: ‘Are you past all the dramas’. It is a tough thing to come back from. Symbolically as well as financially it is very important for us.”
The Eels’ heavy debts in 2016 owed much to the cap scandal, which cost them significantly in legal fees and financial penalties. Their losses this season are largely a legacy of that debilitating controversy, as well as an ongoing court battle with former major sponsor Dyldam Developments.
The Eels launched legal action against Dyldam in late-2016 over allegations the company had failed to meet its sponsor commitments. That case is continuing and so are the legal costs.
Fortunately the Eels can rely on a leagues club that is swimming in rivers of gold. The prospect is much brighter looking ahead too. Like every club in the game, Parramatta will benefit from the new funding model that came into effect from November 1 — they will receive $1 million a month under the agreement.
From 2019, the Eels will also have a new stadium at their disposal. For the time being, Gurr is urging patience as the club claws its way back from the devastation of 2016, riding largely on the coat-tails of a football team pieced together by coach Brad Arthur.
“You have to crawl before you walk, particularly in the rugby league business,” Gurr said.
“It is a tough business. We’re going to have a substantial loss this year. We know that. It is going to be better next year — substantially better in 2018 than it is in 2017. We will have a substantial improvement next year.
“You have to understand the macro nature of what this club went though. We have an administrator — Max (Donnelly) — who is effectively the one-man board of the leagues club that owns the football club.
“You had a myriad of issues. There were some other things in the business that I don’t think we were all crystal clear on quite frankly at the time when the budgets were done.
“It is a combination of those two factors. This was major, major issues we needed to address. We’re on a journey.”
The Eels are in such good place from a salary cap perspective that they may yet make a play for Jarryd Hayne. The Gold Coast and Fiji star has played down reports that he may seek a release from the Titans but there seems little question he has tentatively spoken to Parramatta about the prospects of a return to his spiritual home.
Gurr was yesterday reluctant to comment on the prospect of signing Hayne, insisting he didn’t publicly discuss recruitment issues. However, the club has more than enough room should Hayne return on the terms that are on the table.
“This is going to take us two or three years to get it right,” Gurr said. “The good thing for us is the footy program is in a good place. The footy program is solid. The salary cap is very well under control.
“We’re in constant communication with the NRL and they are very happy with where it is at.”